Troubling Success: Interviews with Black Female Faculty

By Edwards, Nivischi N.; Beverly, Monifa Green et al. | Florida Journal of Educational Administration and Policy, Fall 2011 | Go to article overview

Troubling Success: Interviews with Black Female Faculty


Edwards, Nivischi N., Beverly, Monifa Green, Alexander-Snow, Mia, Florida Journal of Educational Administration and Policy


In 1862, Mary Jane Patterson became the first Black female to be awarded the Bachelor of Arts degree as a graduate of Oberlin College (Davis, 1998). Since then, Black females have earned not only bachelor's, but also master's and doctoral degrees in the social, physical and biological sciences, in addition to business, humanities, and education. Though Black females have "come a long way" since 1862, the statistics about this group and their presence in academia are bleak. Dowdy (2008b) reported that there are "overwhelmingly negative research reports on the status of Black women in the academy" (p. 24).

According to The Almanac of Higher Education (2009), in Fall 2007, there were 20,148 Black female faculty in the United States; moreover, Black females accounted for only 6.8% of all female faculty and 2.9% of all faculty (see Table 1). Most Black female faculty members (8,175) were instructors, lecturers, or "other" ranks. In addition, there were more Black female assistant professors (6,035) than Black male assistant professors (4,607); however, Black males outnumbered Black females for the associate rank (4,110 to 3,745) and full rank (3,646 to 2,193).

Between the years 1995 and 2005, Black females represented the largest number (8,409) and percentage (23%) of earned doctorates of any people of color (male and female combined) and they have continued to show increased numbers within the academy (American Council of Education, 2006). When compared to their colleagues of color at assistant, associate, and full professor ranks, however, Black female faculty did not reflect the same gains in their promotion and tenure. In 2005, among faculty of color at the assistant rank, Black females represented 17.3% (5,438) and were second to Asian males at 28.49% (8,903) and Asian females at 19.3% (6,019) (Chronicle of Higher Education, 2007). In 2007, Black female faculty again represented 17.3% (6,035) of all assistant professors of color, showing an increase in numbers but not proportion (Chronicle of Higher Education, 2009). (See Table 1).

Additionally, when compared to other faculty of color, Black females lost gains between seven and nine percentage points, reflecting a decided decrease in the numbers of Black female faculty being promoted (NCES, 2005). It is clear that as a group, Black females have shown much success in doctoral attainment and overall representation in the professoriate relative to other faculty of color. What is not clear, however, are the reasons Black female faculty who earn more doctorates than any other faculty of color, are not achieving the same success in climbing the ranks of the professoriate.

Purpose of the Study

This study was conducted by three Black female researchers. At the time of this study, the first author was a doctoral candidate and the second and third authors were assistant professors. The first author was inspired to investigate this line of research to obtain a glimpse of the profession for which she was being prepared. The specific focus on Black female faculty was necessary to give a clear representation of her future profession. This journey began with feelings of excitement and naivety. There were high expectations of the professoriate and strong beliefs in a personal definition of "Black female faculty success."

The researchers asked questions about the participants' journeys to the academy, their professional/personal background, and their view of success. This article will focus specifically on the participants' discussion of success; moreover, the article will focus on the participants' answers to two poignant questions: 1) How do you define success? and 2) Do you believe you are a successful Black female professor?

Issues and Challenges facing Black Female Faculty

The challenges and issues experienced by faculty of color reflect professional and personal interactions that may create a chilly climate and work environment (Turner & Myers, 2000). …

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