The University Record, January 23, 1996

Conference focuses on women of color in the academy

By Mary Jo Frank
University Relations 

Women students of color---including undergrads and graduate students---now make up 11.7 percent of the University's student body, compared to 6.1 percent in 1987, when the Michigan Mandate was launched.

It was one of the signs of progress President James J. Duderstadt cited at the opening of the Women of Color in the Academy Project research conference, focusing on women of color in the University and in the broader community.

The Jan. 12 all-day conference was sponsored by the Women of Color in the Academy Project, a program of the Center for the Education of Women and the Women's Studies Program. The conference featured a number of research presentations by and about women of color.

The three-year Women of Color in the Academy Project focusing on issues of concern to women of color in university settings provides a counterpoint to the political climate swirling around Washington and in state legislatures these days, Duderstadt said.

"At a time when some would try to squelch discussion about multiculturalism, labeling it just another example of political correctness, I believe that we in the academy need to step up, to speak out boldly about the need for more, not less, diversity," Duderstadt said.

Other encouraging statistics he cited:

 

The number of undergraduate degrees earned by women of color has almost doubled since 1987, and now represents about 10 percent of all undergraduate degrees awarded.

 

The U-M, a leading source of doctorates in the nation, has doubled the number of graduate fellowships it provides to historically underrepresented groups to more than 680---the largest commitment of any university in America. Women of color hold more than half of the fellowships.

 

Women of color hold 9 percent of all professional and administrative positions on the Ann Arbor campus, 13.5 percent of office jobs and 17.7 percent of all service/maintenance posts.

"I am still concerned that a large proportion of our women of color staff are in lower status and lower paying positions. This is evidence of how far the University still has to go. We have to make the effort to listen to employees in all of our job families," the president said.

People of color now comprise 15.3 percent of total instructional faculty, he noted, and the number of assistant and associate professors who are women of color has almost doubled since 1990 for a total of 97.

"Unfortunately, we still have only 16 women of color who are full professors. We are terribly underrepresented at that level," Duderstadt added.

Women faculty of color have a significant impact on the education of all students, particularly women students of color, according to Gretchen E. Lopez, assistant research scientist and adjunct assistant professor of psychology, whose conference presentation was titled "Women of Color Undergraduates: Experiences with Faculty and Curriculum."

Using Michigan Study Project data collected from students who entered the University in 1990, Lopez and her research partner Katrina Wade, a 1994 U-M graduate, examined the academic experiences of women students.

The Michigan Study focuses on students' expectations, perceptions and experiences with respect to diversity and multiculturalism. The longitudinal study also explores differences and commonalities among students from various racial and ethnic backgrounds, including goals, expectations of college, academic and intellectual experiences, and interactions with faculty and fellow students.

When asked if they had taken any courses that had had an important impact on their views and attitudes about racial and ethnic groups in U.S. society, 44.6 percent of African American women responded "yes." Such courses also had an impact for 30.7 percent of Asian American women, 35 percent of Latina women and 33 percent of white women who participated in the study.

Thirty-three percent of the women of color students said the course changed their views by increasing their knowledge and understanding of a group other than their own, 23 percent said the course had broadened their perspectives or opened their minds and 11 percent said it had enhanced or validated views they already held.

Women in general reported receiving less interest and support for their work from faculty than men received, with women of color saying they received even less than white women, Lopez said. Women students also said that academically they were taken less seriously than their male peers. Women of color agreed more strongly with this than white women. Women of color students found it difficult to get to know faculty outside of class. They felt excluded and unrecognized by faculty.

Women faculty have a significant impact on the education of students in general, and women of color faculty in particular have an impressive impact on women of color students, Lopez said. During interviews that were conducted in the fourth year of the study, interviewees said faculty of color provide a sense of comfort and belonging in the classroom, are helpful to all students and tend to create an inclusive climate.

"Women of color are far more likely to be represented in the ranks of lecturer than tenured faculty," reported CEW Director Carol S. Hollenshead in her presentation titled "A Profile of Women of Color at the University of Michigan." While women of color represent 10.1 percent of lecturers, they make up only 4.2 percent of tenured and tenure-track faculty.

She shared the results of a study of faculty tenure outcomes for assistant professors hired between July 1982 and June 1988. Of 512 men of all racial and ethnic groups hired during that period, 53 percent received tenure, 42 percent left the U-M, 1 percent have tenure decisions pending and 4 percent moved off the tenure track to a research or other position in the institution. Of 187 women hired during the same period, 42 percent received tenure, 48 percent left the U-M, 6 percent have tenure decisions pending and 4 percent moved off track.

Looking at faculty tenure outcomes for assistant professors of color, 57 men and 24 women were hired between July 1982 and June 1988. Of the men of color, 53 percent received tenure, 45 percent left the U-M and 2 percent moved off track. Among the women of color, 38 percent earned tenure, 46 percent left the U-M, 8 percent have decisions pending and 8 percent moved off track.

The statistics show that the tenure-track pattern for men of color is similar to that of men overall, Hollenshead said. The statistics also show gaps based both on race and gender when it comes to women and women of color assistant professors receiving tenure.

"These gaps should be addressed," said Hollenshead, who noted that the University does not require higher-level review of negative tenure decisions.

Other conference presenters included Carol M. Cummings, assistant professor of Pan African Studies and psychology at the University of Louisville, and Jill Y. Allen, a U-M alumna now working at the American Institutes for Research in Palo Alto, Calif.

Allen's presentation, "The Life Paths of Black Women from the U-M Graduating Classes of 1967-73," looked at the implications of agency (individualism and focus on self) and communion (participation in some larger organization, working with others in cooperative relationships) in mid-life women's roles and personalities and their well being. She found that communion in Black women's life roles and in their personalities is particularly important for well being.

In a presentation titled "Unfolding of Spirit and Culture in African American Women's Health," Cummings shared findings from an ethnographic study she did involving 10 women ages 27-54 who work at the U-M. She found that the African American women she studied who were more culturally centered also were more resilient and had fewer symptoms of poor health than African American women who were not as centered in Black culture.