When Will We Overcome: Women of Color in the Academy
I have been in academia for a very long time; it will be 26 years in August 2015. As a Woman of Color, I have noticed how few Women of Color there are among the faculty at majority institutions of higher education. Data for psychology indicate that in 2010-11 eight percent of full-time faculty were Women of Color; however, Women of Color had the lowest percentage of tenured positions. Furthermore, there were more Women of Color at the ranks of assistant and associate professor than at the rank of full professor (Bennett-Johnson, 2012). I attained promotion to associate professor with tenure on schedule, but the path to full professor was not as smooth. Having finally obtained promotion to full professor, I found Martha E. Banks’s review of The Duality of Women Scholars of Color: Transforming and Being Transformed in the Academy quite meaningful as I have spent the year analyzing how and why my progress stalled.
In her review, Banks describes the use of auto-ethnographies to explore the experiences of Women of Color in the academy. She notes the authors’ use of feminist and womanist perspectives, as well as discussions of “the joint impact of static and dynamic socioeconomic status, and perceived and actual immigration status and ethnicity” (para. 2), in the discussions of attempts to balance academic life and personal life. Banks draws attention to the experience of “otherness” as a factor that undermines Women of Color and invalidates their scholarship. Other books have been written in this area, including Presumed Incompetent (Gutiérrez y Muhs, Niemann, Gonzalez, & Harris, 2012) and Making Our Voices Heard: Women of Color in Academia (Curtis-Boles, Adams, & Jenkins-Monroe, 2012) (reviewed in PsycCRITIQUES [Daniel, 2013]). All of these books provide narratives of the personal and professional struggles encountered by Women of Color and the strategies used to overcome the obstacles and barriers that result in their attrition at each “transition [point] (for example, the transition from postdoctoral scientist to assistant professor, assistant professor to associate professor, and associate professor to full professor)” (Sewer, 2012, para. 2). The themes have included balancing family obligations, having a social justice or a research agenda that addresses the realities or needs of the racial/ethnic communities, discrimination due to race/ethnicity and sex, and a lack of role models and mentoring. Women of Color who have been successful found mentors, even when they were not women or persons of color, and have used support networks in and outside of the academy to sustain their efforts.
The narratives being presented are important, as they give voice to the perspective of Women of Color. They validate experiences and make it clear that we, as Women of Color, are not alone in the struggle. However, when do we transition to the in-depth analyses that move us toward greater representation of Women of Color among tenured faculty and those at the highest ranks in academia?
By Martha E. Banks
PsycCRITIQUES, 2015 Vol 60(18)