Academic journal article Negro Educational Review

Black Women as Scholars and Social Agents: Standing in the Gap

Academic journal article Negro Educational Review

Black Women as Scholars and Social Agents: Standing in the Gap

Article excerpt

Introduction

Education has consistently been at the center of the Black community. Upon emancipation from human bondage, reconstruction governments led by Black legislators instituted free public schools along with other forms of democratic government and social legislation that broadened participation for all citizens (Wallace, Hinton-Hudson, Moore, Hart & Wilson, 2010). Because education was one of the most respectable professions that was open to Blacks before and after emancipation, American life and education are inconceivable without their presence (Harley, 2008; McKay, 1997). Many Black educators played prominent roles as scholars and social change agents at all levels of education. Black women in the academy, in particular, began in human bondage and emerged as early as 1850 as formal educators in newlyformed Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs). They served as both scholars and social change agents who specialized in the "humbler trades" - nursing, home economics, and moral teaching - and who focused on the moral, social, and educational development of young Black women as "uplifters" of their race as opposed to a liberal arts education like their White female counterparts (Collins, 2001, p. 32; Gregory, 1995; Harley, 2008). As authors and the subjects of this paper, we focus on Black women currently in the academy, who like these early pioneers, continue to "stand in the gap" as dual scholars and agents of social change defined here as "an alteration of social structures or culture over time" (Thomas, 2001, p. 83).

As Black women who are educators we believe that a career in the academy can be very rewarding. It provides us as administrators and faculty the freedom to pursue our own research interests, autonomy and control over their work, and opportunities for stimulating, creative, and intellectual development (Alfred, 2001). That said, Black women in academia differ in experiences, background, appearances, and beliefs; however, they are connected in the academy in "their struggle to be accepted and respected members of society, and their desire to have a voice" (Collins, 2001, p. 29). We argue, like others, that their presence on campus is critical as they "simultaneously assume the roles of scholars, researchers, educators, mentors, service providers and social change agents," sometimes with "aspirations for advancement up the hierarchy of supervisory, management, and administrative goals" (Harley, 2008, p. 24). Because of underrepresentation on campus, often these women-not being privy to mentoring, informal networks, and information-work in isolation that can have detrimental effects on morale and job satisfaction, which may cause some of them to leave the academy altogether (Fries-Britt & Turner-Kelly, 2005; Wallace et al., 2010). Oftentimes, Black women faculty are subjected to gendered racism, a belief that these women are better suited to work or serve in race-centered institutions or environments as opposed to Predominantly White Institutions (PWIs). Additionally, some Black women faculty may experience gender devaluation, a process where the status and power of an authoritative position are downplayed when a woman holds it and penalized for those agitating for change (Harley, 2008; Monroe, Ozyurt, Wrigley & Alexander, 2008; Wallace et al., 2010, p. 72). Thus, for Black women in the academy, the struggle to gain access, inclusion, and promotion to "the good life" in the academy can lead to ambiguous empowerment, a concept in which successful women must contend with discriminatory treatment and make sense of their position within a profession structured by race and gender inequality (Castro, 2010, p. 146).

Black women constitute a minority of faculty within the academy and their numbers decrease the higher the academic or administrative rank. Yet, their presence is vital as they play a plethora of implicit and explicit roles vital to education. The purpose of this reflective essay is to highlight our experiences as three Black female scholars at PWIs. …

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