Women of Color in Higher Education: Resistance and Hegemonic Academic Culture
Molina, Kristine, Feminist Collections: A Quarterly of Women's Studies Resources
[Editors' note: University of Michigan graduate student Kristine Molina was an award winner in the 2007 student essay contest sponsored by the National Women's studies Association's Women of Color Caucus. Feminist Collections is pleased to be able to showcase Ms. Molina's scholarly paper in this issue, particularly because it is topically related to a series of book reviews on women in academia that we published a couple of years ago. See especially "Narratives from Women of Color in the Halls of Academe," by Pat Washington, in volume 28, no. 1 (Fall 2006), pp. 1-6; available online at http://minds.winsconsin.edu/bitstream/1793/22264/2/FCWashington.pdf.]
We cross or fall or are shoved into abysses whether we speak or remain silent. And when we do speak from the cracked spaces, it is con voz del fondo del abismo, a voice drowned out by white noise, distance and the distancing by others who don't want to hear. We are besieged by a "silence that hollows us." (Anzaldua & Moraga, 1981, p. xxii) Women of color in America have grown up with a symphony of anger, at being silenced, at being unchosen, at knowing that when we survive, it is in spite of a world that takes for granted our lack of humanness, and which hates our very existence outside of its service outside of its service. (Lorde, 1984, p. 119)
Too frequently, women of color feel marginalized, silenced, invisible, or tokenized in institutions of higher education. Too frequently, work that focus on the marginalization of women neglects the particular experiences of women students of color, who must confront marginalization not only because of their race or ethnicity, but also because of other social identities: gender, class, ability, and sexuality. How these social identities intersect is rarely discussed. In fact, the particular lived experiences of women of color are almost nonexistent in research on higher education. The discourses that do exist focus almost exclusively on people of color as distinct and internally homegeneous groups.
Psychological research that seeks to examine the ways in which different women of color experience various forms of social marginality remains, like women of color themselves, virtually invisible. Women of color have essentially been "shut up" and "shut out" of mainstream psychological research (Graham, 1992; Imada & Schiavo, 2005; Reid, 1993; Reid & Kelly, 1994). There is a dearth of psychological research on the effects of marginalization, exclusion, and invisibility in higher education for women of color. Even more scant is research that allows women of color to voice the experiences they confront within institutions of higher education. Moreover, research conducted to date in this area has primarily focused on African Americans (Gay, 2004), but not on other women of color.
In this paper, I locate the experiences of women of color within a feminist psychology framework that takes into account the various ways in which women of color are excluded from spaces of higher education. I ask how feminist theories can, by incorporating an intersectional perspective, standpoint epistemology, and contextualizatiog of experiences, give psychology a different lens through which to examine questions on and of interest to women of color. I believe this theoretical approach to psychological research allows for the creation of new knowledge about women at the intersection of race, ethnicity, class, sexuality, and ability. Further, I discuss how contextualizing the experiences of women of color allows for a richer understanding of their lived experienes within the classroom space, and how power shapes forms of exclusion, marginality, and silence within the academy. Finally, I discuss prospects for future research on the experiences of women of color within institutions of higher education.
Much research has been conducted within the area of education, but in its broadest terms (e.g., standardized tests, racial/ethnic disparities, drop-out rates), much of it has been conducted with little or no contextualization of outcomes. How results are framed is important to our discussion of contextualizing the experiences of women of color within spaces of higher education.
Entman (1995) noted that framing "refers to selecting and highlighting some elements of reality and suppressing others, in a way that constructs a story about a social problem, its causes, its moral nature and its possible remedies" (p. 142). For example, when explaining gender and/or ethnic differences in academic achievement, test scores, etc., researchers rely on averages (means) as their interpretations of differences in outcomes and/or behaviors between men and women or whites and ethnic minority groups, and consequently reinscribe and even engender binaries with their results. In fact, "research that only documents differences between groups offers no understanding of why those differences exist or how they may be atenuated. These then may reinforce (or even create) the public's stereotypes and biases" (Stewart & Jayaratne, 1991, p. 88). Understanding the negative effects that framing/interpretation may have is important, since these interpretations may have real-world …
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Publication information: Article title: Women of Color in Higher Education: Resistance and Hegemonic Academic Culture. Contributors: Molina, Kristine - Author. Magazine title: Feminist Collections: A Quarterly of Women's Studies Resources. Volume: 29. Issue: 1 Publication date: Winter 2008. Page number: 10+. © 2009 Board of Regents, University of Wisconsin System. COPYRIGHT 2008 Gale Group.
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