A Message to Black Women Scholars and Our Allies - Higher Education


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A Message to Black Women Scholars and Our Allies

by Patricia Faison Hewlin & Laura Morgan Roberts

We see you. As Black Women scholars ourselves, we are with you and our sisters in our communities – responding to the differential physical, mental, and socioeconomic impacts of this “double pandemic” on our community. Society, however, doesn’t always see the pain of Black women. From experimental gynecological surgeries performed on enslaved women without anesthesia to the enduring underestimation of our pain among many health professionals today, we wear the superwoman cape and engage in armoring to buffer the pain. Broaching the alternative is filled with its risks as it readily conjures perceptions from others that we are angry, irrational and therefore, unworthy of being heard. Thus, we often repress our emotions at work and other professional settings. As Black women scholars we wrote this piece to own the myriad of emotions that many Black women scholars are feeling in this moment. Not only do we see you, but we also feel and honor you.

Dr. Patricia Faison Hewlin

Black women scholars, while disseminating our research is a core part of what we do in academia, we are acutely aware that, today, it is different. The call for “mother” during those eight minutes and 46 seconds brazenly awakened generational trauma while fortifying our mantel as care-takers and gate-keepers of justice. Our conviction propels us to speak truth, holding society and workplaces accountable for past and current indignities imposed upon us. Collectively and assertively, Black women scholars are giving voice to the voiceless in our communities and workplaces—breathing for those who cannot, while juggling a complex set of emotions and dualities.

As the world continues to place a spotlight on what we have always known and seen in our research related to equity, diversity and inclusion, we are gratified; but simultaneously, it is disheartening that this spotlight results from generational systemic discrimination and recent killings of women and men in our community. Nevertheless, the spotlight has created a sense of bravery among some of us to cast off our facades and authentically share stories of discrimination episodes we’ve experienced throughout our lives. With this liberation, however, comes vulnerability and fear. Upon sharing our experiences, we become vulnerable to negative social and career outcomes. A quick view of the social and news media feeds of Black women scholars who are writing and speaking publicly on these issues, reveals the onslaught of intense negative responses ranging from name-calling to physical threats. This is why many of us still repress our stories–the attacks confirm the threat, fortify emotional exhaustion, and highlight the absence of psychological safety at work and in society.

Dr. Laura Morgan Roberts

While we carry our own stories, Black women scholars are in the trenches of corporations and institutions to help integrate equity, diversity and inclusion into their fabrics of norms, practices and policies. In spite of this work, our very own academic homes are not in order. Persistently, we are not recognized and rewarded in tenure and promotion decisions for the social impact work we do, including the invisible labor of mentoring minority students. It is also disenchanting to see how quickly universities were able to pivot academic programming in response to the pandemic, but the ongoing pandemic of disparities associated with the lack of diversity in student bodies, tenure track professorships, and senior academic leadership remain intractable in many university settings. According to the 2018 Center for American Progress report, between the years 2013–2015, Black women earned only 8 of every 1,000 bachelor’s degrees in engineering. As well, Black women make up only 3.8% of tenure track faculty in US universities and only 1.8% of full professorships. Furthermore, studies have shown that both Black men and women professors are evaluated more negatively on teaching evaluations. With these and other statistics in mind, we wonder how different our careers and the careers of all of our students would be if stamping out anti-Black racism and earnestly addressing bias were embedded within the curriculum and value system of every academic institution.

As we consider past and present trials we are often asked: “do you have hope?” Yes, we have hope, however, hope must be fueled by evidence of progress. Thus, as the summer of 2020 ends and a new school year begins, we raise the question: will diversity, equity and inclusion remain on our agendas with actionable steps that are well-sustained in years to come?

To our Black women sister-scholars and those who are in support of this effort, Maya Angelou gives us words of hope: “…we may encounter many defeats, but we must not be defeated…I did get knocked down flat in front of the whole world, and I rose. I didn’t run away—I rose right where I’d been knocked down.”

Dr. Patricia Faison Hewlin is an associate professor of Organizational Behaviour at McGill University.

Dr. Laura Morgan Roberts is a professor of practice at Darden School of Business at the University of Virginia.