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"Outsiders within": Strategies for Balancing the "Double/Triple" Experience for Tenure-Track Minority Women Professors at a Teaching Institution

November 16-17, 2007
Johnson C. Smith University
Charlotte, North Carolina

Kandace L. Harris, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, Johnson C. Smith University, Department of Communication Arts

Sharon Raynor, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, Johnson C. Smith University, Department of English and Foreign Languages

Carmen Walker, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, Johnson C. Smith University, Department of Social Sciences


In understanding Collin’s “outsider-within”, minority women professors experience a multiple consciousness as their race, class, and gender influences intersect.  In an attempt to be a part of the culture/community “from which we came”, this panel focused on personally employed strategies as female scholars of color who face the double/triple difficulty of being a female minority within the academy as we attempt to “balance work life” with other important components essential to our well being which at times, without regard to our own lives, may be in disarray because of the many tasks and pressures that accompany our professional positions.  Through autoethnographic exploration of our shared experiences it is our aim to provide a contextual framework to the examination how gender, class, and race intersection impacts tenure-track minority women professors. 

From Which We Came

The “Second Shift”: Motherhood and Academia – Dr. Carmen Walker
Whether inside the classroom or out, black women are a minority in Higher Education.  While a majority of black faculty currently teach at HBCUs, my current institution still defies the reality of being both black and female in American Higher Education.  Yet find myself asking, what aspects of my identity lend me to being an outsider within a diverse HBCU institution where it is not unusual to find black women in the classroom and outside the classroom in administrative leadership positions? I have never seen so many women in leadership positions – Chairs, Deans, Presidents, Full-Professors. I see people who look like me doing great things.  It has been a little over a year since I successfully defended my dissertation.  So why do I still feel like an outsider at times?  Well, I had to stop this thought because it is 3 a.m. and my daughter has decided to wake up.  By 4:30 a.m., she is sleep and I’ve just had an epiphany – I’m a mother and a professor.

While individual experiences are shaped by institutions, research suggests collectively female faculty with children have greater challenges when it comes to moving up faculty ranks and receiving tenure and promotion. For those with children we are more likely to be in lower ranked faculty positions at research universities or at smaller institutions with a greater teaching and service load. In both scenarios, we are confronted with the demands of academia – University, Department and Committee obligations, service, teaching, student counseling, mentoring and research.

I think that black women have given voice to the multiple identities that inform who we are as professors and administrators in higher education – race, age, class, sexuality, ethnicity, but even with all of this I need to give voice to my identity as a mother. I recognize that this is the one aspect of my life that does not feel welcomed in higher education because I don’t want to be perceived weak or mindless. The stereotypes portraying women as mindless after childbirth have trickled over into academia. “Say have you heard the joke about the woman who had a child and instantly became less scholarly?”  How do I balance all of that when my four year old is asking me if tomorrow is today yet?  For working women, this is a real question because whether married or separated, women do bear a great responsibility for caretaking than men. How has motherhood impacted my career and vice versa?  In reflection, these are a few things that have “shifted” since the birth of my daughter:

  1. My time for deep scholarly reflection and writing occur between 1 and 4 a.m.
  2. I negotiate how I will get my daughter to sleep by 8:30 pm and attend the university events that start at 7p.m.
  3. I worry that my daughter thinks I’m neglecting her and likes her teacher more than me; after all she is there 6-7 hours a day.
  4. Elmo and Barney are now popping up in the Departmental program review.
  5. I get tired.

I have come to the conclusion that there is no such thing as long-term balance between work and family. My strategy has become reconceptualizing the meaning of balance. Conflict theory would suggest that there is a madness associated with trying to balance multiple roles because maybe it is impossible. However, I’m willing to live with this madness because I love what I do as a professor and a teacher.  I can stand a few dishes in the sink and the stress of an overdue paper because my daughter thinks I’m the best mommy teacher in the world. 

As I consider the research that has been done on motherhood and academia, I imagine looking up to see a bright neon sign with my beautiful daughter’s picture on it and a caption reading, “WARNING, WARNING, Don’t let the cute face fool you!! Research has shown that children pose a serious threat to tenure.”  Interestingly, Ward and Wolf-Wendel (2004) found that there is a perception among women faculty that this is true. As a result, for those who want to have children, many either delay having children or don’t have children.  Is this the kind of life I want to encourage my female students to consider? When my family practitioner looked me in the eye and told me my eggs were getting old I realized that it may not be mentally, biologically or emotionally feasible as a woman to plan our family around a patriarchal educational system. Furthermore as more women face the reality of not only being the primary caretakers of children, but also their parents, something must change.

 Being in an environment that is supportive of all of our “roles” or “selves” is important. I am also conscious of the need to understand institutional cultures and expectations and how they might impact the careers of female faculty with family obligations.  In the same way that Johnson and Harvey (2002) point out the importance of the socialization experience for and new or young faculty, the same may hold true for women faculty with children. I believe the same challenges like those of “loneliness and intellectual isolation, lack of collegial support, heavy workloads and severe time constraints” impact female faculty with children even more so. Connecting with both junior and senior faculty has become an important strategy for me.  We must intentionally connect and engage with senior faculty who have successfully met the challenge of balancing work and motherhood in the academy so that we can get an answer to the question, “How did she do it?”

Academician or Activist? – Dr. Kandace L. Harris
There is this moment that occurs, around the third week in August and January, every fall and spring.  I stand in front of a class of thirty or so black students.  I digest their external, making sure to take mental snapshots of their varied and unique faces. Then I gaze into their eyes searching for clarity, a moment of truth: a reflection of myself.  Am I looking for a mirror image?  No.  Nevertheless there is notion on some level that we are the same.  They, like me, believe that the world belongs to them.  Yet, in this concept of taking over the world and being whatever you want to be, there is an understood and underlying historical, cultural, and psychological context and meaning to who they are and their place in the world.  There is this strong desire to connect and have a recognizable sense of “self” with and from my students, and my chosen profession.  However, this does not always occur.  I underestimated the impact that gender-related expectations would have on my black woman consciousness in the professoriate. 

Who I am has never laid dormant in my consciousness.  An Oakland native who grew up in the remnants the “Panthers” movement, I have never seen myself as a “black nationalist” or “black feminist” type.  Yet, synthesis of who I am as a black person, and more recently and deafeningly as academician, a woman, guides my everyday dealings.  A product of an HBCU and its culture, I came into the academy with a “bright-eyed and bushy tailed” energy ready to embrace young eager faces of color, and toss around words and figures from my HBCU lexicon and immediately incite dialogue, thirst for “more”, and reactionary cause.  I believed that the mere fact that I stood before them and the academy –a Doctor of Philosophy – was enough. However, I quickly realized that my double bind was triple-bound.  I had quickly become three: woman, black, and black woman (in that order).  As well, the awareness of these dual/triple identities permeates my experience as a Black woman professor.  It is this struggle that has pushed me to examine myself as an “academic activist” (Williams, 2001) for Black women.

It is here at an HBCU, an institutional structure that I consciously made it my mission to be professionally, that I am recognizing a shift in my identity value.  While race is still a prevalent issue for higher educational institutions and communities, it is here where gender has seemed to protrude my black skin.  So every year as I stand in front of thirty or so diverse black faces, probing for various experiences, commonalities, and views of placement, while correcting beckons of “Ms.” to “Dr.” I have strategically decided to embrace the ideologies of this dual/triple identity.  It is through this continual journey of self-actualization within the professoriate that I am currently realizing that I am a lot of things that I didn't envisioned.  I am a black woman academician and activist squared.  

Class Navigator - Dr. Sharon Raynor
Becoming a PhD was no easy feat. I grew up in rural, Eastern North Carolina on a tobacco farm in Sampson County (Clinton – to be more specific). Before graduating high school, my father presented me with a choice: either go to college or stay here and work on the farm. The decision was easy, especially after having already worked the farm and at a pickle factory, I was headed to the least expensive, public state university that would accept me. I knew in high school that I would someday become an English teacher so my plan started early. I completed my undergraduate degree in English within three years, my MA degree in English in a year and a half and after teaching at that same university for four years I returned to school and completed my doctorate degree within three years. I was determined to have my terminal degree by the time I was thirty-years old and I accomplished just that. In reality, I could not afford to stay in school any extended period of time because there were four other children in the family who also decided not to stay at home and work on the farm. Even with all this planning and determination, I still attended college on a number of scholarships and loans, mostly loans. I became acquainted with adversity rather well because it stayed with me throughout this academic journey and fueled the fight within me now.

My biggest hurdles during my school days were always class and race, respectfully. I cannot tell this story without discussing both with the same vigor. Since I attended majority institutions because I could afford to attend a Historically Black College and University (HBCU), I was always the one black student in class. By the time I started teaching at the university level, I had grown accustomed to being one of a few or sometimes just the only one. My professors and colleagues did not look like me. My mentors were older white men who had been in the academy for years, who the academy was actually designed to embrace, support and nurture. I had to come to grips with my position as an “outsider-within” as soon as I was awarded the doctorate degree. My colleagues at this majority institution allowed a space for me as long as they did not have to see me as their equal or had to address me as “Dr. Raynor.” All the pretending came to a screeching halt as soon as I walked those same halls that I had as a freshman in college with a new title.

While my mentors celebrated with me and held me in awe, my other colleagues, my former professors could not bear to even speak to me. My “coming up” was all too much for them to bear. My space there, within those solemn halls, became less and less. I was quickly told that there would not be place for me there if I expected to be promoted and given a monetary raise. Of course, I expected at least a promotion in rank and the little bit of money that came along with it, besides obtaining the PhD should have at least guaranteed that. I watched my fellow white colleagues, both male and female, be awarded upon completion of their terminal degree. I was sadly mistaken to believe that this institution that gave me the tools to be such an excellent teacher and scholar was this willing to turn its back on me – to desert me at such a crucial stage in my academic career. Well, they were and took great pride in doing it. So for most of my time there, I was the only full-time black female lecturer on a faculty on 110 people and now this. Adversity was, of course, what I had grown accustomed to, since I had to kick in many doors just to get an education. I planned my mass exodus but only on my own terms. I would not leave that institution without a fight and without having remembered that I was there. I had other colleagues in this fight with me but not because of race. This was an attack on us because of class. We need fit the image of a PhD. As long as we held the title as Lecturer (which is a glorified GTA), they were okay with our existence. But how dare a group of low-class, middle-of the road, women attempt to climb the ranks. Once we enter the ranks, we can navigate our way through them successfully despite the many obstacles. I have learned to utilize the tools that I need to be successful regardless of the being a double/triple threat.


Collins, P. H. (1986). Learning from the Outsider Within: The Sociological Significance of Black Feminist Thought. Social Problems, 6, 14-32

Hochschild, A. & Machung, A. (1999). The Second Shift. New York: Viking Adult.

Johnson, B. J. & Harvey, W. (2002) The Socialization of Black College Faculty:  Implications
for Policy and Practice. The Review of Higher Education, 25, 297-314.

Ward, K. & Wolf-Wendel, L. (2004). Academic Motherhood:  Managing Complex Roles in
Research Universities.  The Review of Higher Education, 27, 233-257.

Williams, C. (2001). The Angry Black Woman Scholar. NWSA Journal 13(2), 87-97.



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