Black Women Faculty at Historically Black Colleges and Universities


Diversity in Higher Education

Emerald Book Chapter: Chapter 8 Black Women Faculty at Historically Black

Colleges and Universities: Perspectives for a National Imperative

Kelly M. Mack, Claudia M. Rankins, Cynthia E. Winston

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(ed.) Beyond Stock Stories and Folktales: African Americans' Paths to STEM Fields (Diversity in Higher Education, Volume 11),

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Kelly M. Mack, Claudia M. Rankins and

Cynthia E. Winston


The nation’s first Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) were founded before the end of the U.S. Civil War. However, most were established in the post-Civil War era, through the Freedmen’s Bureau and other organizations such as the American Missionary Association (AMA) when the U.S. federal government initiated an organized effort to educate newly freed slaves ( Hoffman, 1996 ). Additional support for HBCUs arose from the second Morrill Act of 1890, which provided opportunities for all races in those states where Black students were excluded from public higher education. Thus, since their founding in the 1800s, the nation’s HBCUs have had as their missions to provide access to higher education for the disenfranchised and underprivileged of our society. Today, these institutions continue to make significant contributions in educating African American

Beyond Stock Stories and Folktales: African Americans’ Paths to STEM Fields

Diversity in Higher Education, Volume 11, 149–164

Copyright r 2011 by Emerald Group Publishing Limited

All rights of reproduction in any form reserved

ISSN: 1479-3644/doi:10.1108/S1479-3644(2011)0000011012



and other underrepresented minority students, particularly in the areas of science and engineering. Although they comprise only 3% of U.S.

institutions of higher education, HBCUs in 2008 awarded 20% of the baccalaureate degrees earned by Blacks in science and engineering ( National

Science Foundation, 2011 ).

Despite their significant accomplishments, the historic missions of

HBCUs are under increasing levels of scrutiny, and their value to the nation is often questioned ( Fryer & Greenstone, 2010 ; Price, Spriggs, &

Swinton, 2011 ; Riley, 2010 ). Yet, recent data indicate that HBCUs are at the cutting edge of training underrepresented minority students and preparing them for graduate study and employment in the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) workforce ( National Science

Foundation, 2011 ). This strength is particularly significant when considering that the projected underrepresented minority populations will comprise the largest percentage of the U.S. population by the year 2042 ( U.S. Census

Bureau, 2008 ). Thus, if the United States is to retain its position as a leader in the global science and engineering enterprises, it is necessary to focus on developing talent and fostering inclusion of underrepresented minorities in these critical disciplines.

A means of achieving this goal is through close examination of the inherent characteristics of HBCUs that best lend themselves to minority student success. Aside from a rigorous curriculum, nurturing environment, and access to culturally competent mentoring ( Freeman & Winston, 2010,

2011 ; Gregory, 2001 ), HBCUs have a disproportionately concentrated presence of Black women faculty who comprise a valuable cadre of role models which has been shown to positively influence student success

( Bettinger & Long, 2005 ). However, little is known about the specific elements of an HBCU campus that uniquely appeal to Black women faculty, or how those elements can be transferred to traditionally white institutions in support of their efforts to diversify the faculty.

The current study presents empirical evidence of a dramatically increasing group of Black women faculty in HBCUs given their underrepresentation among all faculty members across institutional type. Further, for institutions of higher education (HBCUs and non-HBCUs alike) as well as federal funding agencies, this study offers an agenda of research and policy recommendations that outline the need for recording and analyzing observed and perceived nuances characterizing the experiences of Black women faculty in the academy. This study also forms the basis of a highly reproducible plan of action that can be easily adaptable and transferable to all institution types.

Black Women Faculty at Historically Black Colleges and Universities 151


Many HBCUs were founded in the 1800s, at a time when almost all colleges and universities were exclusively for men and access to higher education for women was minimal. However, since they began and due to their unique missions, HBCUs were open and accessible to Black women ( Aleman &

Renn, 2002 ). It was also during the 1800s that the existence of Black women at the intersection of race and gender was first described. In her famous speech, Ain’t I a Woman , delivered at the Women’s Convention in Ohio in

1852, Sojourner Truth emphatically characterized an American culture that offered less opportunity and privilege for Black women as compared to their white female contemporaries ( Stanton, Anthony, & Gage, 1969 ).

Other seminal reports and research findings, such as the 1976 Double Bind

Report , which was based on a meeting of women scientists of color, have also delineated the distinctive experiences that characterize the intersection of race and gender, specifically as they relate to the underutilization and limited participation of Black women in the U.S. STEM enterprise ( Bonner,

2001 ; Malcom, Hall, & Brown, 1976 ). These reports and articles outlined the

‘‘cost’’ of becoming and surviving as a scientist and woman of color.

Moreover, these reports provided important information and, in many cases, blueprints for increasing the representation of Black women in the

STEM disciplines.

Despite these efforts, Black women remain underrepresented in the STEM disciplines. Yet, while they comprise less than 2% of the faculty in U.S.

institutions of higher education, recent data suggest that they are disproportionately concentrated in our nation’s HBCUs, where, historically, significant contributions in educating students from underrepresented groups, particularly in the STEM disciplines, are made. It has also been noted in recent literature that not only do HBCUs award a significant number of science and engineering baccalaureate degrees, but also their baccalaureate degree recipients subsequently attain doctoral degrees at an impressively higher rate than African American students at traditionally white institutions.

Wenglinsky (1996) notes that African American HBCU students are more likely than their counterparts at traditionally white institutions to pursue a postgraduate education and become professionals. Further, in her seminal work, Wolf-Wendel (1998) noted that HBCUs, which restricted enrollment to women, were acutely prolific in serving as the baccalaureate origins of Black women PhDs between 1975 and 1991. Today, HBCUs comprise over 40% of the top 49 baccalaureate institutions of Black science and engineering doctorate recipients ( National Science Foundation, 2011 ).


The current empirical examination of HBCU Black women faculty is a necessary beginning toward understanding the breadth of the potential that

HBCUs possess in addressing the nation’s STEM pipeline issue and also is necessary for shaping a policy agenda for retaining a vital resource that can contribute to an expanded and diverse STEM workforce.



Challenges faced by HBCUs include resource limitations and the migration of high achieving students to traditionally white institutions ( Riley, 2010 ).

However several major strengths of HBCUs contribute to a needed emphasis on these institutions as resources for the science and engineering talent required for the U.S. to maintain its position as a global leader.

Principal among these strengths are the diversity of HBCUs, which provides the platform upon which typical, broad-based stereotypes about these institutions can be disputed and dismantled.

Specifically, the disaggregation of HBCUs by institution type better shapes the discussion of their value and delineates the strength and appropriateness of their contributions to higher education. This is particularly relevant for Black women faculty who are often marginalized and undervalued throughout the academy as a whole. However, fine-tuned correlations between Black women at HBCUs and the contributions they make within the context of their institutional settings allow for a more robust appreciation and awareness of Black women faculty as critical components in the nation’s academic enterprise. Awareness of strengths also expands the scope of scholarly expectations for Black women faculty beyond provision of a nurturing environment for HBCU students. This increased scope includes expectations for meaningful contributions to scientific discovery and to research and scholarly activity that focuses on the conditions of the nation’s underserved minority populations.

Currently, HBCUs make up approximately 3% of all four-year institutions of higher education in the United States, yet they are as diverse a set of institutions as traditionally white institutions. As evidenced by their

Carnegie classifications, HBCUs are varied in size, selectivity, denominational origins, sources of support, and geographic location. An additional distinction among HBCUs is that they vary by gender segmentation.

Fig. 1 illustrates institutional diversity for HBCU and non-HBCU fouryear institutions, and clearly indicates that there exists a similar pattern of institution type among all four-year institutions, except Specialized

Black Women Faculty at Historically Black Colleges and Universities 153

Fig. 1 .

HBCU and Non-HBCU Four-Year Institution Diversity Based on Carnegie


Institutions. The majority of HBCUs, or 55%, are classified as bachelor’s institutions. Master’s institutions make up 27% of all HBCUs, and approximately 11% are classified as either Doctoral Research Universities or Research Universities. A small fraction of HBCUs are specialized, including two medical schools, or Unclassified (1.1%). Additionally, 2% of all HBCUs are single sex institutions. The same is true of single sex institutions existing among traditionally white institutions.

A wider difference in the percentage of Specialized Institutions exists primarily because of the emergence of private, for-profit institutions, which, according to the Carnegie Foundation (2011) , account for 77% of all newly classified institutions of higher education since 2005.

Aside from institutional diversity as one of its major strengths, HBCUs have demonstrated strength and proven to be prolific in graduating students at the baccalaureate degree level. In 2006, HBCUs awarded 20.5% of all Black baccalaureate degree recipients in the United States ( National Science

Foundation, 2009 ). This is an acutely impressive accomplishment given the relatively small number of 4-year HBCUs ( N ¼ 89) as compared to 4-year non-

HBCUs ( N ¼ 2,590). In the areas of science and engineering, the success of

HBCUs is also quite profound. In 2008, HBCUs awarded 20% of the baccalaureate degrees earned by Blacks in science and engineering ( National

Science Foundation, 2011 ).

Fig. 2 is a schematic representation that depicts

HBCU success in several science and engineering disciplines. In sum, HBCUs produced 18.3% of the baccalaureate degrees in engineering; 37.9% in agriculture; 18.0% in computer sciences; 30.7% in mathematics; 34.2% in physics; 30.1% in the biological sciences; and 20.1% and 15.6% in psychology and the social sciences, respectively ( National Science Foundation, 2011 ).





37.9% Agricultural Sciences

30.1% Biological Sciences

18.0% Computer Sciences

18.3% Engineering

30.7% Mathematical Sciences

34.2% Physical Sciences

20.1% Psychology

15.6% Social Sciences

Fig. 2 .

Schematic Representation: Percentage of Baccalaureate STEM Degrees by

HBCUs to Black Recipients, 2008.

Thus, HBCUs are particularly successful in terms of preparing students for careers in engineering and science ( Wenglinsky, 1996 ) and in contributing more than their fair share of underrepresented minority talent to the STEM workforce.


HBCUs, in keeping with their historic missions, have enrolled and awarded increasingly greater numbers of degrees to women over recent decades.

Specifically, between 1993 and 2006, the percentage of Black women undergraduates at HBCUs increased by 24%, whereas the percentage for

Black men increased by only 4% ( National Science Foundation, 2009 ).

During the same time period, the rate of increase of Black women faculty has exceeded any other racial and/or gender group.

Table 1 depicts the change in the numbers of STEM faculty at HBCUs between 1993 and 2006.

The most significant change is seen in the numbers of Black women, which increased by 157% ( p o


A closer examination of NSF data reveals that in 2006 there were 900

Black women faculty in STEM disciplines at HBCUs and 2,810 Black women faculty in STEM disciplines at non-HBCUs. Thus, overall, Black women account for approximately 22% and 2% of the faculties at HBCUs and non-HBCUs, respectively. This suggests that, on average, there are

Black Women Faculty at Historically Black Colleges and Universities 155

Table 1.

Number of STEM Faculty at HBCUs by Race, 1993 and 2006.


















Change p -value






























+14 o








*A p -value of o

0.05 indicates that the change is significant. **Data for Hispanic and American

Indian faculty are suppressed because of low numbers.

approximately 10 Black women STEM faculty per HBCU, and approximately 1 Black woman STEM faculty per non-HBCU. A proportional distribution across all four-year institutions would yield an expected 1.4

Black women STEM faculty per institution ( Fig. 3 ).

This yet unexplained phenomenon that attracts Black women faculty at disproportionate rates to HBCUs has received little emphasis, though it may serve to contribute in understanding the overall success of HBCU students and the important role that Black women faculty play in educating, mentoring and serving as role models for the predominantly female undergraduate population that currently exists at these institutions. Recent studies suggest that one of the greatest influences and determinants of academic success in STEM disciplines, especially for women students, is access to same-gender role models ( Bettinger & Long, 2005 ). This occurrence is even more pronounced for women of color, as noted by Trower and Chait

(2002) , who report that 75% of African American women awarded doctorates in Biology, between 1975 and 1992, had baccalaureate origins at HBCUs.

Additionally, O’Neill (2002) reports that same-gender and same-race mentoring, for minorities, is often characterized with stronger psychosocial support and, therefore, may yield better career outcomes.

It is the collective sum of the HBCU environment and the impact of Black women faculty that present these institutions as ideally poised to make yet another significant contribution beyond student success – that of recruiting and retaining Black women faculty. As higher education seeks to attract a more diverse population to the professoriate, HBCUs can be considered as national models to which other institution types can aspire.


Fig. 3 .

Average Number of Black Women STEM Faculty at HBCUs and



The data presented here demonstrate a need to carefully consider the HBCU environment when determining effective strategies for recruiting and retaining Black women faculty. Although, overall, their representation in the academy is still relatively low, the impact that Black women STEM faculty have on promoting undergraduate minority student success, and their disproportionately concentrated representation at these institutions is unquestionable. What remains lacking is a comprehensive body of literature that focuses on the unique circumstances of not only Black women ( Bonner,

2001 ), but all women of color.

Ong, Wright, Espinosa, and Orfield (2010) noted that only 116 empirical works related to women of color exist in the literature, most of which were published after 2000. Such studies provided a heightened awareness and sensitivity to the unique circumstances of Black women in the academic STEM disciplines. These studies also provide the foundation for a holistic approach to the inclusion of all women of color in any institution of higher education. Ideally, this work should showcase

HBCU institutional structures and practices that promote the entry of Black women faculty into the professoriate, and incorporate the intrinsic and

Black Women Faculty at Historically Black Colleges and Universities 157 extrinsic academy influences (such as access to mentoring and an appreciation for the disproportionate societal, familial and health burdens that are experienced by Black women).

It is widely accepted that effective mentoring provides faculty, particularly Black women, with tools that are essential to negotiating success

( Evans & Cokley, 2008 ; Jordan-Zachary, 2004 ; Perna et al., 2009 ). However, culturally competent mentoring, which is exclusively designed to provide a context that is appropriately rooted in and relevant to minority population cultures, is oftentimes underemployed ( Evans & Cokley, 2008 ; Jordan, 2006 ;

Mack, Rankins, & Allen, 2009 ). In general, culturally competent mentoring requires honoring cultural complexities of the target audience, demonstrating an awareness of social pressures and influences, and emphasizing personal connectedness. Recent evidence suggests that the blended integration of these components of mentoring is not only successful in retaining underrepresented minority students in the STEM disciplines and contributing to their persistence toward science careers ( Mack & Taylor,

2008 ), but could also be equally as effective in addressing the underrepresentation of Black women in the STEM disciplines.

In 1975, participants of the Double Bind Conference of Minority Women

Scientists noted challenges related to strong, traditional gender roles that are highly characteristic of minority communities and result in increased domestic responsibility and related familial stressors ( Malcom et al., 1976 ).

Similarly, recent health disparities literature suggests that underrepresented minority populations are disproportionately burdened with incidence and mortality rates for various diseases such as cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and stroke. Women, particularly Black women, are further marginalized because their disease symptoms seldom mirror those of men, and meaningful results that are yielded from clinical trials, overwhelmingly, focus on males. For Black women, the disproportionate burden of adverse health conditions and outcomes is exacerbated by minimized access to aggressive medical approaches to treatment and preventative health care

( Satcher, 2001 ; Shavers, 2007 ). As a result, Black women have significantly higher incidence and mortality rates than any other population in the

United States for many diseases. Black women in the academy, though well educated, are not immune to the impact of this experience. However, to date, there have been no faculty retention measures for minority faculty that have included consideration of this important aspect. Thus, like access to mentoring, inclusion of health equity is an appropriate mechanism in addressing issues related to Black women STEM faculty is essential to their persistence in the academy.



Examine the Role of Black Women Faculty, Particularly from STEM

Disciplines, in Administrative Roles at HBCUs

As previously noted, HBCUs were among the first institutions to allow women access to higher education ( Warren, 2000 ). Both Spelman College and Howard University are two notable examples of institutions that have advanced Black women to leadership roles before such advancements were the norm in other institutions. In 1881, two New England women, Sophia B.

Packard and Harriet Giles, founded Spelman College, the first college for

‘‘Negro’’ women. Two years later, they appointed Sophia Jones as head of the Spelman College infirmary. Sophia Jones, a Black woman, had recently graduated from the University of Michigan Medical College. Perhaps the most significant aspect of her appointment at Spelman College was that

Jones ‘‘made possible [the development of] courses in Nurse Training’’

( Read, 1961 ). In 1931, Helen Tucker Abro, who earned her PhD from

Brown University, was appointed as chair of the Biology department at the same institution.

Additionally, in 1969 at Howard University, Angela D. Ferguson became the highest-ranking female administrator in Howard University’s Division of Health Affairs when she became the administrator responsible for planning the new Howard University Hospital ( Epps, Johnson, & Vaughan,

1994 ; Logan, 1969 ). Later she was named associate vice president for Health

Affairs. In the 1950s, Marie Clark Taylor, who earned her PhD from

Fordham University, was the chair of the Howard University Botany

Department. Even earlier, during the 1940s, Flemmie Kittrell, a Cornell

University graduate and the first African American female in the country to earn a PhD in nutritional sciences, was the chair of the Howard University

Department of Home Economics. During this same period, Inabel Lindsey was appointed as the dean of the Howard University School of Social Work and became the first female dean at the institution.

With the exception of Ferguson, these women served as HBCU faculty in academic leadership roles before the Congressional approval of Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which prohibited discrimination based on sex and race in employment. Though the number of women in institutional leadership roles at HBCUs did not outnumber men at that time, their presence was significant, particularly in light of the limited role of women, both Black and White, at non-HBCUs during the same time, especially in the health and natural sciences fields.

Black Women Faculty at Historically Black Colleges and Universities 159

This historical portrait of the female leadership pioneers at HBCUs provides a rich source from which contemporary women can draw in making sense of their own lives and career trajectories. Using both archival and original data, the accomplishments and stories of Black women faculty over time need to be studied by historians, social scientists, and science educators, as well as used as a prominent narrative in the history of science that has become institutionalized at many universities. Such inclusion, can serve as another source of information from which current Black faculty can draw in envisioning their own promotion and sustainability in leadership roles in the academy. These stories, and the women highlighted therein, could serve as role models and, as such, be used to attract young African

American girls and college students to academic careers by motivating them toward the opportunities to become institutional leaders within institutions that play a powerful role in educating and training the next generation.

Establish Research Centers that Focus on the Intersection of Race and

Gender, Particularly as It Relates to Retaining Black Women in the STEM


Although we have been able to provide empirical evidence about the presence and importance of Black women faculty at HBCUs, a large gap in the knowledge base remains. This gap is particularly evident in understanding the complex interplay of institutional, psychological, political, and cultural factors in the recruitment, retention, professional development, and success of Black women STEM faculty at HBCUs.

More empirical evidence is necessary that adopts rigorous mixed methods research designs guided by strong theoretical frameworks that emerge from multiple disciplines. Such research has promise for expanding understanding on a broad range of questions critical for shaping national program and policy development. These questions include but are not limited to the following: (1) What are the individual, cultural, and institutional factors related to the success, costs, rewards, and professional development opportunity structures of Black female faculty who choose academic careers in science and engineering? (2) What are the daily life experiences of Black female faculty at HBCUs and how do they compare to their non-Black and non-female counterparts at similar HBCU and non-HBCU institution types? (3) What are the types of institutional models that can be designed that will simultaneously advance the academic careers of Black female faculty, while reducing the likelihood that they will leave the academy for


the many high paying and arguably more rewarding jobs in industry increasingly available to Black females with STEM degrees?

To generate new knowledge around these and other critical questions, there needs to be a significant investment among federal agencies, higher education, and industry in the development of Centers of Research

Excellence on Diversity and Inclusion in STEM Workforce Development.

Such an investment will provide the human, physical, technological, and financial resources not only to stimulate this research, but will achieve two other goals. It will build the capacity to sustain this research over time, as well as enable the design and development of models that can be implemented, studied, improved, and redeployed in multiple types of institutions with the goal to increase diversity and inclusion in the nation’s and world’s innovation and discovery enterprise.

Develop a Plan for the Collection and Disaggregation of Data

The call for disaggregation of data has been made previously. For example, the 1994–2003 Decennial and 2004 Biennials Reports to Congress by the

Committee on Equal Opportunities in Science & Engineering entitled

‘‘Broadening Participation in America’s Science and Engineering Workforce’’ states that ‘‘Thus, until recently, few studies of racial/ethnic minorities included any discussions on women; and few studies of women included any discussions of ethnic/racial minorities. Numerous scholars –

Shirley Malcom, Shirley McBay, Cheryl Leggon, Daniel Solarzano, Beatriz

Clewell, and Willie Pearson, Jr., among them – have long written and publicly called for the disaggregation of data to demonstrate variations within and across groups. Yet, the recognition is just dawning in the general academic community that each underrepresented group is in itself diverse, and that it is important to be able to separate and understand the possibly different underlying factors related to the underrepresentation of the different groups and subgroups.’’

Current NSF statistics indicate that Black women make up only about

1.7% of STEM faculty in higher education. However, they comprise over

22% of the faculty at HBCUs. Black women comprise 1.9%, 1.2%, and

0.7% of all assistant, associate and full professors, respectively, in the

STEM disciplines. The distribution by rank at HBCUs and by discipline within STEM fields is not known. Additionally, in 2006, HBCUs produced

17.5% of the baccalaureate degrees in psychology, 17.6% in engineering,

31.3% in agriculture, 21.9% in computer sciences, 26.3% in mathematics,

Black Women Faculty at Historically Black Colleges and Universities 161

35.5% in physics, 26.8% in chemistry, and 25.5% in the biological sciences of Black women. For Black men at HBCUs those percentages were consistently lower. Furthermore, statistics indicate that more Black women receive bachelor degrees in the life sciences and the social sciences than the physical sciences and engineering ( National Science Foundation, 2009 ).

Research studies designed to investigate the role of faculty, particularly

Black women faculty, must take into account race/ethnicity, gender within race/ethnicity, STEM disciplines, and academic rank for faculty at HBCUs, as well as non-HBCUs. We recommend a plan for the collection of data for faculty in STEM, disaggregated by academic rank and discipline, to address questions such as: Is there a relationship between the numbers of Black women faculty and Black women students by discipline? What is the distribution of ranks for Black women faculty at HBCUs? How do Black women faculty at HBCUs advance to leadership positions? What are the causes of the paucity of Black women faculty and students in disciplines such as engineering, astronomy, and physics?

Implement Concerted and Collaborative Efforts within and among Federal

Funding Agencies to Broaden the Participation of Black Women from


Outstanding efforts to reverse trends of underrepresentation for women, minorities, and persons with disabilities in the academic STEM disciplines have been implemented at the NSF and other federal funding agencies. The

NSF, in particular, has funded various venues that have focused specifically on women of color. They include: The Double Bind Panel, the 2010 STEM

Conclave for Women of Color and the NSF Committee on Equal

Opportunity in Science and Engineering Mini Symposium on Women of

Color ( Table 2 ).

However, as has been previously noted, sporadic attempts to address the underrepresentation of women of color will be insufficient ( Malcom et al.,


Table 2.

Chronicle of NSF Events Focusing on Women of Color.





Double Bind Meeting

NSF CEOSE Mini Symposium on Women of Color

STEM Women of Color Conclave


1976 ). Thus, it still remains necessary to provide even more venues that not only stretch beyond characterizing statistical data on Black women, but also incorporate data into an appropriate cultural context. Specifically, this context should take into consideration societal pressures and the additive and synergistic impacts that these pressures play in combined gender and racial inequity in the STEM disciplines. It is envisaged that such activity will generate not only a national consciousness, but also provide a basis for creativity in developing holistic approaches to career advancement for Black women in the academic STEM disciplines.

Specific strategies may include, but are not limited to: (1) crossdisciplinary collaborations within and among federal agencies, (2) qualitative data collection, and (3) national conclaves focused on Black women, and all women of color, in the STEM disciplines. Overall, the collective intelligence that will emerge from these strategies will result in a prescribed set of objectives related to promoting career development for Black women

STEM faculty, and form the basis of a highly reproducible plan of action that can be transferable across all institution types.


Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.


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