Academic journal article Journal of Thought

Narrated Voices of African American Women in Academe

Academic journal article Journal of Thought

Narrated Voices of African American Women in Academe

Article excerpt

Introduction and Purpose

The literature is becoming replete with studies that address the issue of sexism in the lives of women seeking full participation in the academy (Aguirre, 2000; Finkel, Olswang, & She, 1994; LeBlanc, 1993; Sandler, 1993). Volumes upon volumes record the injustices and frustration women have faced in higher education. There have been numerous reports of wage inequities, vague publishing expectations, ambiguous tenure requirements, limited access to certain academic disciplines, lack of mentorship and networking opportunities, and exclusion from strategic decision-making positions (Burgess, 1997; Finkel, et al., 1994; Warner & DeFleur, 1993). In much of this research, women are classified as a singular group not taking into consideration the impact that race may contribute to any one of these variables if the whole group were broken down into separate ethnic groups and investigated. For instance, based upon the long and turbulent history of race relations in the United States, a person would be remiss to assume historical ideologies (inferior vs. superior) created by a White male patriarchal system have no bearing on the experiences of African American and other women of color in higher education today (Amott & Matthaei, 1996). However, this is not to imply that White female academicians have not suffered because of the system in existence; rather, it simply infers that because of their ethnicity, their academic experiences have not been shaped by the intersections of race and gender as have those of women of color. It is precisely these overlapping socio-cultural factors (e.g., race, gender) that require an examination of the experiences of African American women to be placed within the proper social and political contexts in which their realities are constructed (Collins, 1990; Hurtado, Milen, Clayton-Peterson, & Allen, 1999).

A number of studies have attempted to explain the status of African American women in higher education. However, what generally occurs in many of these studies is that the experiences of Black women are compared to those of other women, usually White women, to verify whether or not they are meeting some arbitrary standard of normalcy in the academy (Miller & Vaughn, 1997). Naturally, these findings will explain the experiences of some African American women in higher education. However, they are limited in their analysis because they do not take into account the legacy of race and gender relations in shaping the lives of African American women in society in general and in higher education more specifically (Collins, 1990; Gregory, 1995). Furthermore, these studies do not reveal how African American women interpret their experiences in predominantly White institutions, nor do they allow the women to discuss how socio-cultural issues affect their overall academic citizenship. These studies are also limited in their representation because they fail to consider the variation in responses that will be obtained from any two Black women as a result of their individual differences and personal experiences (Collins, 1990; Hurtado et al., 1999), which will ultimately influence how the women respond to interactions in their academic roles (Holmes, 1999).

The purpose of this article is to present findings of a qualitative study conducted to investigate the academic experiences of selected African American women faculty employed by four-year predominantly White institutions. I started this line of inquiry as a graduate student attending a large predominantly White institution. As an African American woman, I was concerned with the small number of African American women faculty I encountered during my graduate program. Of equal concern was the lack of literature regarding Black women in the academy, as well as the substance of the available literature. I was particularly interested in examining the women's experiences within the context of race and gender because extant literature suggests that these constructs shape the academic roles of African American people in higher education (Collins, 1990; Thompson & Dey, 1998; Turner, Myers, Creswell, 1999; Miller, & Vaughn, 1997). …

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