Academic journal article The Journal of Negro Education

Sisters Mentoring Sisters: Africentric Leadership Development for Black Women in the Academy

Academic journal article The Journal of Negro Education

Sisters Mentoring Sisters: Africentric Leadership Development for Black Women in the Academy

Article excerpt

The Sisters Mentoring Sisters (SISTERS) Project was designed to help Black women at a predominantly White Central Florida state university develop career plans and strategies for their personal growth and professional development. Focus group participants discussed topics such as the needs of Black women at all levels of the academy, strategies for developing their leadership abilities, and opportunities for their career advancement. Focus group data were used to plan group mentoring sessions that focused on empowering participants to obtain administrative and professional positions in higher education. Africentric concepts and principles provided a framework for didactic and experiential activities that emphasized three types of individual and organizational support: emotional, informational, and structural.

Echoing the familiar African proverb, "It takes a village to raise a child," the Sisters Mentoring Sisters (SISTERS) Project is based on the philosophy that "It takes a village to sustain a Black woman." The SISTERS Project was designed to create a "village" of caring and supportive women of African descent with the skills, attitudes, and desire to mentor and be mentored by each other. Its threefold mission is: to foster challenging and rewarding experiences within an academic environment that is perceived by some as neglectful, antagonistic, and at times brutally threatening; to provide the SISTERS participants with a variety of effective techniques and strategies for nurturing one another; and to help these women address the realities of "glass ceiling" issues that often exist for women, particularly those women who are Black, in the academy.1

PROJECT CONTEXT

The SISTERS Project was implemented in a large, predominantly White, metropolitan research university in Central Florida that serves approximately 34,000 students, 55% of whom are female and 7.5% of whom are of Black, non-Hispanic origin. Of approximately 3,000 full-time employees, 156 are Black women. Though Black women are employed at various levels throughout the university, the largest number (55) serve in clerical positions. In only a very few instances are more than one Black woman employed in the same unit, a situation that severely limits the amount of contact between and among Black women on the campus.

One of the goals of the university's current administration is for the institution to become more inclusive and diverse. Central to achieving this goal are initiatives designed to enhance the recruitment, retention, and promotion of women, people of color, and members of other protected classes. In the past, opportunities for members of these targeted groups to engage in leadership development and mentoring activities at the institution typically were limited to a few Black female faculty and the small number of Black women in middle- and upper-management positions. Opportunities for Black women in career service positions to participate in such activities were essentially nonexistent. The SISTERS Project was conceived as a means of addressing this deficiency by providing all Black women employed by the university with a structured process for developing knowledge and skills that could potentially lead to their career advancement. The project was also implemented to help combat the feelings of isolation and alienation that kept Black women at the university physically divided and emotionally estranged.

PROJECT FOCUS

Leadership development for women is often intended to help women break through the so-called "glass ceiling"2 of invisible but formidable workplace barriers (Shaw, Champlin, Hartmann, & Spalter-Roth, 1993, p. 1). For women of African descent in the United States, however, the metaphorical ceiling blocking their career advancement may be more than mere glass-indeed, some have likened it more to concrete (Anderson, 1998). The SISTERS Project aims to help Black women in a collegiate setting penetrate and break through workplace barriers ranging from subtle racist attitudes and prejudices to blatant discriminatory practices. …

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