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Finding a Voice in Predominantly White Institutions: A Longitudinal Study of Black Women Faculty Members’ Journeys Toward Tenure

by Bridget Turner Kelly & Rachelle Winkle-Wagner - 2017

Background/Context: Amidst scholarship that underscores the importance of Black women faculty in higher education, Black women are often not being retained in faculty positions at research universities. There is a gap in the research relative to how Black women experience the tenure process at predominantly White institutions, and this may have important implications for both recruitment and retention of Black women faculty.

Purpose: This analysis attempts to fill a gap in the literature on the recruitment and retention of faculty of color by asking: What are the experiences of Black women faculty on the tenure track at PWIs who are the only woman of color faculty member in their academic program? Drawing on data from qualitative longitudinal research with Black women faculty who were on the tenure track at PWIs, the primary purpose of this analysis was to understand four Black women’s longitudinal reflections on their journey toward tenure at PWIs where they are “othered” by gender and race.

Setting and Participants: This project was part of a larger study of 22 women faculty who were on tenure-lines in two predominantly White research universities. This study focused on four Black women from this larger study.

Research Design: This study employed a qualitative longitudinal research design. Data Collection and Analysis: As part of the qualitative longitudinal research design, interviews were conducted each year for five years with each participant.

Findings: The findings of this analysis with Black women faculty on the tenure-line suggests that despite being the only person of color in their academic programs, they found ways to use their voice in and outside the academy. Finding and using their voices in the academy became a way to push back and resist some of the isolation and racism that the women experienced in the academy, and often the women did so in collectivist spaces with other Black women.

Conclusions/Recommendations: These findings of this study call into question predominantly White and male spaces in academia and ways that these spaces should be challenged to change. The Black women in this study coped by creating collectivist spaces and finding/using their voices. Rather than focusing on how to encourage Black women to cope and survive in academia, there should be more emphasis on how to change institutional and departmental structures to make these spaces more inclusive and collectivist.

Many Black women faculty contribute to higher education goals by teaching diversity courses and recruiting and retaining students of color (Agathangelou & Ling, 2002; Perry, Moore, Edwards, Acosta, & Frey, 2009). Black women faculty are important to higher educations pledge of providing a multiracial learning experience for the majority of White students attending research universities; they also provide models and mentoring for many marginalized students (Patton, 2009) and may shed light on the cultural norms and values promulgated in the academy. Despite evidence of the importance of Black women faculty, they are often not being retained in faculty positions at research universities (Allen, Epps, Guillory, Suh, & Bonous-Hammarth, 2000; Lee, 2011; Patitu & Hinton, 2003).

Black women were the largest racially underrepresented group of instructors (9%, relative to 4.8% of Asian American, and 6.2% of Hispanic women), yet their numbers declined more rapidly when tenure was taken into consideration, particularly at research universities (Lee, 2011). In 2011, among women professors, Black women made up 4.8% and 6.6% of full and associate professors, respectively (U.S. Department of Education, 2013). Comparatively, White women made up 83.8% of women full professors and 77.8% of women associate professors. Asian American women made up 5.6% of full and 7.6% of associate professors, Hispanic women made up 3.1% of full and 4.1% of associate professors, and Native American Indian women made up less than 1% in both categories (U.S. Department of Education, 2013). Given the underrepresentation of faculty of color, particularly in the higher ranks, there has been increasing attention toward recruiting and retaining a diverse set of faculty members, including Black women, across disciplines in higher education (Fries-Britt, Rowan-Kenyon, Perna, Milem, & Howard, 2011; Gasman, Kim, & Ngyen, 2011; Myers, 2002). Our focus is not just on increasing numbers and status of Black women faculty but also on examining the context, culture, norms and assumptions embedded within the tenure system at predominantly White institutions (PWIs).

A deeper understanding of the pathways that Black women faculty navigate during the tenure process is a crucial part of understanding their retention in faculty roles and the cultural norms they experience within PWIs. Comparatively, little is still known about the perspective of Black women and how they experience the tenure process at PWIs which may have important implications for their retention. To increase our understanding of Black women faculty, this study drew on data from a larger longitudinal study of 22 women faculty on the tenure track at PWIs that was guided by the research question: What critical incidents contribute to womens socialization as a faculty member? Drawing on this larger study, we asked the following research question: What are the experiences of Black women faculty on the tenure track at PWIs who are the only woman of color faculty member in their academic program? The primary purpose of this analysis was to understand four Black womens longitudinal reflections on their journey toward tenure at PWIs where they are othered by gender and race. We learned from this analysis that particularly on campuses where Black women were marginalized and isolated, being able to find and use their voices was crucial for them to successfully navigate academia.

The findings of this study contribute to the literature on faculty in higher education in two important ways. First, the findings suggest that one of the reasons why some Black women faculty are retained is because they were able to resist the racist/sexist environment and find their voice and then use their agency to express that voice through writing, and within their academic departments and campuses. Second, these findings reveal that one reason some Black women may leave academia is because they were either not encouraged or faced explicit resistance to finding and using their voice within an exclusive campus environment.


The intersection of gender and race and how those multiple marginal identities impact Black women in the academy is understudied. The majority of the literature on women faculty focused primarily on gender (particularly White women) or race (with an emphasis on men of color) versus a both/and approach (Kelly & McCann, 2014; Leggon, 2006; Turner, González & Wong, 2011). The sexist and racist climate of the academy can impede womens success (Greene, Stockard, Lewis, & Richmond, 2010; Maranto & Griffin, 2011; Marschke, Laursen,  Nielsen, & Dunn-Rankin, 2007; Mayer & Tikka, 2008; Ward & Wolf-Wendel, 2004). Yet, the majority of studies on women faculty focused on samples of White women faculty, and if Black women were included in the study, the authors did not differentiate participants experiences by race or ethnicity. In the quantitative literature, scholars included discussion of gender and race but typically treated the two as independent variables to address barriers for women and people of color and to explore the lower representation of women and minorities among tenure track faculty and among full professors (Perna, 2001, p. 541). Common themes for qualitative studies on faculty of color, including Black women, centered on higher demands for diversity-related teaching and/or service (Garrison-Wade, Diggs, Estrada, & Galindo, 2012; Moore, Acosta, Perry, & Edwards, 2010), the importance of mentoring for faculty of colors success (Cole & Barber, 2003; Diggs, Garrison-Wade, Estrada, & Galindo, 2009; Piercy et al., 2005; Stanley, 2006; Stanley & Lincoln, 2005), and challenges to asserting credibility and authority in a predominantly White classroom (Bavishi, Madera, & Hebl, 2010; Perry et al., 2009).


Studies that included Black women faculty and focused on the intersection of race and gender found that their credibility and authority were often challenged at PWIs (Johnsrud & Sadao, 1998; Luna, Medina, & Gorman, 2010; Sule, 2011). A qualitative study of 10 Black and Latina women faculty found that as marginalized faculty, women of color had to enact legitimacy to anticipate and respond to actions they perceived as undermining what they were capable of doing as a faculty member (Sule, 2011). Sule (2011) noted, Black women and Latinas are not culturally imagined as intellectuals. Participants were operating in spaces where their professionalismtheir ability to enact the professorial rolewas heavily questioned by some colleagues and students (p. 7). Black women have to navigate both perceptions that women are not intellectually competent enough to be faculty members and people of color are not legitimate faculty because of affirmative action (Luna et al., 2010). Luna et al. (2010) conducted interviews with seven women of color, including Black women faculty members and found their stories of alienation compelling for ways to challenge the dominant sexist and racist university environment. When Black women faculty are outwardly or subconsciously viewed as affirmative action hires it compounds feelings of distrust, fear, and suspicion already at play due to sexism (Luna et al., 2010).

Perhaps because of the lack of critical mass (a large enough group of faculty of color for the environment to feel more welcoming) of Black women faculty in PWIs, mentors are particularly hard to come by, but important in negotiating the environment. There is evidence that Black women have resorted to peer mentoring due to the lack of Black women in senior faculty roles (Fries-Britt & Kelly, 2005). Gregory (1999) conducted a quantitative study that examined 384 Black women faculty members experiences in the academy and found that having a mentor increased their likelihood of earning tenure and being promoted. Mentors also functioned as important sources of information for professional advancement (Gregory, 1999). In later work, through a synthesis of historical data and existing theoretical and empirically based literature, Gregory (2001) recommended more attention to faculty development as a means to retain more Black women faculty, such as through more protection from service or other responsibilities that were not assets for tenure and promotion. The responsibilities of service outside of advising and teaching many times fall disproportionately on women of color faculty (Johnsrud & Sadao, 1998; Luna et al., 2010). Often Black women faculty feel pressured to highlight only one aspect of their identity (race or gender) when they are asked to serve on diversity committees or when colleagues expect them to nurture and care for students above and beyond their advising load (Fries-Britt & Kelly, 2005; Kelly & McCann, 2014).

Existing literature provides a backdrop for understanding Black women faculty experienceswhether indirectly through literature that analyzes gender separately from race or explicitly via the few available studies on women faculty of color that include Black women and discuss the intersection of race and gender.


Faculty careers are typically studied through the notion of socialization, attempting to understand how faculty learn and incorporate the values of their disciplines and institutions into their own scholarship and practice (Tierney & Rhoads, 1993). These socialization frameworks primarily frame socialization as a way to examine how individual scholars might progress into and through the academy (Austin, 2002; Weidman, Twale, & Stein, 2001).


The focus on individual efforts to gain tenure often follows patriarchal norms of a faculty member working on single-authored publications to prove academic worth and rigor (Acker & Armenti, 2004; Sule, 2011). Individualism has been linked to intersections of gender and race, privileging Whiteness and patriarchal norms where men are in power (Healy, Bradley, & Mukherjee, 2004). In the context of this study, individualism can be viewed as faculty pursuing ones own self-interest to earn tenure, acting as an independent and responsible unto oneself.

Additionally, socialization is often contemplated in terms of how faculty will acclimate to existing norms and institutions, such as valuing individualism, which can be problematic for Black women faculty who may have been socialized outside of the academy in more collectivist environments (Healy et al., 2004). Collectivism is defined in this study in two ways: instrumental and solidarism. Instrumental collectivism is where faculty act in their own self-interest (e.g., pursue tenure) but also believe working with others may be a more productive way to achieve results. Solidarism collectivism holds that injustice is a motivator for working with others who share the same history, experiences and struggle (Healy et al., 2004). Thus, individualism and collectivism can be seen in a continuum whereby individualistic values have some merit (Goncalo & Staw, 2006) but collectivist values are worthwhile and necessary at times. For example, a faculty member who demonstrates instrumental collectivism can act from ones own self-interest as an independent actor at times, but also find it expedient to act in concert with others on those issues where collective action yields better results (Healy et al., 2004, p. 452). The role of power and social justice are critical in understanding the distinction between individualism, instrumental collectivism and solidarism collectivism because those who are marginalized in an organization tend to see power in working with others to enact social change (Healy et al., 2004). As marginalized groups of women and people of color, women of color have historically been socialized around power in numbers and strength in solidarity (Healy et al., 2004; hooks, 2009). The majority of literature on the socialization of individualistic or collectivist cultures were found in business, psychology, and industrial relations journals and not specifically focused on faculty in higher education.


In addition to the socialization lens we drew from to organize our study and make sense of the data, we used critical race feminism (CRF), which is connected with critical race theory (CRT) (Crenshaw, Gotanda, Peller, & Thomas 1995; Taylor, Gillborn, & Ladson-Billings, 2009) as our conceptual framework. Critical race theory is grounded in five tenets: (a) race and racism as central features of society; (b) the necessity of counter-narratives that provide other stories aside from those that are historically dominant (e.g., White); (c) the need to highlight social justice; (d) a focus on experiential knowledge; and (e) an exploration of historical influences within current research (Crenshaw et al., 1995; Solorzano, Villalpando, & Oseguera, 2005; Taylor et al., 2009). CRT is useful in challenging dominant narratives that people of color are solely responsible for their struggles in the academy and focusing on racism as a natural phenomenon (Ladson-Billings, 2000). CRT values the experiential knowledge of People of Color, and treats their testimonies as valid and useful data, (Johnson-Ahorlu, 2012, p. 636). We used this framework to explore Black women facultys experiential knowledge of the tenure track within the larger system of academia, and how racism manifested in their experiences. Our use of CRF allowed us to intersect race and gender in our analysis. For example, Crenshaw et al. (1995) maintained that identities such as race, gender, class, or sexual orientation are often intersecting and overlapping in experiences. Our use of CRF highlighted within-group differences among Black women faculty so that we did not essentialize their experiences as the same. Additionally, through its focus on counternarratives and social justice this framework helped us to emphasize norms in the academy (e.g., individualism) that may or may not be in line with the values that the women described.

This study is framed by the assumptions that: (a) Black women on the tenure track exist in a system of oppression based on race and gender; (b) counternarratives relative to dominant discourse on Black women faculty experiences are valuable because of the unique perspectives they offer and their absence in the literature; and (c) counternarratives are not meant to simply tell a story and in fact serve to name racism and sexism and work toward changes in institutional practices (i.e., social justice; and, the historical context in which Black women faculty exist impacts their experiences on the tenure track). What CRF specifically adds to the tenets already laid out by CRT is a gendered intersectional epistemology that focuses on how other identities dynamically intersect to explain access to resources and reproduction of power hierarchies (Sule, 2011, p. 144). In this study, power hierarchies are exemplified by Black womens racial/ethnic and gender identity relative to seniority within the tenure system and a White male master narrative (Garrison-Wade et al., 2012, p. 94) of success in the academy. Also, CRF allows us to emphasize ways in which Black women faculty experiences may differ amongst each other as CRF avoids essentialism of what it means to experience the world as a woman and a Black person (Allen, 1998; Ropers-Huilman & Winters, 2011). Our use of CRF allowed us to include intersections of race and gender into the context for which Black women experienced the tenure track within a PWI.

Much of the existing literature on faculty socialization and roles has failed to incorporate longitudinal data or a conceptual framework that integrates race and gender specifically as CRF does. Longitudinal studies are still needed to identify the multiple paths of socialization that faculty traverse into, through, and sometimes back out of the academy (for example, see Neumann, 2009). Therefore, our focus on longitudinal data, attention to individualistic and collectivist socialization, use of a conceptual framework that takes race and gender into account, and our exclusive focus on Black women faculty at research universities offer a unique lens for viewing Black women faculty experiences on the tenure track.


Qualitative researchers are interested in understanding how people interpret their experiences, how they construct their worlds or social contexts, and what meaning they attribute to their experiences (Merriam, 2009). This study utilized qualitative longitudinal research which is focused on the investigation and interpretation of change over time in social contexts (Morrow & Crivello, 2015). Qualitative longitudinal research is apt for a study on finding voice as it increases the responsibility to giving voice to participants (Henderson, Holland, McGrellis, Sharpe, & Thomson, 2012, p. 28). Linked to our focus on CRF, researchers who use qualitative longitudinal research often rely on an interpretive and constructivist paradigm that assumes people make meaning in a socially constructed reality (Charmaz, 2000). This study employed a constructivist approach (Denzin & Lincoln, 2011). According to Yi and Shorter-Gooden (1999), the purpose of a constructivist approach is to understand human behavior as constructions determined by the social contexts (p. 18). This approach was appropriate due to the focus on Black womens faculty experiences within the context of higher education. We particularly narrowed the studys focus to Black women to examine how this underrepresented population made meaning on the tenure track within a PWI. A constructivist approach to this qualitative longitudinal research study also allowed us to pinpoint experiences that were meaningful to participants each year on the tenure track and ground the data in their perception of reality. This study can contribute to general understandings of Black women facultys experiences on the tenure track, within the social context of academia (Yin, 2009).

This study was drawn from a larger project called Women in the Academy. The goal of the Women in the Academy Study was to understand critical incidents experienced on the tenure track journey that may lead to an assistant professor earning tenure or not. Purposeful sampling (Patton, 2002) was used to recruit assistant professors on the tenure track with the aid of established networks the researchers had with administrators in the participants provosts office and centers for excellence in teaching. Participants were emailed by these administrators from two public, research, PWI universities, one in the mid-Atlantic, the other in New England. The qualitative longitudinal research study involved one-on-one interviews with researchers and participants beginning in their first or second year and each consecutive year through one year post-tenure, and/or when they departed their institution prior to earning tenure. A semi-structured, open-protocol interview served as the primary means of generating data (Ortiz, 2003). Each participant participated in an average of five tape-recorded, hour-long interviews and responded to seven questions that pertained to their experience on the tenure track. The questions focused on their socialization in the tenure track and probed for critical incidents they recalled each year about what hindered or helped their success on the tenure track (see Appendix A).

Participants in this study emerged from the larger Women in the Academy study which included 22 assistant professors on the tenure track, seven women of color and 15 White women faculty. The four participants were chosen for this analysis because they were the only Black women participants in the Women in the Academy study and because of their unique status as the only person of color in their academic program. The four Black women faculty represented a variety of academic disciplines within Business, Counseling, and Higher Education. We could not analyze facultys experiences based on discipline, given the small number of women in each field and differences within fields. We also intentionally focused on PWIs because of the greater tenure disparity of women of color faculty at research universities (Philipsen, 2008).

Because of the longitudinal nature of the study, analysis of data happened throughout data collection as we reviewed transcripts prior to the next years interview. This allowed us to modify probes in the interview protocol and to circle back to a theme that emerged from a previous interview. Participants confirmed our inquiries about critical incidents during the interview. To enhance trustworthiness of the study, we individually reviewed transcripts and came to independent conclusions on the themes that emerged. We relied on intercoder agreement (Creswell, 2013) to increase reliability of the study. For example, after coding the first transcripts separately, we met and came to agreement on what code was assigned to key passages in womens transcripts. Our independent coding and subsequent analytical conversations increased credibility in the study (Denzin & Lincoln, 2011) (see Appendix B for sample analysis).

Our analysis of data proceeded as follows. To analyze the data (Appendix B), the authors each coded the transcripts for each participant across the years that she was interviewed. Then, we dialogued and wrote memos on the path that each woman took through academia, creating an outline for each participants trajectory for each year of data collection. We used this trajectory analysis as a way to consider the larger context of participants experience as we coded smaller chunks of data. After this initial analysis, we used a data reduction technique (Neumann, 2009) where we crafted an analytic question to ask of the data. In this case, we posed the question: How does each Black woman faculty member describe her path on the tenure track? To answer this question, we coded for critical incidents women described as impactful on their tenure track journey. We analyzed these critical incidents based on the analysis of the participants pathway for that year of analysis. After analyzing the data based on this analytic question, we then created a list of codes for smaller chunks of data. These codes were primarily in the participants words (see Appendix B). Then, we referred back to our CRF theoretical framework to contemplate how race and gender experiences related to historical trends, and how the women coped with these experiences. We created a list of CRF codes for smaller chunks of the data from this analysis. Last, we analyzed the data through the lens of socialization as a way to investigate the individualist or collectivist norms Black women experienced on the tenure track. The interviews included participant-generated drawings (Austin, 2003; Davidson, Dottin, Penna, & Robertson, 2009) of challenges and highlights each year on the tenure track. These data were triangulated alongside the interview data and member checks from the participants to increase reliability and validity of the data.

As we hold different cultural identities, one White woman and one Black woman, but both tenured faculty members, we checked each others interpretations, categories, and themes that emerged through data analysis conversations. Our identities were essential to our positionality throughout conceptualizing, conducting, and analyzing the study. As we read the literature about few women and women of color faculty we sought to understand how other women and, in particular Black women were experiencing the reality of being the only one in their department or program. One author recorded her tenure track journey separately from this study (Fries-Britt & Kelly, 2005) to bring awareness of her perspective on the role gender and race played in her experience and hold that separate from the data in this study. She also relied on independent coding and review of data analysis with Author B to enhance credibility. For Author B, her identity as a White woman placed her as both inside and outside of the data. As a woman she identified with the highlights and challenges women in the study experienced in relationship to gender; yet, she did not hold the position of being Black and so did not identify as closely with the racism described by the participants. These lenses help ensure trustworthiness and credibility in the study (Denzin & Lincoln, 2011). Our ongoing researcher reflexivity and data analysis strategies enhanced the trustworthiness and reliability of the study (Creswell, 2013). Themes that emerged from coding transcripts were the basis for the findings reported for this study.  


The findings of this study provide evidence of how Black women faculty create spaces for themselves in individualistic environments. Despite being othered as Black and a woman, each faculty member described a unique way in which she identified or created a place for herself within academia. While these longitudinal narratives revealed each womans unique path, there were a few common experiences: (a) The women described being the sole Black woman in their academic program and ways that they created a space for themselves either in or outside of the academy. (b) In part because of feelings of isolate on and marginalization, the women described how they identified the importance of finding something collective (e.g., spiritual life) or someone (e.g., friends, partner, children) outside of the academy to focus on, taking them outside the solo focus of tenure. (c) Finally, over the years that the women were interviewed, they described a process of finding their voice, even if it meant leaving the academy. Before presenting these themes, we provide a brief description of each of the four participants.


All of the women began the study at public, PWI, research universities. They chose the PWI environment because of active recruitment, fit with location, and prestige of the university. Both universities were research extensive and had stated expectations of faculty to produce two to three empirical journal articles every year while on the tenure-track. Florine is the only Black woman faculty member in the study that is not from the United States. She is from Kenya and earned tenure in a counseling program. She was single without any children through the tenure process. Bonnie earned tenure in education. She is married and she and her partner cared for their daughter who had significant health problems during Bonnies tenure track journey. Amanda earned tenure in counseling only after transitioning from her original institution to another one with different guidelines. She was single without any children during her tenure journey. Collettes contract was not renewed after her third year review at her business college. She was also unmarried without any children during her tenure journey.


Amanda described her first year on the tenure-line and explained the difficulty in trying to be productive in her research alongside teaching and advising expectations. She noted one way to cope with the publication demands is to collaborate as much as possible. And it takes a lot longer sometimes, the single [authored] versus [to] collaborate. Cause singles really difficult to do it by yourself. Amanda recommended collaborating because it was really difficult to try to publish on her own. This may also be an implicit reference to feeling isolated in trying to meet the individualistic standards of having single authored publications on the tenure line.

Another indication of the individualistic culture of the program was how Amanda explained her early philosophy toward mentoring students of color within the institution:

Ive told a couple of them You need to grow up and just deal with it. I dont have time to deal with this. Its something you need to just grow up. Dont be leaning on people. Go ahead and deal with it yourself.

In her first years on the tenure-line, Amanda encouraged students of color in her institution to adapt to the individualistic norms of the institution. She viewed individualism as maturity, as evidenced by her statement that this was about students needing to grow up to be successful.

In addition to the individualistic nature of academic norms, in her first year Florine described how isolating it was to be the only person of color in her program and often in classes she taught. She reflected on how the lack of people of color did not strike her at first during the interview:

Whatever program or university interview [is] an iceberg and all you see is a 10th of it at the top. There is that 9/10ths that you dont see and no one will tell you about until you get in right there . . . I think people just say the right things. . . . I met all the students of color in the program and there were three students of colorin my group of students that I met, there were three students of color in that group, and I used it to kind of make assumptions about the student body composition. And I think I might have asked about diversity in the program, and I was told oh theres diversity . . . I think [I asked] as a woman of color, wanting to educate students of color, and wanting to enhance the lifestyles of people of color.

Florine alluded to a sense of loss and isolation in finding she was teaching primarily White students and that she might not get to accomplish her goal of educating students of color.

In her first years as an assistant professor in an overwhelmingly White doctoral university in the Northeast, Florine described that during this time, academia was scary. Not knowing anyone. I found myself wondering if I could be successful in this environment. . . . Im the only person of color teaching in that program. Being the only woman of color in her program meant that students both came to her a lot for support and to complain, often exaggerating the things that Florine said as being too harsh or too direct. In addition, Florine is from Kenya and being so far away from her family enhanced feelings of isolation.

In her first year, Collete shared that she is the youngest, the only woman, and the only Black person in her department. She reaffirmed her sense of being marginalized because of her age, race, and gender and how this influenced her behavior, Its a bit isolating from time to time and I think some of them dont understand why I dont always want to go out to lunch with them all the time. She explained:

When I first got here I was trying to do some of the social things . . . with the department. And now its kind of like I dont even really want to do any real socializing . . . because its like you know I dont have anything in common and also, some of them have some very strong, very conservative political views. And whenever they get to talking about politics, Im like let me just bite my lip and not say anything because I did not want to get into a heated debate. You know, its not worth it (Laugh) . . . Im kind of like OK we will look elsewhere for the social and just kind of come here and make sure that they socialize with me enough.

Collette described a level of discomfort in spending time socially with her colleagues, in large part because of their divergent political views. Both the differences in their views, and her sense of isolation for her age, race, and gender likely influenced her sense of being marginalized in the academy.

Bonnie also described isolation during the tenure process in particular. The year she earned tenure, she explained she was the second Black woman to earn tenure in her college of education:

So Im the second. This year, two junior Black faculty came to see me and said Have you heard the rumor that theres a group of White senior colleagues who went to go see the dean complaining that weve lowered the standards. Weve let two Black . . . So I said, What? . . . They went to see the dean. The dean did not deny it. She said that she knew she had some racism going on but were dealing with it.

While Bonnie did not use the term isolation, it is clear how marginalizing her experience of earning tenure was. While she believed she had worked hard to build a case for tenure where race and gender were not an issue, she still experienced racism in her tenure process. She was only the second Black woman to have been tenured in that college in decades, and when it happened, people actually questioned whether the tenure standards had been lowered. She continued to reflect on why she may have had the experience that she did:

I just think women are undervalued in the academy. I just point blank think that we are just not valued at the same level. And being a mom, I went through . . . Cause that came up. Oh whoo lord . . . They really ticked me off because that came up . . . I got the little seeping information and because my daughter had . . . been ill, and I had a lot of stuff. I have accomplished what I have accomplished, with all those obstacles, to me, that ought to speak to what I am capable of doing. But it got misconstrued as well you know, she wasnt as productive. I mean but again, if since you are comparing me to this other candidate, how can you say I was any less productive?

Not only did Bonnie experience sexism and racism during her tenure and promotion, she also thought she was discriminated against based on her role as a mother to a child who had been very ill during the tenure process.

All of these issues give context as to why the women in this study may have described feelings of isolation and marginalization throughout their first years on the tenure track and even into the final year of earning tenure. These negative experiences are reflective of departmental and institutional cultures that may support individualistic over collectivist efforts and these environments do not appear to be inclusive to scholars of color. While the women navigated these institutions, their experiences are likely what led the women to develop coping strategies, as evidenced below.


There were a few positive coping strategies that the Black women in this study described as helping them cope with isolation and marginalization during their time on the tenure track. One positive coping strategy was to detach from tenure as being the only important thing in their lives. For example, Florine recalled realizing in her first year on the tenure-line, [I was] trying to live. I mean just saying this is my not my life. Other participants echoed this idea that being faculty was not their entire sense of self. The idea of having other professional and personal identities outside of the tenure-track position seemed to be a positive way to deal with the stress of being isolated or marginalized in academia.

For Collette, it was mid-way through her tenure journey that she realized that to be healthy she needed to leave academia. During the interviews in her fourth year, which was the last year she was on her tenure-track position, she reported:

I have decided to look for a new position. Like Im actively looking now. Ive applied to two academic places, both HBCUs, but Im also looking outside of academia because Im still not sure if I really want to stay in academia . . . I think I just got burned out. I got burned out and I just kind of reached the point where I was like I dont know how much more I can take. Im extremely bored. Thats the sad part. You know, Im bored. I dont find teaching challenging. . . . You know I want to do something a little different. But its scary because I havent done anything different.

In summarizing the way that the pressure had accumulated, Collette described feeling both burned out and bored with her position. It seemed that for her, a positive coping strategy was to allow herself to see other possibilities outside of the tenure track position. She also mentioned applying to historically Black colleges and universities which is one indication that she was looking for a different type of environment, perhaps one that was more welcoming of her identities as a Black woman.

Collette did not come to her decision to look outside of academia for positions entirely on her own. Her contract was not renewed after her third year tenure-track review, mainly due to an insufficient number of publications. It was almost with a sense of complete resignation and acceptance that Collette described both her desire and the encouragement from her department for her to look outside of her tenure-line appointment for employment. Collette summarized her experience after making the decision to leave academia as, Painful. I would go just to teach class and then I would leave. Ultimately, the best way for Collette to maintain her well-being was to disengage from being on the tenure line. Collette lectured for a while after leaving her tenure track line and spent time trying to find an environment that resonated and fit her.

Beyond disassociating from ones department or from the academy, many of the participants described social relationships as a positive way to cope with the stressors of tenure-track positions. These coping strategies were primarily linked to ways that the women could connect with a more collectivist culture (e.g., relationships, giving back to communities). Mid-way through her tenure journey, Florine described:

I think Im gradually developing a social network. I mean I have friends who I do things with, go to the movies, dinner, that kind of thing. So that is really good cause it takes you away from [work]. . . because this tenure is like a parasite. . . . Its been difficult for me cause my family isnt here. So all through my life my family was always very supportive, but being here and them being so far away, its really been difficult. But I think also trying to maintain that contact with them. And also just maintaining contact with certain people who have nothing to do with academia does help. Cause sometimes you just talk to someone about hair or about I dont know what but things that have nothing to do with research and writing and journal reviews. I realize that sometimes its actually just very relaxing to not have to talk about this stuff.

Florine described the tenure stress as a parasite and she countered this with the way that her friendships gave her a space to deal with and get away from the pressure in her job. Some friendships seemed to be about getting away from her position on the tenure-line. Florine also mentioned being able to talk about hair, something that is a hot topic in Black women circles, and not often discussed in an overwhelming White university environment.

Amanda transitioned to a new institution mid-way through her tenure process due to feelings of frustration and pressure to publish without clarity in her institutions expectations for publication. She was recruited into a clinical track tenure position at a new institution, where she described the availability of other Black faculty as one of the perks:

I dont think the transition wasnt too bad. . . . We also have on campus a number of the African American faculty, who are non-tenured. [They] gather and they do a research colloquium so people get to present their research. . . . So its kind of neat and that part I like. And then they now are trying to do mentoring for African American females on this campus.

Similar to the other Black women in this study, the more collectivist space to present and discuss research was something that Amanda described as very important to her satisfaction with her second faculty position. In addition to having created a community of other Black scholars, Amanda reflected on one of the reasons she felt more content in her new position:

I have family actually in this area so thats another reason why I was coming back. . . . It wasnt close, close family but you know enough to where if I needed something I had somebody to call. And they were in the same field so that helped out a whole lot cause dealing with some of the politics around hereon the state levelI was like Well what about this person? Oh dont talk to him. I mean and thats literally how it was. Oh Ive talked to him. Dont worry about him. . . . Thats helped out tremendously.

Connecting to the idea of finding a more collectivist space, Amanda highlighted the supportive role that her family was able to play once she moved to a new institution.

After earning tenure Bonnie also reflected on the importance of finding supportive relationships during her tenure process:

My husband was a big support. . . . I have lots of good friends. I have a strong circle of colleagues and friends . . . A group of women I invest with, Black women, and many of them were my undergraduate colleagues. But then I have professional colleagues. So just staying involved, you know, church activities, just staying connected to my community and my family. Theres no question. My little one and my husband, I mean thats critical time for me to just have the family time. . . . And actually back to support, Ive had a lot of challenges with my daughters health since Ive been on tenure track, and my department, I think, has been extremely supportive. Ive had to go on medical leave. . . . Weve had major medical challenges and they have stepped to the plate on every one of them, and that is significant. That is really significant. I feel completely supported by them.

Bonnie gathered support from her husband, child, friends, and from her church, and she particularly mentioned how important a group of Black women friends and colleagues is to her well-being. Additionally, she underscored how supportive her department had been during the tenure process, particularly when Bonnies daughter fell ill and Bonnie needed to take time off to care for her family. It is possible that Bonnie had mixed feelings about her departmental support. Bonnies assertion of her departments support was in contradiction with some of her claims of isolation and her experience of being treated as less productive because of her sick child.

In addition to finding supportive relationships, the Black women in this study emphasized the importance of maintaining their health during the tenure process. After getting tenure, Bonnie reflected that one of the most important aspects of finding and using her voice in the academy was knowing how to take care of herself during the process. She described an instance that stood out to her in her first year on the tenure track:  

That was my biggest thing, was to go through the process with grace. . . . When I first came on board I remember distinctly seeing an African American woman . . . who just looked chewed up going through the process. I mean literally. Her hair was falling out. She was pale looking. She was unhappy. . . . I took care of myself mentally, physically, spiritually, and just said no matter what happens, I cant come out of the other end of this process beat up. So my biggest goal was to get through tenure but to get through tenure in style and grace.

Early on in her tenure journey Bonnie underscored the importance of deliberately prioritizing her physical and emotional health and not going through the tenure process, as she had seen another Black woman do, without balance and a sense of well-being.

A final way that the Black women in this study described their coping techniques related to their faith and spirituality and getting outside of themselves for strength. Collette said one thing that helped her was prayer. In her fifth year on the tenure track Bonnie further explained how her relationship with God helped her to make it through tenure:

I think theres another level of inspiration that comes spiritually through a God source. Some people call it different things. I think about it as my relationship with God. And so I got to my room at the conference, and I was talking to God in the room. . . I was literally (laughing) walking around the room, talking, and I got in the bed. . . . And I got in the bed and I put the covers over me and I was trying to quiet my soul. I also use ear plugs a lot, and ear plugs help me too because they make me hear my own thinking and spiritually get more in tune. So I was in the bed, and I wasthought I was gonna be drifting off to sleep, and this entire manuscript came to me spiritually, of what I needed to do with that manuscript. So I jumped up and I got a pad and I start scribbling the rewrite of the manuscript, and I knew at the moment it was coming that thats exactly how it would . . . and I came downstairs and I ran into a couple of colleagues. And I said, I justI assure you this [is] going to be published. I just saw the whole vision. And I mentioned it to another White male colleague who looked at me puzzled. That was the irony. He looked at me like, Yeah right. I could see it on his face. Another colleague said, Oh great. They understood. And so the highlight for me was that that article was published exactlyI saidI went home, did the rewrites andI mean I just it totally came to me completely.

Bonnie described not only taking care of her physical and emotional well-being during tenure, but, also the importance of maintaining her faith and spirituality. For her, the process of tapping into her faith even helped to drive some of her research and writing. The research and writing also became one of the ways that the women identified their voice in academia.

Largely because these scholars found themselves in isolating, individualistic, largely unsupportive environments, they eventually were compelled to find positive ways to cope with their experiences. There remains a question, which cannot be answered with this data, as to whether these women should have been put in the position to individually attempt to overcome institutional constraints. Nonetheless, without existing support structures and ways to deal with institutional isolation, the women found ways to survive. One such way to cope with these environments was the finding and using of ones voice.


One of the major accomplishments that the Black women in this study asserted that they had achieved was the identification and use of their voice. Finding a way to articulate their views in an environment where they were the only Black woman was significant. Sometimes this meant speaking up with their colleagues, and sometimes this meant finding ones voice through research and writing.

For Amanda, finding voice meant leaving her first institution mid-way through the tenure-track and going to a university that spoke to her needs. She chose to go into a clinical line in a medical college where she was promoted based on a planning document that she wrote. In Amandas words, she was more in control of the process than she had been during the tenure process at her original institution:

The assessments a little different although promotion is the same. The tenurethe way that they do tenurewell in a clinical track is its more or lessthe evaluation is a little different. You tell [them] what youre gonna plan on doing. Its more like a planning document and then they actually agree to or evaluate you on what you said you were gonna plan to do. . . . At [original institution], well I just was evaluated differently thats all. If you really want the truth, I probably would put down that I would do it anyway its just that now its not anybody telling me what I have to do.

Amanda was doing similar work at her new institution than she was at her previous institution, but for her the difference is no one is telling her what to do. She noted that she would put down the same number of publications required of her at her original institution, but at her new institution her voice is dominant and she likes the flexibility of being accountable to herself first before the institution.

Collette, also midway through her tenure-track journey, found she needed to leave her original institution, and academia altogether, to find and use her voice. Academia was making Collette miserable. When she made the decision to leave the tenure-track position she reflected on what she learned, I guess one of the things that I learned was dont try to put your heart and soul into something that youre only doing for functional reasons. In the final semester of her contract on the tenure-track line, Collette found her voice and decided to be herself. Collette described the freedom she felt in finding her voice:

I stopped breaking my neck trying to do things to fit into the department. And I felt so much better and more at ease once I made that decision that oddly enough I think it had the same effect on the people in the department from the standpoint of feeling that ease with me. I dont know if they sensed some kind of . . . anxiety with me prior to that when I was trying to kinda force-fit. . . . After that people would come talking to me in the hallway more, you know . . . it was very interesting the way that that happened. You know, just casual conversation ended up happening more frequently compared to before.

The marginalization and isolation Collette experienced in her department eased as she used her voice to be more authentic in her interactions with colleagues.  

As the only woman of color in her program at the time, and particularly on a committee within a PWI during her fourth year on the tenure track, Bonnie considered how she found her voice, mostly out of necessity:

Being in a position where youre the only junior person, the only person of color, and theres racial dynamics that are going on that are clear racial dynamics. Theres no question they were clear racial dynamics. And other people, particularly in one case where other White colleagues on the committee are aware of that but wontand theyre tenuredand wont speak up. And youre left with one of two choices. You either stay silent and let it go, or you speak up. And when youre speaking up, youre speaking up against other full professors. And my integrity wont let me not speak up.

Bonnie asserted that she had offered her opinion and ideas in her program in some ways because she believed that it was a necessity. She chose to speak up on a social justice issue even when it was politically risky to do so, both as an untenured faculty member and as a woman of color. In some ways, perhaps self-care was a way to protect Bonnies voice, too; she could not continue to speak out if she did not get tenure.  

One year after being tenured, Florine reflected on her process of achieving tenure, I think for me the biggest challenge was finding my voice in this setting. And finding it in a way that my voice can be heard and for it to also make a significant difference. As Florine worked toward tenure in her fifth year, she found that while some of her accomplishments were downplayed, other White colleagues who had fewer publications were talked about as if they were equally as productive. She realized that she had to create the space for her voice to be heard, as not to be overlooked by her colleagues or department chair. This both allowed her to combat the isolation of being the lone person of color and Black woman faculty member in her program and enabled her to craft a way to contribute to her field. Florine described her process of finding her voice:

Realizing that I really had a lot to offer, led them to really begin to listen to me and to take my suggestions seriously. But I think it was really challenging cause again, all the responsibilities, and finding my identity here. Who am I in this university? Who am I in this college? Who am I in this program? And I mean experiencing anxiety with it, you know?

As Florine gained confidence in her fifth year, she spoke out more in her department, and people in her department were more likely to listen to her suggestions. But for Florine, the process of finding her voice was also linked to her own identity, figuring out who she was in the academy. She explained the difficulty of finding her voice:

So that was really difficult. And I think also making it very clear to the people around me that I was very capable of asking for my needs and that I did not want, while I appreciate on certain aspects, people advocating on my behalf, I want my voice to be heard. Because I think as a woman of color I know that for years people have spoken for us, and it wasnt because we couldnt speak. It wasnt because our voice wasnt worth listening too. And so we had to have somebody else speak for you in order for what you wanted to say to be credible. And I say that I have worked very hard, I have been virtually at the top of every class that Ive graduated from because I not only wanted to have the credentials that will open doors for mefor my people to look at and say Oh this woman has got something to say. But I wanted to finally to speak for myself.

Florine pointed out that women of color have long been kept from speaking for themselves. She maintained that it was important for her to find her voice to change this history of silencing Black women in the academy.

Florine then asserted that she often was assumed to be a spokesperson for others, indicating that once she found her voice, she used it to help those around her:

I come from a very collective culture. You dont do these things on your own. But I realized that here, when I use the we, which in my culture would be known that Im just speaking on behalf of our community; here I realize it means that the others listening assume that Im just a spokesperson speaking on behalf of all these people who worked very hard to get it done.

In some ways, Florine seemed to be using her voice to give back to her community. While there are likely challenges and negative aspects of feeling as if she had to speak for other people of color, she described this as a way that she made sense of her place in the academy; she could use her voice to help advocate for those from her background. This also reinforced gendered norms in academia that women, particularly women of color, were not socialized to use the word I in referring to their own work or accomplishments. Finding and using ones voice was a way to resist some of the institutional constraints and isolation that the women of color in this study experienced.


Amidst increasingly louder calls for diversification of the faculty ranks in higher education (Fries-Britt et al., 2011; Gasman et al., 2011; Myers, 2002), there is a need to carefully consider ways that scholars of color are being welcomed into or excluded from full participation in the academy and the actual culture of the academy itself. This set of Black womens journeys on the tenure track was fraught with isolation and stress, much of which was linked to the womens race and gender. Given the large body of scholarship that points to ways in which women of color are marginalized in the academy, this finding is not particularly surprising (Bavishi et al., 2010; Garrison-Wade et al., 2012; Moore et al., 2010; Perry et al., 2009). What is remarkable about this set of womens experiences in the academy is that each and every participant identified ways that they asserted their agency, often in the form of finding and using their voices. Finding and using their voices in the academy became a way to push back and resist some of the isolation and racism that the women experienced in the academy. For instance, Bonnie and Florine both described how they were able to speak up in meetings and to write in ways that helped their voice and ideas to shine. For some women (e.g., Amanda), finding and using ones voice meant leaving one institution for another. Amandas choice to transition to a new institution could be viewed as symbolic of her agency and the value she put on her own voice and ideas, her choice to find a place where she felt like she and her work were valued. For others (e.g., Collette), finding voice meant leaving academe altogether and searching for another path in which to assert herself, and this also resembled a way to assert her own agency. Regardless of what the use of ones voice led the women to, it was clear from this data that voice was one way that the women asserted their agency, their goals, and their ideas during their journeys toward tenure.

The participants described isolation on the tenure line and this was linked to the lack of racial and gender diversity within their programs and campus and also to experiences where the Black women in the study experienced both subtle and explicit racism and sexism. The context of large, research, PWIs was important to the findings of this study. The demographics of these institutions were salient because the women underscored being the only Black women in their programs, departments, or academic areas. In addition to a visibly obvious lack of racial and gender diversity, the ethos of those campuses, which were very individualistic (Healy et al., 2004) and focused primarily on research productivity, may have exacerbated the Black womens experience of isolation. For instance, one of the messages Amanda received was that students should figure things out on their own and not come to her for advice and mentoring, an example of her internalizing the individualistic norms in her institution. She was also told to publish primarily solo authored work. Yet she acted in resistance (Taylor et al., 2009) to the value of solo publications when she noted collaborative work was more doable than solo-authored publications. Amanda demonstrated instrumental collectivism (Healy et al., 2004) where she was independent and acted in her own self-interest toward earning tenure, but viewed working with others as a productive way to accomplish the research requirement of tenure. At the same time collaborative publications could increase the perception that Black woman faculty are not competent enough to produce the rigorous scholarship expected at research universities (Sule, 2011). In alignment with our CRF framework, this data names oppressive structures within academia and illustrates how Black women may not be rewarded for operating from a collectivist lens where they would collaborate and support, rather than compete with, one another.

Collette primarily operated from an individualistic (Healy et al., 2004) mindset during the first part of her tenure journey possibly because she felt a lack of fit and connection to the all- White and predominantly male program. Yet her individualism did not protect her from racism or sexism. Black womens lack of credibility as faculty (Luna et al., 2010) may be one reason Collette found that her largely White male colleagues seemed more at ease with her once they knew her tenure-track contract was not renewed. Perhaps Collettes colleagues assumed she was asked to leave the institution because she was not intellectually capable of earning tenure in their department (Luna et al., 2010). Since many women of color faculty have been presumed to be affirmative action hires, the fact that the only Black woman on tenure-track in their department was leaving could have affirmed their suspicions (Sule, 2011).

One of the primary ways that the Black women in this study coped with suspicion of their credibility and feelings of isolation and individualism on campus was to find or create more collectivist spaces. The creation of more collectivist spaces was another way that the women asserted their power and agency in an academy that did not always embrace them. Florine evidenced solidarism collectivism (Healy et al., 2004) when she lamented being in the position to educate people that looked like her and then finding there were very few students of color in her classes. As the women described ways that they had coped with the stress of the tenure line, they primarily identified relationships or ways that they gave their research and teaching back to the communities to which they felt the greatest sense of belonging. In this way, the scholars in this study sought out solidarism collectivism in the form of friendships with Black women, social relationships, family, church or giving back to their communities, perhaps as a way to deal with the individualistic norms on their campuses (Healy et al., 2004). Rather than department chairs, deans, and formal mentors being mentioned, peer mentors who were also women of color helped these faculty find solidarity and power to navigate and thrive within a sexist and racist academic environment (Fries-Britt & Kelly, 2005; Gregory, 2011). Florine, Bonnie, and Amanda noted peer relationships with Black women as a helpful coping strategy. Amanda also mentioned an institution-driven initiative that focused on mentoring Black women as instrumental in her successful transition to her new institution.

Perhaps the most important finding of this analysis was that the Black women in this study found or created ways to use their voice in the academy and the notion of voice can also be linked to the way in which the women in this study embraced collectivist strategies and spaces. At times, this manifested through their writing as when Bonnie demonstrated instrumental collectivism by working with God and grace to complete a publication. Other times, this meant solidarism collectivism through speaking out against injustice in meetings or on campus, even when they knew that there were risks involved in challenging the power structure of White, male and senior colleagues (Crenshaw et al., 1995). Sometimes the process of figuring out that their voice was not valued informed their decision to change institutions (Amanda) or leave academia altogether (Collette). While we cannot make a causal inference as to what facilitated the womens need for and triumph in finding their voices, there appears to be a connection between the individualistic norms on these predominantly White campuses and the womens desires to cope with the stressors on the tenure line through instrumental and solidarism collectivism (Healy et al., 2004). Perhaps the coping strategy of developing friendships or giving back to ones community was a way to resist or even transform the campus norm of individualism.

In many ways the race and gender isolation and hostile treatment may have initially constrained womens ability to use their voice and make meaning and decisions from a collectivism standpoint. It is perhaps even more noteworthy that the women in this study eventually did find ways to identify and use their voices, despite the socialization messages they received and sometimes internalized related to individualism (Healy et al., 2004). Future research should continue to explore ways that some students or faculty are limited and constrained from finding and using their voice due to the norms and values in the academy as well as the failure of institutions of higher education in providing diverse and inclusive spaces.


These findings call into question predominantly White and male spaces in academia and ways that these spaces should be challenged to change. The women in this study coped by creating collectivist spaces and finding/using their voices. But, the assumption that the women should have to cope in these ways needs to be challenged. That is, rather than focusing on how to encourage Black women to cope and survive in academia, there should be more emphasis on how to change institutional and departmental structures to make these spaces more inclusive and collectivist. For instance, could there be ways to put more value on collaborative research? Or, could there be more emphasis and resources put toward community building among untenured faculty? Future research should consider best practices in departments or institutions that provide more inclusive, collectivist spaces. This future work could offer lessons for other predominantly White and male spaces in academe.  

There are a few other important implications for research and practice that can be garnered from these findings, particularly related to the recruitment and retention of scholars of color. First, the individualistic norms of college campuses should be further studied in order to reveal the values that institutions are perpetuating. Promoting the tenure line as fiercely individualistic could be one reason why these institutions are experienced as isolating spaces, particularly for scholars whose orientations are more collectivist.

The literature on socialization into the professoriate primarily uses an individualistic approach toward thinking about how individual scholars progress into and through the academy (Austin, 2002; Weidman et al., 2001). That is, while scholars who write about socialization often point to the importance of peers and faculty in helping new scholars to acclimate into academia, there is still an assumption that the socialization will help an individual enter the tenure-line and progress toward tenure. The research on socialization is crucially important to teasing out how graduate students and new scholars can begin to enter a new academic discipline and be successful in higher education. But the findings of this study suggest that perhaps another way to think about socialization could be to consider how new scholars are encouraged to embrace instrumental and solidarism collectivist spaces (Healy et al., 2004) and norms in order to be successful. Adding this idea of collectivism to existing socialization frameworks may be an important part of supporting the recruitment and retention of underrepresented scholars, particularly if they come from more collectivist backgrounds.

The findings assert that the Black women had to encounter the typical stressors of being on the tenure line such as publishing, teaching, and advising alongside norms within the academy that were often incongruent with the womens backgrounds. In particular, the Black women reported ways the academy represented individualistic norms that often were at odds with how the women wanted to shape their careers. For example, rather than viewing their careers as collaborative and collective, the women were told not to spend too much time with students and to publish solo authored work. These norms were particularly problematic for some of the women, such as Bonnie who felt very isolated, for example. Bonnies experience underscores the importance of finding places of support. Individualistic norms became downright untenable for women such as Collette and Amanda. Viewing these womens stories through intersections of nationality, sex, gender, and race, points to socialization and norms of the academy that need transformation. Rather than viewing Black women faculty as not being competent or compatible with how tenure track processes work at research universities, the Black women found their voice and used it to say that the academy needs to be more flexible and adapt to the changing nature of higher education.

There are implications from this study for campus administrators such as chairs, deans, presidents and tenure committees. The women were often isolated because they were the only women of color in their departments and programs. Multiple participants maintained that they started to feel more comfortable once they developed larger social networks of other women of color. At the department level, chairs would do well to deepen their understanding of this kind of isolation so that they can offer support in other ways. For example, is too much being expected of the few scholars of color in the department? Are people assuming that these scholars are supporting all other students of color, for example? If so, chairs could find ways to lessen the burden on the scholars of color (e.g., decrease teaching loads, give teaching credit for advising, decrease service commitments in other ways). Additionally, chairs could contemplate ways to encourage the finding and using of ones voice for new faculty in general such as examining how people contribute in meetings and whether there are better ways to get all viewpoints to be heard. In Bonnies case, having had a chair who had the insight to understand how isolating the departmental culture might be for a woman of color may have helped to make the department a more supportive place.

At the school or college level, Deans could create deliberate, cross-departmental support networks for scholars of color such as peer mentoring programs, luncheons to discuss experiences on the tenure track, or colloquiums that could bring people together across departments so that they can get to know each other and support one another. Also, at the Deans level, there should be some methods of assessing whether the school or college is truly inclusive to scholars of color (e.g., diversity audits, focus groups with multiple faculty groups, etc.). Finally, the Dean could put pressure on tenure committees to be more accepting to collaborative and collectivist work.

Tenure committees should better understand isolation that scholars of color are experiencing and consider ways of mentoring new and emerging scholars such as formal tenure mentoring programs, question/answer sessions, and having staff work directly with faculty to answer questions about tenure requirements. Additionally, tenure committees should contemplate ways that a more collectivist, collaborative notion of success could be fostered during the tenure process. For example, encouraging and rewarding collaboration in terms of productivity and then obtaining collaborator letters as part of a tenure file might be a step in this direction. At the university level, this data suggests a continued need in many institutions for considering better ways to increase demographic diversity on campus so that scholars of color do not feel the isolation that these women experienced.

Black women faculty bring unique contributions to research, teaching and service. Their presence on campus pushes students, department chairs, deans, and colleagues to think about the intersectionality of race and gender, among other aspects of identity faculty bring to their roles. Black women facultys experiences with isolation and marginalization on the tenure-track can inform policy and efforts to create more inclusive and supportive environments for all faculty on college campuses (Patton, 2009). Finding a way to truly meet higher education goals for advancing social justice will mean changing how we socialize Black women faculty at PWIs but also changing the culture of the PWI itself. Sometimes those who are different (e.g., Black women) from the norm (e.g., White males), can point to more effective ways to achieve long-held goals. The Black women in this study found ways to use collectivist values as a way to find support, and ultimately, to find their voice in the academy.


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Interview Protocol

Please describe for me the position you currently hold, and how you divide/manage your time.

How is the year going for you . . . why did you agree to be in this study- Many thanks!

When did you decide you wanted to become a faculty member in higher education?

What do you think contributed to decision?

Did you do anything specifically to further that goal? Was that supported? By whom?

What was your graduate preparation specifically? Probe in three areas (research, teaching, service)

How do you believe it prepared you for this position?

Do you feel prepared for (three areas)?

If you could change something about your preparation, if anything, what would it be?

What advice would you give to someone considering a faculty position in higher education?

Who, if anyone, served in a mentor or advising capacity to you on this journey?

Who, if anyone, serves in that capacity now?


Please represent your experience preparing to become a faculty member in higher education

Please represent your experience in your first year as a faculty member in higher education

Women in the Academy

Follow-Up Interview Protocol: 2nd6th year on tenure track

Thank you so much for meeting with us again . . . participating in the study . . .


Has your position at this university changed at all since the last time we spoke?


If so, how?


In what way(s), if any, has this year felt different from last year?


What have you learned this year about being a faculty member in the academy?


What did you most want to accomplish this year? Why?

Any surprises? How so?


Please draw a professional highlight from the past year.

Please describe the drawing for us

What does this represent for you?


Please draw a professional challenge you encountered in the past year.

Please describe the drawing for us

What does this represent for you?


Are there other critical incidents that define, for you, this past academic year?


Where have you received your greatest support over the past year?

In what form has that support come?

Have you sought it out on your own?

If time . . .


What strategies have you employed to be successful this year?


In thinking about next year, what are you most looking forward to and why?


Sample Data Analysis

Florine (in Year 1): I think for me the biggest challenge was finding my voice in this setting. And finding it in a way that my voice can be heard and for it to also make a significant difference. . . .Realizing that I really had a lot to offer, led them to really begin to listen to me and to take my suggestions seriously. But I think it was really challenging cause again, all the responsibilities, and finding my identity here. Who am I in this university? Who am I in this college? Who am I in this program? And I mean experiencing anxiety with it, you know?

Summary notes on Florines pathway in Year 1:


First year on the tenure-track


Teaching four courses and all were new course preparations


Advising 18 graduate students: met with them once a month, found to be too much and cut back to meeting once per semester


Protecting writing time on Fridays each week: this was an example of setting firm boundaries around research time and teaching time; submitted multiple articles for publication


Not knowing many people, wondering if she would be successful


Only person of color on the faculty


Experiencing very hierarchical department and feeling like she is on the bottom of the hierarchy


Finding voice: learning when to speak up, writing, standing up for herself and her time to write/publish


Seeking mentorship from other scholars outside of the program


Developing a social network to do things outside of academia (e.g., movies, dinner, etc.)

Analytic Question: How does each Black woman faculty member describe her path on the tenure track?


Florine in year 1 summary: isolation, bottom of the hierarchy, learning to manage time, producing scholarship, finding a social network, finding her voice



Biggest challenge was finding voice


Voice can be heard


Voice can make a different


I had a lot to offer


Let them listen to me


Challenging responsibilities


Challenging to find identity here


Who am I here?



Critical Race Framework codes:


Difficult to find identity as the only woman of color on the faculty


Isolation as the only woman of color on the faculty


Multiple responsibilities and some are likely because she is a woman of color


Anxious about finding voice and identity in this space

Codes on socialization:


Learning to manage time


Learning how to manage research agenda


Learning how to balance teaching and advising load


Finding a social network to support her (in the larger pathway for that year)

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 119 Number 6, 2017, p. 1-36
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 21771, Date Accessed: 10/23/2021 3:10:41 PM

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About the Author
  • Bridget Kelly
    Loyola University Chicago
    E-mail Author
    BRIDGET TURNER KELLY is an Associate Professor in Higher Education at Loyola University Chicago. Her scholarship focuses on the experiences of women and people of color in predominantly White research universities, teaching social justice in graduate preparation programs, and how campuses can become more equitable environments. Recent publications include a co-authored article with Joy Gaston Gayles, Shaefney Grays, Jennifer Zhang, and Kamaria Porter in the Journal of Student Affairs Research and Practice (2015) entitled "Difficult dialogues: Faculty experiences teaching diversity in graduate preparation programs" and a co-authored article with Kristin McCann in the Urban Review (2014) entitled "Women faculty of color: Stories behind the statistics."
  • Rachelle Winkle-Wagner
    University of Wisconsin
    E-mail Author
    RACHELLE WINKLE-WAGNER is an Associate Professor in Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Her research interests are focused on how students and faculty of color survive and thrive in higher education. Recent publications include an article in the Review of Educational Research (2014) entitled "Having their lives narrowed down? The state of African American women¹s experiences in higher education" and a co-authored article with Dorian McCoy in the Journal of College Student Development (2015) entitled "Bridging the divide: Developing a scholarly habitus for aspiring underrepresented graduate students through summer bridge program participation."
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