Academic journal article The Journal of Negro Education

A Dialogue with Divas: Issues Affecting a Scholarly Agenda in Special Education, from Africana Feminist Perspectives

Academic journal article The Journal of Negro Education

A Dialogue with Divas: Issues Affecting a Scholarly Agenda in Special Education, from Africana Feminist Perspectives

Article excerpt

This article highlights a study of African American women holding doctoral degrees in the field of special education and their experiences in composing scholarly agendas. It includes a plethora of themes regarding their resistance to the dominant cultural paradigm as it relates to initial experiences with special education programming, doctoral studies curricula, motivational supports, processes of hiring, and critical concerns for the field of special education. Each of these themes is contrasted with descriptions in the literature to provide better understanding of the unique perspective of Africana feminist scholarship. The findings from this study contribute new dialogue to professional development in higher education special education.

The traditional representation of American scholarship, which is based on a Eurocentric male theoretical perspective (Bond, 1972; Davis 1999; hooks, 1984), often fails to include the voice of the African American female academician (Guy-Sheftall, 1998; Hine, 1991; Willie, Grady, & Hope, 1991). As the institutions of higher education become more inclusive of underrepresented groups, the academy is challenged to accept the diverse experiences and understandings that accompany this aim. Whereas there have been increasing investigations of both women and African Americans in academia (Lomotey, 1997; Ruffins, 1997; Tack & Patitu, 1992), the literature neglects issues related to African American women and their professional development in higher education leadership (Alfred, 2001; Gregory, 1999), particularly in the field of special education (Bos, 1995; Cartledge, Gardner, & Tillman, 1995).

The purpose of this article is to provide better understanding of the unique perspectives of African American women forming special education scholarship. Traditionally the practice of scholarship, according to Boyer (1990), is defined as original research, effective teaching, and intellectual service. My investigation of 10 African American female doctorates brings insight to critical challenges and opportunities of scholarship in the profession of special education leadership for this distinct group of people. Although the specific lived experiences for each of these women may differ, the racial and gendered hegemony surrounding their circumstances is similar (Collins, 1990; Ihle, 1992; James & Farmer, 1993). The intersectional analysis between Afrocentric-namely the viewpoint of locating oneself within the historical, cultural and scientific context of the African diaspora (Akbar, 1991; Asante, 1992; Asante & Asante, 1990)-race, and gender, termed as Africana feminism (Benjamin, 1997), modifies the way we think about scholarship and what it actually looks like. Consistent with this theoretical perspective, the 10 African American women in this study challenge the broader social hierarchy based on their epistemological framework, construct an alternative paradigm, and provide a rationale for doing so.

METHOD

Qualitative methodology guides this investigation of African American female doctorates designing scholarly agendas in the field of special education leadership. Taylor and Bogdan (1998) define qualitative research as a sustained period of fieldwork in a naturalistic setting and the collection and analysis of multiple types of data, with the objective of understanding the social meanings participants place on the events, processes, and structure of their lives. This investigation explores the lived experiences of African American women by conducting naturalistic, open-ended, and in-depth interviews. Descriptive interview data were gathered, then thematically coded and analyzed through interpretivistic data analysis (Creswell, 1998; Lancy, 1993; Silverman, 2001; Strauss & Corbin, 1998). While the themes are emergent, I use my own interpretations and relevant literature to inform the analysis. This methodology according to Peck and Furman (1992) facilitates greater understandings of the values, institutional practices, and interpersonal interactions that influence the culture of special education. …

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