Black Women in Higher Ed Fight Adversity to Become Strong Leaders

(Getty Images)

Black women in higher education leadership navigate adverse challenges of intersectionality and stereotype threat. Black women in leadership undergo adversity including limited role models, the concrete ceiling, and the intersectionality of racism, sexism, and ageism as well as tokenism to mention just a few.

These are the findings reported in a recent research paper titled “Resilient Leadership: A Phenomenological Exploration into How Black Women in Higher Education Leadership Navigate Cultural Adversity” by Dr. Nuchelle L. Chance, that explores adversity and the lived experiences of Black women in higher education leadership.

Dr. Nuchelle L. Chance is a Psychology adjunct at Fort Hays State University and Instructor at Ivy Tech Community College. Her Ph.D in Global Leadership with a focus in Higher Education Administration from Indiana Tech emerged from her interest in the impact of race and gender on leadership development. She has a clear goal: To serve full-time as an educator and administrator in higher education.

In her research, Dr. Chance used Phenomenology to report on her findings. Phenomenology is the philosophical study of the structures of experiences and consciousness. This philosophical movement originated in Germany in the early 20th century gives an interesting view of cognition to social researchers. And so, the current findings validate that Black women in higher education leadership experience adversity.

The study finds that some of the challenges also deal with identity, cultural diversity and belonging, resilience, and leadership callings. Dr. Chance refers to Black women as ‘superwomen’ because they are resilient and strong.

The study reveals that Black women use adversity as fuel, as an invisible force that grows in strength and translates into helping them develop an inner force to develop the necessary skills to prepare them for leadership. After all, leadership is all about strength and resilience.

Black women’s strength through adversity is driven by the resilience that has manifested as motivation factors such as family and relationships, mentorship and sponsorship, as well as the support of cultural identity and diversity, according to the paper.

Dr. Chance finds that the current study “results support the notion that adversity shapes Black women into leaders with an emphasis on higher education leadership.”

Through the looking glass

Black women administrators in higher education have experiences that are shaped by both external and internal factors. External factors include university’s history of hiring and retaining faculty of color, and internal factors such as childhood experiences specific to traditional social roles within and outside of the university.

According to a separate earlier study by Dr. Maria Baxter-Nuamah and published in 2015, these factors seem to be specific to what some call “traditional social roles within and outside of the university at predominantly White institutions.”

According to Dr. Baxter-Nuamah’s study, “Through the Looking Glass: Barriers and Coping Mechanisms Encountered by African-American Women Presidents at Predominantly White Institutions,” (PDF) women are significantly underrepresented among higher education presidents. “Only 26 percent of the college presidents at the regionally accredited institutions in the United States are women; this translates to about 1,000 women out of 4,000 presidents.”

The paper states that women face numerous obstacles such as sexism, marginalization, invisibility, double oppression, and discrimination when attempting to obtain administrative positions in higher education.

Dr. Maria Baxter-Nuamah obtained her Doctorate in Education at sixty-five years of age, becoming an example of tenacity for the younger generations. Her own experience, which she shares as part of the Acknowledgements in her paper, is a vivid example of what we try to convey here today.

She writes: “Thanks must be given to Minnesota State University, Mankato because it is here that I really experienced what “the glass ceiling” is all about, and how hard it is to climb the brick wall created inherently by institutional racism.”

The question that now arises is, are colleges and university experiencing enough change to close the gap of what seems to be unthinkable over twenty years into the 21st century?

For similar articles, see: