By Michael Reschke
Herald-Times, Bloomington, Ind.
WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) According to the National Science Foundation, approximately 5 percent of all individuals in the U.S. who earn doctoral degrees are black. That’s what makes the graduation of eight black women with Ph.D.s from the IU School of Education so amazing. So what can be done to start empowering women, especially minority women to earn their doctorates? Most, if not all the women in this article say mentorship from other black female faculty members is key.
Herald-Times, Bloomington, Ind.
Jada Phelps-Moultrie never saw herself as a professor.
She had no problem picturing herself as a track athlete, because her father did that. She could see herself working in education, because her mother was a principal. But no one in her family had ever earned a doctoral degree.
Statistically speaking, that’s not surprising. In 2004, when Phelps-Moultrie was in Houston pursuing an opportunity to become a professional track athlete, slightly more than 5 percent of all the people in the United States who earned doctoral degrees were black, according to a survey from the National Science Foundation. Ten years later, while working toward her doctorate in the newly established urban education studies program at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, that figure had fallen to just below 5 percent.
“A lot of black people don’t see themselves doing things white people do,” she said. “When you see people who look like you doing things, it plays a role in how you see yourself.”
That’s what makes John Nieto-Phillips’ job so difficult. As Indiana University’s vice president for faculty development and diversity, part of his job is recruiting and retaining faculty of color. He admits that can be difficult in a homogeneous state such as Indiana. According to U.S. Census data, in 2014, nearly 90 percent of the state’s population was white.
When minority faculty come to a predominantly white institution, they can quickly become overburdened. For example, if there are only a handful of minority faculty members in a certain school or department, it’s very likely they will be asked to serve on committees because people want a diverse perspective, Nieto-Phillips said.
“If you’re only one of a few, you’re constantly being called for service,” he said.
In addition, students of color and women tend to gravitate toward faculty who are like them for advice and mentoring, Nieto-Phillips said.
At the same time minority faculty are facing these demands, other universities are trying to lure them away.
“There is intensive recruitment by all universities for faculty of color,” Nieto-Phillips said.
That makes it difficult to recruit and retain faculty of color. Low numbers of minority faculty make it more difficult to recruit and retain students of color. If there are fewer students of color at the undergraduate level, there will be fewer students of color moving on to doctorate programs. This results in fewer doctoral graduates of color, which means there are fewer qualified candidates of color for faculty positions. And so the cycle starts over.
That’s why Nieto-Phillips said Phelps-Moultrie’s story is so significant.
Phelps-Moultrie is one of eight black women who are set to graduate with Ph.D.s from the IU School of Education. Two are in the urban education studies program, while the other six are in higher education and student affairs. All of the women interviewed for this story credit the black female faculty members who mentored them and the support of the other seven women with helping them get to this point.
“I don’t think I could have done this if I did not have people that look like me in the program and as professors,” Phelps-Moultrie said.
That’s because they’ve all had similar experiences.
Jasmine Haywood said that in the higher education and student affairs program, she was often one of two or the only person of color in a class where narratives of marginalized people were absent. She or the other student of color would point that out, but others didn’t seem to understand why those narratives were important, she said.
“It would be us, as students, bringing it to the surface,” she said. “We were often met with blank stares.”
Demetrees Hutchins said that before entering the doctoral program, she was viewed as a spokeswoman for all people of color in her graduate courses in philanthropic studies.
“Any time anything with minorities came up, the spotlight was on me, as if I had all the answers,” she said.
Realizing they could benefit from talking to like-minded individuals, some of the women decided to form what they referred to as a “sister circle.” Juhanna Rogers said the women started meeting once a month to discuss the obstacles they faced, lift each other up and give each other a hand.
“We baby-sat each other’s kids; we carpooled together,” Rogers said. “It’s just been a journey.”
The sister circle took some of the burden off black female faculty members such as Robin Hughes, interim executive associate dean in the School of Education at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis. Hughes was there to listen when the women wanted to talk about the racial slights — often referred to as micro-aggressions — they experienced. She helped them find outlets for their writing that were more accepting of articles on race. She would even watch Rogers’ son, who she said is now almost as tall as her.
Knowing what they went through and the national climate surrounding minorities in higher education, Hughes saw the importance of letting other people know about their story.
“Usually, we have one or two graduates with a Ph.D.,” she said. “It’s unprecedented to have eight African-American female graduates.”
Hughes said she had planned to contact someone from the school of education’s communications department about doing a story, but Haywood beat her to it.
Haywood said she reached out to the school’s communications department at the end of March. She wasn’t happy with the email she got back.
“The response I got was, while they didn’t say no, they weren’t sure there was a story there, but we could discuss it further,” she said. “For me, personally, that was the straw that broke the camel’s back.”
The frustration she felt throughout her academic career in trying to get the racial majority to acknowledge and understand the perspectives of people of color was released in a Facebook rant. The next day, people were writing posts of support for the women and criticisms of IU on Twitter using the hashtag #TheGreat8. Haywood said she eventually got an apology from IU, but all the women in the group felt slighted.
Haywood originally agreed to provide the email thread to The Herald-Times, but later declined, saying, “It is not my intention to throw individual people under the bus.”
Nadrea Njoku, one of the eight women, said she considers the situation an oversight, and doesn’t want it to be the group’s legacy. Rather, she wants people to know that as minority students on campuses like the University of Missouri protest and call for more faculty members who look like them, the story of eight black women graduating from IU with Ph.D.s is significant.
“Through IU, we are the answer to those demand lists students have,” Njoku said.
In May, these eight black women are set to receive Ph.D.s in Education from Indiana University:
–Demetrees Hutchins, doctorate in higher education and student affairs
–Tiffany Kyser, doctorate in urban education studies
–Shannon McCullough, doctorate in higher education and student affairs
–Nadrea Njoku, doctorate in higher education and student affairs
–Juhanna Rogers, doctorate in higher education and student affairs
–Johari Shuck, doctorate in higher education and student affairs
–Jada Phelps-Moultrie, doctorate in urban education studies
–Jasmine Haywood, doctorate in higher education and student affiars