Academic journal article The Journal of Negro Education

Resisting from the Margins: The Coping Strategies of Black Women and Other Women of Color Faculty Members at a Research University

Academic journal article The Journal of Negro Education

Resisting from the Margins: The Coping Strategies of Black Women and Other Women of Color Faculty Members at a Research University

Article excerpt

This article argues that women of color, despite their marginalized position in the academy, need not consider their place as one of deprivation solely. In light of their considerable successes, a study was conducted to address two questions: How have academic women of color managed to cope, professionally and personally, given their marginalized position; and how have they used their position as a point and place of resistance to racism, sexism, and classism? Secondary analyses of survey and interview data from faculty women of color at a major U.S. research university revealed that these women's resistance strategies addressed five major areas: organizational barriers, institutional climate, lack of respect from one's colleagues, unwritten rules governing university life, and mentoring.

I am located in the margin. I make a definite distinction between that marginality which is imposed by oppressive structures and that marginality one chooses as site of resistance-as location of radical openness and possibility. (hooks, 1990, p. 153)

Numerous academic women of color have documented their individual experiences of living and working on the margins in their professional careers. hooks describes this marginalization experience as being "part of the whole but outside the main body" (hooks, 1990, p. 149). Other researchers have documented the finding that women of color encounter more barriers to professional socialization and success in the academic workplace than do their White female counterparts (Aguirre, 2000). Aguirre cited, for example, National Center for Education Statistics data which showed that African, Latina, Native, and Asian American women together comprised only 4% of the full-time instructional faculty at colleges and universities in the United States in 1993, with Black women constituting 2.2% of this group. White women, by contrast, comprised 29% of full-time faculty. Furthermore, women of color comprised 7% of all tenured associate and full professors in the 1993 U.S. professorate, with Black women again constituting more than half or 3.7% of this tenured group compared to White women, who constituted 32% of the nation's tenured associate and full professors. In terms of personal and professional "fit" into the culture of the academy, the experiences of many Black women, especially those employed at predominantly White institutions, are characterized by alienation, isolation, and social marginalization (Aguirre, 2000; Alfred, 2001).

For Black women and other women of color in the academic workplace, marginalization often translates into a feeling of invisibleness. Because their research is frequently viewed as insignificant, these women often receive little or no support for their intellectual pursuits, especially when their work centers on racial, ethnic, and/or gender issues (Cox & Nkomo, 1990; Park, 1996; Reyes & Halcon, 1988). Such experiences may also result in their being disproportionately assigned to teach classes or perform duties that fulfill a service component as opposed to their being asked to teach courses required for the major or serve on committees that are critical to the functioning of the institution (Aguirre, 2000). Marginalization is further evidenced when Black faculty women are forced, either covertly or overtly, to compromise their gender and/or racial/ethnic identities and when their White colleagues hold unrealistic expectations, insisting that they be shining examples of their group and somehow different from other Blacks and other women (Aguirre, 2000).

Despite being located on the margins-an unsafe and risky position for any member of an oppressed group-Black women and other women of color need not consider their place in the academy as one of deprivation solely. hooks (1990) has maintained that it should instead be viewed and used as a site for developing a "community of resistance" (p. 149). As she explained,

[M]arginality [is] much more than a site of deprivation; in fact . …

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