Academic journal article The Western Journal of Black Studies

Reconceptualizing Marginality from the Margins: Perspectives of African American Tenured Female Faculty at a White Research University

Academic journal article The Western Journal of Black Studies

Reconceptualizing Marginality from the Margins: Perspectives of African American Tenured Female Faculty at a White Research University

Article excerpt

African American female faculty members continue to be under represented in White dominated research universities (National Center for Education Statistics, 1994). According to the 1993 Digest on Education Statistics, Black women faculty comprised 2.2 percent of the nation's full-time faculty. Those who are tenured professors make up 0.6 percent full-time faculty and 1.2 percent of all associate and full professors. In addition, the National Study of Post Secondary Faculty (1994) reveals that Black women held 1.2 percent of the positions in public research universities and 1.3 percent of the positions in public doctoral universities.

Black women, once employed, perceive numerous problems in the academic environment, especially at predominantly White universities (Price, 1988). They usually find themselves at the bottom of the hierarchy and are among the least likely to be tenured (Collins, 1986; Howard-Vital, 1987; Silver, 1988). They are expected to take a subordinate role to Whites, male and female, and to all African American men (Coleman-Burns, 1989). Not surprisingly, Hughes (1992) found Black women to be far more disadvantaged in the academy than any other group, and McComb (1989) noted that Black women find the academic environment to be hostile or indifferent.

Despite these obstacles, some Black women have become successful at such institutions as evidenced by their tenure and promotion. However, little is known of the strategies the women used to successfully manage and navigate the White academic culture. Therefore, this study was conducted to examine the professional development history of five tenured African American female faculty to gain an insight into the experiences that contributed to their successful career in the White research academy. From the findings, one can begin to understand the experiences of Black professional women as they interact with the White male dominated institutional culture and the strategies they use to successfully manage the culture.

An important finding of the study is the perspective from which the women view their marginality in white dominated institutions. Those individuals who do not fit the characteristics of the majority are often classified as "other," "outsider," "subordinate," "deficient." These labels carry negative stigmas that imply that they do not meet the standards of the majority, mainly white males, who situate themselves in the center. They are, therefore, classified as "marginalized others." This paper, thus, focuses primarily on the participant's conceptualization of their marginality in the white-dominated academic culture. It gives voice to the experiences of five Black women and provides a firsthand account of their perception of their marginal status in the academy--an important strategy to their management of the White academic culture.

Theoretical Framework

African Americans face the dilemma of double consciousness as they struggle to survive in two distinct cultural worlds--one White and one Black (DuBois, 1903). The Black life world consists of the Black community with its demands and expectations of professional women. The White life world is made up of the White institutional structures--the school and the workplace--within which African American women must interact and survive in order to develop professional careers. However, it has been suggested that such bicultural interactions lead the minority professional to a position of marginality in the dominant culture (Stonequist, 1961). To understand the process of these women's interactions within White institutional cultures, the bicultural life structure theory and theory of marginality were used to inform this study.

The Bicultural Perspective

Bicultural life structure is the foundation upon which subordinate groups create both a private and public space where they can resist oppression and at the same time maintain their cultural identity and self-determination. …

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