The Higher Education Landscape for Women of Color
AAC&U’s Program on the Status and Education of Women was responsible for producing the first reports to specifically examine the experiences of Asian American, black, and Latina women in higher education. In celebration of the program’s fortieth anniversary, On Campus with Women’s editors asked key figures in higher education, including two of the reports’ original authors, to reflect on what has changed since the original reports were issued and what challenges remain for women of color.
—Kathryn Peltier Campbell, editor
What’s Changed and What Hasn’t? Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander Women in Higher Education, 1998–2010
By Shirley Hune, professor of Educational Leadership and Policy Studies at the University of Washington Seattle
In 1998, AAC&U published Asian Pacific American Women in Higher Education: Claiming Visibility and Voice. As its author, I sought to include Asian Pacific American (APA) women as a gendered, racialized group within the discourse, data collection, and analysis about women of color in higher education. Then as now, APA women in the academy faced biases related to their race and gender, as well as those stemming from anti-immigrant sentiments, accent discrimination, and male-centered Western notions of communication and leadership. Now that more than a decade has passed since AAC&U issued the original report, what strides have APA women made, and what remains to be done?
Overall, APA women’s participation at the student level ranges from mixed to good. Like women in all racial and ethnic groups, female APA students are attending college at higher rates than their male counterparts, and women earned more than half of all associate’s, bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees granted to APA students in 2007 (Ryu 2010). Degree attainment varies among APA subgroups, however. Cambodian, Hmong, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander women, for example, have much lower college-going rates than other APA women (Hune and Takeuchi 2009).
Within faculty ranks, more APA women held full-time positions in 2007 (19,450) than in 1997 (8,846), but they still constituted only a small percentage (2.8 percent) of total full-time faculty. Although APA women were 53 percent of all APA full-time instructors and lecturers in 2007, APA men continue to outnumber APA women at the assistant, associate, and especially full professor ranks (Ryu 2010).
At the highest levels of administration, APAs, especially APA women, are notably underrepresented. As recently as November 2010, one study of approximately four thousand US higher education institutions identified only nine APA women (and eleven APA men) among community college presidents and chancellors. Among university presidents and chancellors, only three were APA women (and twelve were APA men). Moreover, many of these are recent appointments (Huang and Yamagata-Noji 2010). In short, the pipeline for APA women constricts severely at higher levels of faculty and administration, and progress at the level of the presidency has been dismal, especially at research institutions (Chen and Hune, forthcoming).
Counting bodies is only one way to measure opportunities and participation. Examining the campus climate is another. For APA students, faculty, and administrators, the model minority stereotype remains pervasive and masks the challenges APA women and men face within academe. Stereotyping and overt sexual and racial harassment have been primary concerns for APA women, although public and institutional policies are addressing these issues more proactively than they have in the past.
Still, more attention to the way subtle discrimination devalues the perspectives, voices, and scholarly interests of APA women, both US-born and immigrant, is needed. APA women students report that majority faculty rarely support their academic aspirations and research topics. Likewise, APA women faculty find their authority undermined in the classroom by students who (consciously or not) view white men as the “authentic” faculty. They also find their expertise questioned by colleagues who frequently express skepticism about their teaching specialties and publications (Hune, forthcoming). APA women also cite barriers to advancing into administrative ranks at the highest levels of academe. These obstacles include a lack of mentoring, being overlooked for departmental and campus-wide leadership roles, and being ignored by search firms (Chen and Hune, forthcoming).
In order to improve participation and climates for APA women, higher education needs reliable data that paint an accurate picture of the challenges APA women face. But finding this data is difficult: Federal and institutional studies generally lump Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders into one group, if they count them at all. Aggregating data in this way does a disservice to Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, who have distinct histories, cultures, and relationships with the US government. Moreover, each group is comprised of many different ethnic groups with wide disparities in socioeconomic and educational attainment.
Many Asian Pacific Americans now advocate strongly for collecting data and conducting research on Asian Americans (AA) and Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders (NHPI) as two separate communities, with further disaggregation within subgroups (such as Chinese, Cambodian, Samoan, and Tongan) to allow for more accurate assessment of academic and professional achievement. Advocates for AANHPI women also stress that gathering national data that take both race and gender into account is essential to allow for analysis of AANHPI women’s progress in academe. Finally, qualitative studies that incorporate women’s voices and perspectives can fill gaps in quantitative data and make visible the experiences of understudied AANHPI subgroups. With more nuanced data, higher education can continue improving educational participation and climates for AANHPI women and increase equity for this diverse group of stakeholders.
Chen, Edith Wen-Chu, and Shirley Hune. Forthcoming. “Asian American Pacific Islander Women from Ph.D. to Campus President: Gains and Leaks in the Pipeline.” In Women of Color in Higher Education: Contemporary Perspectives and Changing Directions, edited by G. Jean-Marie and B. Lloyd-Jones. Bingley, UK: Emerald Group Publishing.
Huang, Belinda Lee, and Audrey Yamagata-Noji. 2010. “Invisible, Marginalized, but Strong as Bamboo: Asian Pacific American President Leaders of Academe.” Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the Association for Studies in Higher Education, Indianapolis, IN, November.
Hune, Shirley. 1998. Asian Pacific American Women in Higher Education: Claiming Visibility and Voice. Washington, DC: Association of American Colleges and Universities.
Hune, Shirley. Forthcoming. “Asian American Women Faculty: Navigating Student Resistance and (Re)Claiming Authority and Their Rightful Place.” In Women of Color in Higher Education: Turbulent Past, Promising Future, edited by G. Jean-Marie and B. Lloyd-Jones. Bingley, UK: Emerald Group Publishing.
Hune, Shirley, and David T. Takeuchi. 2009. Asian Americans in Washington State: Closing Their Hidden Achievement Gaps. Report submitted to the Washington State Commission on Asian Pacific American Affairs. Seattle, WA: University of Washington. www.capaa.wa.gov.
Ryu, Mikyung. 2010. Minorities in Higher Education 2010: Twenty-Fourth Status Report. Washington, DC: American Council on Education.
Black Women in Academe: Twenty-Two Years Later
By Yolanda T. Moses, professor of anthropology and associate vice chancellor for Diversity, Excellence, and Equity at the University of California–Riverside
As AAC&U’s Program on the Status and Education of Women celebrates its fortieth anniversary, it is fitting to reflect on how the status of black women in higher education has changed since 1989, when I wrote the monograph Black Women in Academe: Issues and Strategies. Given that black women students’ success is essential to creating a pipeline to the professoriate and other leadership roles, I focus in this brief article on what has changed (or not) for black women undergraduate and graduate students.
Has undergraduate enrollment increased? Among African American women ages eighteen to twenty-four, enrollment rates rose from 24 percent in 1988 to 40 percent in 2008 (Ryu 2010, 75). This is good news. But during the same period, African American men’s undergraduate enrollment grew from 18 percent to only 29 percent (Ryu 2010, 29). Thus increases for African American women have occurred alongside a widening enrollment gap between African American women and men.
What do black women undergraduates study? In 1989, black women undergraduates were concentrated in the social sciences, humanities, education, and “helping professions” such as nursing (Moses 1989). The 2007 data show that not much has changed, aside from the emergence of business as the leading major. The highest concentrations of undergraduate black women students are in business and management (22,290 black women students), social sciences (21,882), humanities (12,696), and health professions (10,379). These fields are followed at a distance by biological and biomedical sciences (with 4,270 black women students), computer and information sciences (1,342), education (1,150), and mathematics and statistics (392) (Ryu 2010, 102).
Where do black women undergraduates go to college? In 1989, black women were enrolled across all college and university types, with concentrations at historically black colleges and universities and in community colleges (Moses 1989). The 2007 data show that black women are still concentrated in historically black institutions and community colleges, with a growing number at private proprietary campuses as well (Ryu 2010).
How are black women faring as graduate students? In 1984–85, black women earned 6.1 percent of master’s degrees and 5.4 percent of doctorates in the United States. In 2007, African American women received 6 percent of all US masters degrees and 4 percent of doctorates. Thus black women’s share of graduate degrees has decreased. Nonetheless, black women are outpacing black men three to one at the master’s degree level and two to one at the doctoral level (Ryu 2010, 55).
In what fields do black women pursue graduate degrees? In 1984–85, black women’s doctorates were concentrated in education and the social sciences, with less than 2.5 percent awarded in the physical sciences, biological and life sciences, and engineering, respectively (Moses 1989, 11). As of 2007, black women’s master’s and professional degrees were still concentrated in education (with 12,683 black women students), followed by business and management (11,534) and health professions (4,690). In contrast, only 343 black women earned master’s degrees in engineering and engineering technology. At the doctoral level, black women’s fields of study likewise tended to mimic those of 1984, with the highest number of doctorates awarded in health professions (1,796), the second highest in education (968), and the third highest in social sciences (353). In the same year, only forty-eight black women earned doctorates in engineering and engineering technology (Ryu 2010, 55).
What barriers remain for black women students? Thanks to national and local efforts, the barriers to black women students’ success at the undergraduate and graduate levels are slowly being dismantled. But make no mistake: they are still there. From my work as a senior faculty member and as a national consultant on diversity issues, and from over thirty years of contact with a network of black women students and professionals, I know that many institutional barriers are still in place. To name just a few: black women students continue to face a lack of encouragement from faculty, difficulty identifying mentors, feelings of isolation and loneliness on predominately white campuses, and a general lack of respect, particularly from white peers and students of both genders.
Unfortunately, I do not need to write a new monograph to describe the challenges black women students face in American higher education. The following are major recommendations from 1989 that are still operative for the foreseeable future:
- Create value and policy statements on the academic and public good that clearly support diversity among students, staff, and faculty.
- Insist on institutional commitment to diversity and inclusion, with leadership from top administrators, teaching faculty, and staff on the front lines of contact with diverse students.
- Build the cultural capacity and competence of all involved in creating inclusive institutions.
- Use data that is both comprehensive and disaggregated to expose nuanced differences and make better informed policy and programmatic decisions.
- Involve black women students (and all students) in decision-making processes that affect their well-being on campuses.
- Hire black female faculty and senior staff as role models for all students, but especially for black women students.
With these guidelines in mind, higher education can remain vigilant so that the gains that courageous black women have achieved over the last few decades will not be eroded and so new levels of access and achievement are possible.
Moses, Yolanda T. 1989. Black Women in Academe: Issues and Strategies. Washington, DC: Association of American Colleges and Universities.
Ryu, Mikyung. 2010. Minorities in Higher Education: Twenty-Fourth Status Report. Washington, DC: American Council on Education.
Caroline Sotello Viernes Turner
Latinas in Higher Education: A Presence that Remains Tenuous
By Caroline Sotello Viernes Turner, professor of educational leadership and policy studies at California State University, Sacramento
Since AAC&U published Sarah Nieves-Squires’s Hispanic Women: Making Their Presence on Campus Less Tenuous in 1991, Latinas1 have increased their representation among students, faculty, and administrators in higher education. But despite these modest gains, which vary across disciplines and institutional types (Chronicle of Higher Education 2010, 17, 20, 30, 36), longstanding challenges have continued to affect Latinas’ experiences in the academy. The current status of Latinas remains tenuous. Consider the following statistics:
- In 2007–08, Latinas earned 7.2 percent of all associate’s degrees, 4.5 percent of bachelor’s degrees, 3.4 percent of master’s degrees, 2.1 percent of doctorates, and 2.5 percent of professional degrees (Chronicle of Higher Education 2010, 30).
- In 2007, Latinas held 4 percent of faculty positions held by women, compared to 78.2 percent held by white women, 7 percent by black women, 6.7 percent by Asian women, and 0.6 percent by American Indian women. As professorial rank increases, Latina representation decreases: in the same year, Latinas represented 3.9 percent of women assistant professors, 3.4 percent of women associate professors, and 2.8 percent of women full professors (Chronicle of Higher Education 2010, 20).
- In 2007, Latinas held 5.2 percent of executive administrative positions held by women, compared to 79.5 percent held by white women, 11.3 percent by black women, 3.1 percent by Asian women, and 0.6 percent by American Indian women (Chronicle of Higher Education 2010, 20).
While Latinas (and Latinos) remain underrepresented in higher education, a full 15 percent of the current US population—and one in five K–12 students in public schools—is Hispanic (Gándara 2009). It is thus in the nation’s best interests for US colleges and universities to improve pathways to success for Latina students, faculty, and administrators.
An alarmingly high number of Latinas fail to graduate from high school, where they begin to face challenges that continue to affect them in college. Rodriguez, Guido-DiBrito, Torres, and Talbot describe “two categories” of barriers to Latina higher education: “those that exist prior to entering college”—including “factors associated with low socioeconomic status and the effects of cultural and gender-role stereotyping”—and additional challenges “that are confronted upon matriculation” in college, including “under-preparation, stress factors from financial constraints[,] … social and familial obligations, and institutional marginalization” (2000, 514). Once they enter the campus community (particularly at primarily white institutions), many Latina students feel tremendous pressure to assimilate and to give up their Latina identities. These pressures underscore the importance of mentoring, family and peer support, financial assistance, access to high-quality K–12 schooling, and advising that helps students recognize their talents and take advantage of educational opportunities (Garrod, Kilkenny, and Gómez 2007).
Like students, Latina faculty face significant challenges. These faculty may encounter intergroup competition over scarce resources such as tenured faculty positions, and they tend to be isolated from powerful traditional networks. They may also face powerful stereotypes, including the assumption that Chicanas are submissive, docile, and passive, that must be dispelled for their contributions in academe to be validated (Niemann 2002). Latina faculty specifically attribute their resilience in the face of these challenges to Chicana/o and Latina/o campus and professional organizations, Latina/o mentors, and on- and off-campus networking opportunities with Latina/o leaders. Many say they survived the academy through the mentorship of women who had already achieved success in their field (see, for example, Turner et al. 2008).
The need for mentorship is not unrelated to the feelings of dissonance and contradiction that cultural difference can produce. Hansen (1997) describes two ways that Latina administrators learn to function in the distinct sociocultural environments of home and work: either by drawing on their identities while also upholding institutional values (dualism), or by drawing on their identities to transform the institution (negotiation). Alemán describes this phenomenon of dissonance and contradiction as a Latina faculty member might experience it: “I am struck by my lived contradiction: To be a professor is to be an Anglo; to be a Latina is not to be an Anglo. So how can I be both a Latina and a professor? To be a Latina professor, I conclude, means to be unlike and like me…As Latina professors, we are newcomers to a world defined and controlled by discourses that do not address our realities, that do not affirm our intellectual contributions, that do not seriously examine our worlds. Can I be both Latina and professor without compromise?” (1995, 74–75).
I hope that someday the answer will be a resounding yes. But for now, Latina faculty, students, administrators, and staff must continue to challenge stereotypes while struggling to retain positive self-identity, provide support for their families, and counter the racism, sexism, and anti-immigration sentiments they face daily. The very existence of these challenges reminds Latinas that even in 2011 they are an anomaly in American higher education. The implication—that one simply does not belong—is a message that no student, faculty, administrator, or staff member should receive from an institution of higher education, and one that I hope will dissipate with greater access to mentoring and other measures that have proven so important to Latina success.
Alemán, Ana M. Martínez. 1995. “Actuando.” In The Leaning Ivory Tower: Latino Professors in American Universities, edited by Raymond V. Padilla and Rudolfo Chávez. Albany: State University of New York Press.
Chronicle of Higher Education. 2010. “Almanac of Higher Education 2010–11.” The Chronicle of Higher Education 57 (1): 17, 20, 30, 36.
Gándara, Patricia. 2009. “On Hispanic Education—Progress and Stagnation: 25 Years of Hispanic Achievement.” Diverse Issues in Higher Education, June 11. http://diverseeducation.com/article/12637.
Garrod, Andrew, Robert Kilkenny, and Christina Gómez. 2007. Mi Voz, Mi Vida: Latino College Students Tell Their Life Stories. New York: Cornell University Press.
González, Cristina M., and Patricia Gándara. 2005. “Why We Like to Call Ourselves Latinas.” Journal of Hispanic Higher Education 4 (4): 392–98.
Hansen, Virginia L. 1997. “Voices of Latina Administrators in Higher Education: Salient Factors in Achieving Success and Implications for a Model of Leadership Development for Latinas. PhD diss., Claremont Graduate School and San Diego State University, 1997. Dissertation Abstracts International (58, 08A).
Niemann, Yolanda F. 2002. Chicana Leadership: The Frontiers Reader. Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press.
Nieves-Squires, Sarah. 1991. Hispanic Women: Making Their Presence on Campus Less Tenuous. Washington, DC: Association of American Colleges and Universities.
Rodriguez, Adele L., Florence Guido-DiBrito, Vasti Torres, and Donna Talbot. 2000. “Latina College Students: Issues and Challenges for the 21st Century.” NASPA Journal 37 (3): 511-527.
Turner, Caroline S. V., Edwin I. Hernández, Milagros Peña, and Juan Carlos González. 2008. “New Voices in the Struggle/Nuevas Voces en la Lucha: Toward Increasing Latina/o Faculty in Theological Education.” Journal of Hispanic Higher Education 7(4): 321–35.
1 Writing in 1991, Nieves-Squires used the designator “Hispanic” to refer to people of Cuban, Mexican, Mexican American, Puerto Rican, South or Central American, or other Spanish ancestry or descent. Niemann describes the label Chicana/o as referring to US citizens or residents of Mexican descent, and notes that this term is popular among activists and feminists, who began using the label Chicana “in an effort toward gender inclusivity and recognition of women’s experiences.” She also notes that “like the term Hispanic, the label Latina/o is inclusive of all persons of Spanish-speaking descent” (2002, xii). González and Gándara write that many call themselves Latinas to “acknowledge their non-European heritage while affirming their dignity and expressing confidence in their growing political importance” (2005, 398). Niemann reminds us, however, that “a label does not define a woman or her ideology and that labels are fluid and, for many women, interchangeable” (2002, xii).