Educators must do more to “excite dissatisfaction” with the status quo among students, Dr. Julianne Malveaux, president of Bennett College for Women, told a luncheon crowd gathered for the Association of Black Women in Higher Education conference at Princeton University on Friday.
Malveaux said she borrowed the phrase from the language of an 1821 law in North Carolina that made it a crime to teach a slave to read or give them a book, warning that to do so made them less satisfied with their enslavement.
“In other words, ignorant slaves are happy slaves and reading slaves are unhappy slaves, so let’s excite dissatisfaction,” she said.
To do so will require a new commitment to invest in American education at the K-12 levels, as well as in higher education, to make sure students are ready and eager for the opportunities.
Organizers said 155 people registered for the conference celebrating the organization’s 30th anniversary, hosted by the university. Attendees included provosts, deans and graduate students who came from such divergent institutions as Brown University, the University of Pennsylvania, the University of the District of Columbia, the College of the Holy Cross, Coppin State University, Georgia Southern University and Ithaca College.
Other keynoters were Dr. Thema Bryant-Davis, psychologist and assistant professor at
Pepperdine University; Dr. Melissa Harris-Lacewell, associate professor at Princeton
University; and Dr. Shirley M. Tilghman, president of Princeton University.
Makeba L. Clay, the conference organizer and president of ABWHE, noted that the conference was focused on the organization’s anniversary themes of “leadership, scholarship and service.” She said attendance at this conference was higher than usual because “the anniversary has created a lot of excitement and energy.”
Clay, who is director of the Carl Fields Center for Equality and Cultural Understanding at Princeton, said that among the issues on the table were “advancing in the workplace, strategies for that and looking at our historical impact in higher education — what some of the challenges have been and what some of the opportunities have been and are for women in higher education.”
Thirteen educators founded ABWHE, which has a membership of about 500, in 1978. About half were at the Princeton conference and participated in a panel on ABWHE’s legacy and impact on their careers.
One of the founders, Dr. Patricia M. Carey, assistant provost and associate dean of student affairs at New York University’s Steinhardt School of Education Information, recalled that the organization began out of an initiative generated by Dr. Jacqueline A. Kane, of the New York State Education Department, to organize some Black women then working in higher education.
“We thought there was a need to build community through our organization,” Carey said. “We looked at some of the issues that affected us in higher education and identified what we could do about it — not just stopping with us for but helping the next generation. Obviously, our work is not done yet.”
Attending an ABWHE gathering for the first time, Dr. Barbara Gaba, provost of Union County College/Elizabeth campus in New Jersey since 2002, said she had only recently learned of the organization and had taken the opportunity to network with women in her field and to learn about strategies for moving up.
Gaba, who is also cochair elect of NJ ACE Network, an affiliate of the American Council on Education’s Office of Women in Higher Education, said a key issue for higher education in the coming years would be succession planning because so many senior faculty and administrators who are part of the “baby boom” generation will reach retirement age.
“A big issue in higher education is who is going to fill the pipeline, and we want to make sure women get in there and people of color get into the pipeline,” she said. “How do we do that? By grooming people, now. Some people may be at the coordinator level or director now, maybe they need to begin to think, maybe I could be a dean or maybe I can be a vice president.”
ABWHE conferences are held every two years. For more information about the organization, log on to www. abwhe.org
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