The University Record, December 12, 1995

Faculty women of color delineate barriers, challenges

The closing session of last week's Women of Color in the Academy Project meeting with University administrators featured a panel of five women of color faculty, sharing their experiences as well as findings from focus groups conducted earlier this year. These comments are excerpted below. All of the panelists, as well as moderator Satwant Samra, associate professor of anesthesiology, are members of the Project's steering committee.

Frances Aparicio, Arthur F. Thurnau Professor and professor of Spanish and of American culture
Access to information: Lack of information on the criteria of the tenure process, vagueness of expectations.

Attitudes confronted: Neglect, invisibility, hostility, and attitudes that undermine the value of the work being done.

Contradictions: As women of color, many of us work on issues related to people of color. This marks our differences.

Doctors have to deal with racial slurs from patients.

If you get tenure, the standards must have been lowered.

We're considered by some to be `difficult' to work with on committees. This is the result of the role we're given---the voice of both race and gender. The burden of representation is a source of exhaustion that could be alleviated if the numbers were there.

Gail Nomura, lecturer in history,
Program in American Culture
and Residential College
Serving on committees, counseling and mentoring, service on graduate committees even in other units, developing a large percentage of the new courses, educating colleagues about multiculturalism, service that fills a gender and racial vacuum expected and required, meeting expectations of students of color.

How much more must we do? I have only one body to devote to the effort and I also 'have a life.' The toll on one's personal life can be great, yet more is demanded each day. If you do good work, you are punished by being asked to do more.

Why do we do it? We often expect more of ourselves, feel responsible. Women of color believe they can make a positive difference, but we need more people of good will to build a diverse institution. We only ask that our work be recognized and valued.


Linda M. Chatters, associate
professor of health behavior and health education and faculty
associate, Research Center for
Group Dynamics
We're viewed as 'Mandate hires.'

We're assumed to be experts on a variety of issues pertaining to African Americans, beyond our area of expertise. That information is available at the library.

Our research areas are considered ancillary and are marginalized. This also is part of the fabric of the promotion and tenure process. Marginalized work is difficult to evaluate, and that's not good for tenure.

Teaching options often are limited to specialization, such as African American families rather than families in general.

What's needed? A recognition of the individual's skills and that the ability of that individual can transcend one area of interest, that the individuals may be an important resource to look at issues with a new perspective. Recognition and incorporation of relevant information in course material. Nominate women of color for awards. Strive for an appropriate balance of committee work and other activities.

Oveta Fuller, associate professor
of microbiology and immunology
We need to do service, serve on committees, teach---that's what being a professor is all about. But why aren't our lectures received the same as those of others?

If our research is related to gender or ethnicity, it's not recognized as being as important as that of the mainstream.

Isolation is a major problem for women of color. Interaction and collaboration are important to advance research and isolation isn't good for anyone. But it's easy for women of color to be isolated because there just are not enough bodies.

If I serve as a chair or talk at a program, if I do well, OK, but others ask why they weren't asked to do the same thing. This breeds an unconscious resentment that comes forth in reviews. If I stumble, the reaction is, 'I thought she couldn't do this.' You're dammed if you do and damned if you don't.

We want to be known as scholars for what we do and appreciated as African American women.

We want to serve, we want our perspective to be represented. It'sgood for the school and for the people who come after us. They won't have to overcome the same barriers. It's good for everyone.

Betty Brown Chappell, assistant
professor of social work
I've had a 30-year love-hate relationship with the University and have tried to dissuade relatives from attending. It acts like a billion dollar corporation but gives an entree that you can't get elsewhere.

On those who decide to leave the

U-M: What's attractive is also a complication because the University has helped me develop. It comes down to quality of life and some of that revolves around respect.

There's an inordinate amount of arrogance connected with the University. One should always be happy to be here, but the institution needn't reciprocate.

I sometimes ask myself in the morning, Who can I say hello to? Who can I tell I just got $1 million? Who can I tell I'm going in the hospital tomorrow? This is not a policy issue, but a leadership issue. We are part of the same faculty and community.

Women of color should not be recruited unless there is a clear understanding of their role before the search is begun.


The Women of Color in the Academy Project, which operates under the aegis of the Center for the Education of Women and the Women's Studies Program, grew out of a need expressed by women of color that there be extended, focused attention to issues of concern to women faculty and students of color.

The three-year project was funded in 1994 by the Office of the Vice Provost for Academic and Multicultural Affairs and the Office of the Vice President for Research.

Its goal is to address the issues and needs of women at the U-M by informing the larger community about the contributions these individuals make to the University and larger society.

It also will build a network of women of color faculty and undertake research and advocacy.

A six-member steering committee governs the project, oversees activities, sets policy and represents the project to the larger community.

The members are:

Frances Aparicio, Spanish and American culture, e-mail:;

Betty Brown-Chappell, social work, e-mail:;

Linda Chatters, public health, e-mail:;

Oveta Fuller, microbiology, e-mail;

Gail Nomura, American culture and Residential College, e-mail:;

Satwant Samra, anesthesiology, e-mail: