The University Record, January 23, 1996

'The buck stops with us,' Moses says

By Diane Swanbrow
News and Information Services 

"If you think education is not political, then you're living on the wrong planet," Yolanda Moses told the crowd in Rackham Amphitheater Jan. 12 in a keynote address that concluded the conference, "Women of Color in the University and the Community It Serves."

Moses, president of City College, City University of New York, and president of the American Anthropological Association, admitted that change was a slow process. "But do it we must, if we are not to lose sight of Dr. King's vision of a multicultural society."

Her address, following the day-long research conference, was co-sponsored by the Department of Anthropology and the Women of Color in the Academy Project, a joint effort of the Center for the Education of Women and the Women's Studies Program. Richard I. Ford, chair and professor of the Department of Anthropology and curator of the Museum of Anthropology, introduced Moses as an academic who sits on 19 boards and commissions in addition to her two presidencies. "From Dublin to Nairobi to Beijing," said Ford, "she has spoken out for women of color."

Moses said that in the last year, instead of making progress toward Dr. King's vision, American society had back-tracked in the name of states' rights and a balanced budget. She talked about her own life and career, beginning with her decision not to get on a bus in Selma during the Civil Rights demonstrations, but to get into graduate school and "make my stand in the classroom."

As the author of numerous articles and papers on cultural change in the United States and in the Caribbean, cultural diversity and cultural change in higher education, including the widely cited monograph, "Black Women in Academe," she documented her stand over the last several decades.

"In my monograph, I found that when gender and ethnicity intersect, you had an empty cell," she said. "Across the nation, in classrooms and outside of them, women of color have been ignored. They have suffered from the paradox of over-attention and under-attention." Their opinions are either disregarded entirely or solicited only on matters of race or gender, she added.

At the graduate level women of color face the additional problem of not fitting into the academic culture, Moses said. They are not "invited in" as teaching assistants and research funding is lacking. At the faculty level, "the tussle with tenure" remains a problem, Moses added, pointing out that research remains far more influential than teaching and counseling. "It's not that research is to be devalued," Moses noted, "but that other activities should also be looked at."

Moses also cited the stigma of being "the token" as a continuing problem for women of color in the academy. To shift the balance of power in a department, it takes 20 percent of the faculty, not a single individual, Moses said.

To redress the wrongs and turn Dr. King's vision into a reality, she concluded, we must "do what we do best as institutions --- conduct research on the problem and collaborate with each other." Women of color in the academy should also model the behavior they would like their students to emulate.

"The buck stops with us," she said. "We must model for America what a true pluralistic society can be, or we will find ourselves on a collision course with the future."