Academic journal article Negro Educational Review

Teaching Then and Now: Black Female Scholars and the Mission to Move beyond Borders

Academic journal article Negro Educational Review

Teaching Then and Now: Black Female Scholars and the Mission to Move beyond Borders

Article excerpt


The act of teaching requires a number of skills that are often not acquired by reading a textbook or developing a lesson plan. Teaching requires the ability to multi-task, synthesize opposing ideas, and develop a space where students feel comfortable to speak and share their views. Developing this skill set takes time, energy, countless efforts, and patience. Often times, in the midst of struggle, Black female educators develop strategies to cope and tactics to survive in spaces where our presence is not always welcomed, valued, or appreciated. In times of strife, change can occur. In this struggle, as bell hooks (1994) states, teaching to transgress requires educators to realize the academy is a space and place of uncomfortability and potential. She goes on to suggest that:

The academy is not paradise. But learning is a place where paradise can be created. The classroom, with all its limitations, remains a location of possibility. In that field of possibility we have the opportunity to labor for freedom, to demand of ourselves and our comrades, an openness of mind and heart that allows us to face reality even as we collectively imagine ways to move beyond boundaries, to transgress. This is education as the practice of freedom (p.207).

Before moving beyond boundaries, educators must have the ability to acknowledge boundaries that still exist today and which ones were in place in the past. Historically, the classroom has not always been made up of four walls, a chalkboard/dry erase board, and eager students ready to learn. How knowledge is acquired, shared, and disseminated to people has changed over time. The social, political, economic, and racial climate at a particular point in history dictates how information and knowledge is shared, or withheld from particular groups of people. When ethnic and racial minorities were not allowed to participate in "traditional" ways of knowing they in turn created their own unique and ingenious ways to dispense information.

Black women in particular have a long oral history that involves the act of storytelling and creating narratives that inspire change and resistance. Before there were classrooms and school houses, Black women broadened understanding of where and how students learn. Before they had textbooks, desks, pencils, and space, Black women used their homes, kitchen tables, and they own resources to teach. During the 1800s, Black women were "teaching to transgress," moving beyond boundaries, and imagining the possibilities of freedom before they were granted their own freedoms and rights (hooks, 1994).

Experiences of Black Female Faculty in Higher Education

In exploring the ways in which Black female faculty members navigate and negotiate their place and space within higher education, previous research has shown that this particular group of scholars experience the world of academe in very different ways than other men and women; particularly their engagement with non-White faculty members when it comes to adjusting and adhering to the unwritten rules and codes in higher education. Numerous studies have found that Black female faculty members must often make difficult choices in terms of balancing scholarship, teaching, and service responsibilities1 (Cozart, 2010; Gregory, 1999; Howard-Vital, 1989; Kawewe, 1997; Moses, 1989; Rassool, 1995). Howard-Vital (1989) identifies this struggle as "overburdened" and McKay (1997) labels it as "overworked." What they describe are the findings that Black female faculty members oftentimes teach more classes, advise more students, while simultaneously carrying out their own research projects and endeavors. For instance, Howard-Vital (1989) reviewed the current literature at the time on the experiences of Black women in higher education. She contends that:

in addition to the feelings of isolation, Black professionals occasionally find themselves overburdened with several tasks. The conflict between scholarly pursuits and numerous committee tasks (often relating to minority topics) is further exasperated by the academic environment in which the rules of how to attain success (tenure and recognition) are somewhat obscure and not explicitly delineated (p. …

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