In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Black Women in Academia

  • Introduction
  • Black Women Presidents, Leaders, and Administrators
  • Black Women Faculty
  • Black Women Graduate Students
  • Black Women Undergraduate Students
  • Black Women’s Experiences with Campus Climate and Culture
  • Mentoring and Support for Black Women in Academia
  • Journal Special Issues Centering Black Women in Academia
  • Books and Monographs Centering Black Women in Academia

Education Black Women in Academia
Lori D. Patton, Chayla Haynes Davison, Tierra Mackie, Symone McCollum, Briana Nelson
  • LAST MODIFIED: 21 June 2024
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756810-0320


Black women exist on the margins of research and curriculum, if included at all. Thus we know very little about them and how they experience academia. This article presents exemplars of some of the most influential scholarship and literature about Black women as they traverse the academic landscape of higher education as undergraduate and graduate students, faculty, institutional leaders, and administrators. The collection of selected articles is intended to present Black women in their full humanity and as people who live integrated, complete, and whole lives while simultaneously living, learning, and working at predominantly white institutions, historically Black institutions, community colleges, and various other institutional contexts. This article provides readers with an understanding of the dynamic ways in which Black women navigate postsecondary spaces and disrupts the positioning of Black women as a monolithic group. Black women of all genders, sexual identities, and varying degrees of mental, emotional, and physical abilities exist; thus Black women’s experiences must be explored through intersectional lenses and be fully captured and addressed in scholarly discourse and societal contexts. Readers will develop an understanding of the key issues shaping the experiences of Black women in higher education and the strategies they have used to achieve success. Finally, the article supports readers in their efforts to think critically about higher education institutions’ roles in promoting or undermining Black women’s success and well-being on- (and off-) campus. Noticeably, a significant increase in research and scholarship about Black women has been published in the early twenty-first century compared to years prior. Still much of the literature about Black women has also been published in less “prestigious” journals, calling into question the value that editorial boards and journal reviewers place on critical research that centers them. Furthermore, research regarding Black women in support staff and service worker positions (e.g., cashiers, custodians) is incredibly absent and deserving of much-needed attention. Despite this glaring absence, research about Black women in higher education published in the 2000s presents Black womanhood in expansive ways, grounded in Black feminist epistemologies and methodological approaches, and readily makes the intersectional erasure and extreme invisibility to which Black women have been subjected, the problem under study. Future research about Black women will and must continue to be cutting-edge, methodologically innovative, and rigorous, as scholars rely upon Black feminist epistemologies to help them frame their research inquiries and conduct studies with Black women and on their behalf.

Black Women Presidents, Leaders, and Administrators

Black women presidents and leaders at higher education institutions have historically held a raced-gendered legacy worth amplifying because so many of them have been overlooked despite tremendous leadership capacity and talents. Those who ascend to these roles not only lay the foundation, but are also models of possibility for Black women’s leadership in academia. Yet too few exist in the senior ranks, prompting Mosley 1980 to reference Black women as an “endangered species.” Patitu and Hinton 2003 recounts how the violent denial of Black people’s access to education, Black women’s resistance, and their space-making in higher education has generally—and for presidents and leaders specifically—paved the way for future generations to strive towards high-level positions in academic and student affairs leadership. Bates 2007 reviews early Black women presidents such as Mary McLeod Bethune, Anna Julia Cooper, Dr. Mable Parker McLean, and others as exemplars of Black women claiming space in institutions that otherwise deemed them invisible or disposable due to their multiple marginalized identities. Despite the circumstances, these early Black women leaders consistently pushed against dominant systems of power to ensure Black presence in higher education. West 2020 provides a contemporary portrait of Black women leaders, finding they overwhelmingly aspire to senior leadership positions but consistently confront generational concerns that continue to operate as barricades to their success. Despite their aspirations and efforts to disrupt such barricades, Commodore, et al. 2020 describes raced-gendered tropes Black women often contend with as leaders and presidents at HBCUs. Jackson and Harris 2007 illuminates self-perceived barriers for Black women leaders that continue to pervasively affect their trajectories, while Davis and Maldonado 2015 complicates what is known about the raced-gendered obstacles to developing and retaining Black women as leaders and presidents. Townsend 2020 also explores how Black women administrators in higher education navigate a raced-gendered terrain, and Tevis, et al. 2020 explains how capital and title power impact Black women in higher education leadership. Accordingly, this section amplifies the scholarship and voices of Black women presidents, administrators, and leaders across academic and student affairs as a distinct group whose experiences are not only worth valuing and naming, but require an understanding of race and gender politics.

  • Bates, G. 2007. These hallowed halls: African American women college and university presidents. The Journal of Negro Education 76.3: 373–390.

    DOI: 10.2307/2967216

    Following the historical exclusion of Black people’s right to an education, Black women continued to trailblaze and create spaces in higher education. This article provides a thorough history of Black women university presidents in the United States and their experiences while occupying their positions. These exemplars illustrate how Black women might continue to matriculate upward toward leadership positions given preparation and access to higher education institutions.

  • Commodore, F., A. W. Lockett, A. C. Johnson, C. Googe, and M. Covington. 2020. Controlling images, comments, and online communities: A critical discourse analysis of conversations about Black Women HBCU presidents. Women’s Studies International Forum 78.102330: 1–9.

    The authors unveil public online discourses about Black women leaders at Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs). The researchers found gendered racist tropes of Black womanhood such as the Mammy, Matriarch, Sapphire, and the Black Lady overwhelmingly influence how Black women HBCU leaders are depicted and critiqued. Furthermore, discourse regarding Black women HBCU leaders amplifies the pervasiveness of racial and gender oppression in their experiences on- and offline.

  • Davis, D. R., and C. Maldonado. 2015. Shattering the glass ceiling: The leadership development of African American women in higher education. Advancing Women in Leadership Journal 35:48–64.

    DOI: 10.21423/awlj-v35.a125

    Davis and Maldonado conducted an intersectional analysis of the impact of race and gender on Black women’s development as leaders in higher education. Participants’ interpretations of their experiences in leadership revealed Black women consistently contend with the consequences of their multiple marginalized identities and interactions within systems of power. Despite these obstacles, Black women leaders continue to forge a pathway toward leadership for future generations by rising above the adversity.

  • Jackson, S., and S. Harris. 2007. African American female college and university presidents: Experiences and perceptions of barriers to the presidency. Journal of Women in Educational Leadership 5.2: 119–137.

    The authors identify Black women’s barriers and strategies during their presidencies. Perceived barriers include exclusion from informal networks, lack of preparation, and lack of career goals. Black women university presidents resist perceived barriers by remaining visible, finding mentors, developing leadership skills, and exceeding job expectations.

  • Mosley, M. H. 1980. Black women administrators in higher education: An endangered species. Journal of Black Studies 10.3: 295–310.

    DOI: 10.1177/002193478001000304

    With shrinking numbers and little power, Mosley refers to Black women administrators in higher education as an endangered species. Pointing out inequitable pay, failed policies, and discriminatory institutional practices, the author offers six recommendations to help higher education retain Black women administrators.

  • Patitu, C. L., and K. G. Hinton. 2003. The experiences of African American women faculty and administrators in higher education: Has anything changed? In Special issue: Meeting the needs of African American women. Edited by Mary F. Howard-Hamilton. New Directions for Student Services 2003.104: 79–93.

    DOI: 10.1002/ss.109

    Salient issues of marginalization for Black women faculty and administrators have rarely changed over the years. Drawing on data from two separate studies, Patitu and Hinton uncover the experiences and issues facing Black women faculty and administrators. Black women in this study understood racism, sexism, and homophobia as primary issues impacting aspects of their professional lives such as tenure, promotion, job expectations, and surveillance.

  • Tevis, T., M. Hernandez, and R. Bryant. 2020. Reclaiming our time: An autoethnographic exploration of Black women higher education administrators. Journal of Negro Education 89.3: 282–297.

    This study centers the experiences of three Black women administrators at a predominantly white institution. Through their reflections they share their experiences navigating racialized and gendered stereotypes and power structures within the academy. Focusing on time capital and title power, the authors provide recommendations for institutions to support Black women in leadership.

  • Townsend, C. V. 2020. Identity politics: Why African American women are missing in administrative leadership in public higher education. Educational Management Administration & Leadership 49.4: 584–600.

    DOI: 10.1177/1741143220935455

    With a scarce number of Black women currently in leadership positions in higher education, it is imperative that institutions understand the necessary steps toward retaining equitable, inclusive, and diverse leadership. In this article, Townsend utilizes the experiences of five Black women administrators to highlight issues of impacting their overall retention in higher education.

  • West, N. M. 2020. A contemporary portrait of Black women student affairs administrators in the United States. Journal of Women and Gender in Higher Education 13.1: 72–92.

    DOI: 10.1080/26379112.2020.1728699

    West paints a contemporary portrait of how Black women student affairs administrators are situated in the field, using data collected from Black women who engaged in an African American Summit from 2015 to 2018 during their national organizations conference. West’s portrait concludes that Black women increasingly aspire to leadership roles but remain underrepresented in high-level leadership positions and underpaid despite their competitive academic achievements.

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