Mosaics Make Beautiful Murals

In case you missed it, this is a repost from last year!

By J. McKinley

At times the Black community seems so disparate it’s a wonder to me that we identify ourselves as a community at all. We were separated from our origins (African ancestry) as a whole, and that brings its’ own loss. But, furthermore, our community was ravaged by the very systems that brought it into being. White supremacy was about subjugating one “group” of people (Black people) to placate and control another (poor white people). The construction of race as a social category was about power, money, and control.

It was never meant to allow us the space to build a collective identity. And yet, here we are, left to pick up the pieces and sew them all together to form one as yet unrecognizable patchwork quilt.

Race is a social construct, which means our community has no biological basis to tie it together. The history of the African-American community is young, and inevitably tied to marginalization. This means our community has very little positive historical basis of connectivity. We’ve had to build a culture from the ground up. It makes so much sense to me that in trying to do this we’ve neglected to acknowledge and celebrate the diversity of backgrounds and experiences that the Black American community encompasses.

We’ve forgotten how different we really are.

We’ve forgotten the beauty in that difference.

I understand survival, but I don’t think it’s healthy or productive to paint ourselves in broad strokes to seem more cohesive. Mosaics make beautiful murals.

So, you might ask now: what does recognizing and accepting difference entail? At the most basic level I believe it means being willing to listen, to see your own experience as just one of many valid experiences, to use inclusive language, to disregard generalizations, and to acknowledge your own privilege.

I myself have had to do some unpacking of my own identity to really parse out how I relate to the world, and how very individual my lens is.

I am:

  • Middle-class
  • cisgender
  • Able-bodied and nuerotypical
  • Born in America

And these are only a few ways that I embody privilege. Few people consider the circumstances of their birth to be a privilege, but these are things to consider when analyzing how my experience as a Black woman in America may not be the same as someone else’s.

Too often we hone in on race as the defining factor of our identity. Maybe it’s because it is a very visible marker of difference (both in an everyday sense, and in a wider societal sense, race has been so visible). There is so much more to people, though, and one aspect of identity does not disappear just because the group of people we’re with can only identify and identify with another.

There’s this  idea that only one identity can be important, recognized, or prioritized at any one moment. I think this happens naturally in in-groups. Intersectionality, as defined by Kimberlé Crenshaw, addresses this misconception and unpacks it.

Intersectionality is a term coined by American civil rights advocate Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw to describe overlapping or intersecting social identities and related systems of oppression, domination, or discrimination. Intersectionality is the idea that multiple identities intersect to create a whole that is different from the component identities. These identities that can intersect include gender, race, social class, ethnicity, nationality, sexual orientation, religion, age, mental disability, physical disability, mental illness, and physical illness as well as other forms of identity.[1] These aspects of identity are not “unitary, mutually exclusive entities, but rather…reciprocally constructing phenomena.”

In simpler terms, we’re all complex beings. None of us are one dimensional, and there should be space made for the fullness of that. We don’t have to restrict ourselves to the narratives we’ve been told about who we are as Black people.

Black people are queer. Black people are Muslim. Black people are autistic. Black people are bipolar. Black people are trans*. Black people are deaf. Black people are of Puerto Rican, Haitian, and Caribbean descent.

The time has come to open ourselves up to the conceptualization of Black people, Black Americans, as relating to one another in all of these ways, because we cannot create safe spaces within our community if we disregard our whole selves.

Read more on Intersectionality: Article__Mapping_the_Margins_by_Kimblere_Crenshaw



Diversity and Inclusion: Send Me the Cliff Notes!

There is a point in Diversity and Inclusion work at which we ask ourselves, is this worth it? This work can feel like studying for a test that you have taken over and over, but never passed. It’s tiring to continue having the same discussions with coworkers, and it would be nice to be in a comfortable space for a while that does not require much challenge. Especially in today’s world, is it worth it to argue with individuals who now feel emboldened to challenge the philosophies of equity and diversity in support of exclusion and separation? Isn’t it just easier to decide the needs of your organization and the integrity of the program you worked so hard to build – without having to consult with everyone? You already did the hard, uncomfortable work. You moved your organization’s diversity beyond the “food and fun” and dove deep into challenging conversations, exposing bias, and acknowledging privilege.  You know exactly what your organization needs. You did the work, but you still haven’t passed the test.

diversitySometimes, it would just be easier to send over the Cliff notes. Make it short; make it simple; make it easy. After all, there’s other work to do (like discrimination investigations, updated policies and strategic plans, training plans to prepare, and employee groups to coordinate, etc.). And despite all this work, you have to keep continual D&I momentum for your organization. You have to keep the intent of equity and inclusion at the forefront to challenge those who are emboldened to challenge the philosophies of the work. This challenge can be very uncomfortable, and it would be nice to just be able to create a short-cut, full of light and simple language and designed to make people feel comfortable so as to not face these challenges. And while there are small opportunities to tone down rhetoric and dispel myths regarding this work, if you are committed to doing D&I work in a way that truly reaches the heart of an organization without compromising your values, you have to constantly challenge yourself and others. You have to ask yourself: who are you comfortably working for? Are you working for everyone? Has it been too long since you have been uncomfortable?

Diversity work is constantly changing. We have to continue to adapt and challenge our own perceptions and beliefs in order to stay relevant to the needs of today. We have to continue to be comfortable with being uncomfortable. In our organizations, we must continually challenge comfort to truly continue to grow and develop as an inclusive entity. Unfortunately, there are no Cliff notes and there are no short-cuts. The legal field provides short-cuts for individuals who would not otherwise practice the fundamentals of equal opportunity and affirmative action, but short-cuts do not exist in the sphere of inclusion and equity. Short-cuts do not make us uncomfortable, and they do not help us grow.

So, acknowledge the frustration of the pace and pushback, and move forward. It can be hard to keep learning, constantly challenging ourselves and others, and constantly moving out of our comfort zones.  Unfortunately, being uncomfortable, awkward, upset, sometimes even annoyed are the best ways for the adult mind to truly learn and retain new ideas and philosophies in our everyday lives. So, in the context of D&I programming, things may get uncomfortable. Yes, that did just happen; yes, they did just say that; yes, we are still talking about this.

This is the beauty of our work. It is not boring, and it is constantly changing. It is, in essence, a test that you are constantly studying for and never quite passing, but the process of studying and challenging and learning makes you better. So, no, there are no Cliff notes.

Getting to the Table: The Struggle of African Americans to Acquire Leadership Positions in Academia

By Marcia Boyd, Chicago Chapter, President

The Past . . .

Harvard University, the first institution of higher education in the United States, was established in 1636.  Over 200 years after it was established, Harvard graduated its first Black student, Richard Theodore Greener in 1870.  Although Harvard University is the nation’s oldest college/university, Alexander Twilight, is the first known African American college graduate.  He obtained a bachelor’s degree from Middlebury College (founded in 1800) in Vermont in 1823.  It took many years for colleges and universities in the United States to admit and graduate African Americans nationally.  (  This could not have happened without legislation granting us citizenship and a variety of legislative actions to provide land grants to religious institutions to establish Historically Black Colleges and Universities.  Bearing in mind that African Americans were not considered citizens, in fact, until the 13th amendment declared African Americans “free” and the 14th amendment gave us full citizenship, we were not provided access to any form of education as legal citizens. We also must bear in mind, that the U.S. educational system, in particular, the university world was not designed with African Americans in mind.

The Stats . . .

African Americans have made great strides within the last century with respect to earning undergraduate, graduate and professional degrees in the United States.  We only

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“If you are not at the table you are probably on the menu” -Elizabeth Warren

represented 7% of those receiving master’s degree in 1976, by 2015, this had almost doubled to 13.56%  and our Ph.D. degree attainment has risen from 4.1% in 1976 to 8.4% in 2015 (

There are over 1.3 million postsecondary teaching positions in the country with a projected growth rate of 15% over the next decade for postsecondary educators, unfortunately, African Americans only comprise a small percentage of full-time faculty.  According to the results of a survey conducted by the Journal of Blacks in Higher Education, reviewing the numbers of Black faculty at selective universities, the most selective liberal arts colleges, and the 50 flagship state universities, only 5% of nation-wide full-time faculty are Black.  (

The Landscape. . .

Since there are so many postsecondary teaching positions available, the question begs, “Why aren’t there more African Americans in teaching positions at universities?  My guess is because there is elitism.  Quite often highly selective colleges and universities are seeking certain “types” of people to bring into their universities.  For sistas who don’t fit the mold, i.e., not white, male and/or graduates of a highly selective universities, it may be difficult to be afforded the opportunity to secure a coveted tenure track position.  If you happen to acquire a full-time, tenure track teaching position, your next challenge will be to be granted tenure.

The Importance . . .

If we expect to be a part of the projected 15% growth in postsecondary teaching positions within the next decade, we must prepare and position ourselves for success. Here are a few tips for navigating the postsecondary teaching terrain.

How to navigate the terrain . . .

When a sista or brother is considering teaching in higher education/university/academia, there are a few things to consider:

  1. What is the type of college/university where you would like to teach? Research Institution? Highly Selective? Ivy League? Flagship University? Private, liberal arts? Historically Black College or University? Community College?
  2. Do you have the academic credentials that the type of institution that you’re seeking employment in requires? Ph.D.? J.D., Ed.D. M.F.A?
    1. For example, if you are seeking employment at a PWI (Predominantly White Institution), do you have the pedigree they are seeking (i.e., do most of their faculty have degrees from Ivy League institutions?) Are their certain types of degrees the department is seeking – Ph.D. opposed to an Ed.D? ). Does the institution have a commitment to diversity as evidenced by African Americans having tenure track (full-time faculty positions)? Do you have any publications or significant research projects?
  3. Are you involved in professional organizations that faculty at your preferred institution(s) are members of?
  4. Are your networking skills up to par? How does your LinkedIn profile compare to faculty who are teaching at your preferred institutions of higher education?
  5. Are you seeking positions on job search engines that focus on diversity in higher education?
    1. Higher Ed Jobs: – Diversity & Inclusion Email
    2. Academic & Diversity Search:
    3. Diverseed Jobs:
  1. Are you a member of professional higher education organizations for people of color?
    1. Association of Black Women in Higher Education:
    2. Blacks in Higher Education:
    3. National Association of Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education (African American Knowledge Center):
    4. Higher Education Recruitment Consortium (Diversity Resources) – African American):

As we celebrate our accomplishments as African American educational leaders, we must be in a position to make decisions and shape the lives of brothers and sistas coming behind us.  If we are not at the table, we will not be able to affect the future.


Lift As We Climb

Originally posted 6/7/17 by JMickey

I think that to bring the motto “Lift as We Climb” into present day context we must first acknowledge where we are. Our collective trauma is a result of over a century of enslavement, followed by a century more of blatant racism and socioeconomic discrimination, and then this…this quiet insidious kind, that was so long discredited and invisible, has led us here. To this. Now.

We are now at a point when racial tensions seem again to be at an all-time high. People walk around angry and fearful constantly. There’s a hypervisibility of black bodies and lives. The full extent and impacts of systemic discrimination and racism are being widely exposed in ways that they haven’t been since the Civil Rights Movement (maybe in ways that they have never been, considering all of the different apparatus’ we have for sharing media these days).

It’s as if the country was shell shocked, stumbling deaf and blind out of the 60s, numb and tired, and easily lulled by the lullaby of a false and fragile unity.

But people are waking up.

And now that they’re “woke” the question that follows: What can I do?

The issues seem massive, ungraspable even to the mind, let alone the hands. The topic of racism is not easily grappled with, applicable solutions even more elusive. It can be overwhelming to imagine you must take on the weight of this consciousness alone.

But you must not, in fact, you cannot. You should not.

There are so many lines that divide our community; color, class, gender, sexuality, ability, etc. As we’ve been given more time, more freedom, to explore our diversity (as all ingroups eventually do, when extinction seems less imminent), we’ve lost sight of what pulls us together.

We’ve stopped being a collective. We’ve dissolved what tentative ties we had to one another in the names of progress, or assimilation, or survival.

As Black Americans, our collective history is entangled with so much struggle and pain. No wonder we try so hard to distance ourselves from one another when what so often ties us together is trauma.

But we must remember that, however short, our history is much more than this. There is also accomplishment and ingenuity. There is talent, and genius, and creativity, and joy.

We are so much more than our struggle.

We are so much more than our pain.

Yes, we are in a war, fighting on multiple fronts for our generation and the next, in hopes that the world will yield, will bend to our will for justice, and equality, and change. Yet and still we need to lift each other up. We need to share lightness, and love, and laughter. We need silliness, spontaneity, spirituality.

We need to reach out hands to one another, not only to help and advocate for those of us who cannot do for themselves, but also to support those that are already doing so. We all need a hand, sometimes, to be reminded that we are not alone in this climb.

You are not alone in this climb.

Finding Our Voices Once Again

by Sheila A. McMillan, MBA

As you become more clear about who you really are, you’ll be better able to decide what is best for you-the first time around.-Oprah Winfrey

Have you ever asked yourself…”Why am I here”? Have you ever taken the chance to speak aloud about what you secretly feel about yourself?

While growing up in West Philadelphia, my childhood and young teenage life was not a difficult one. However, as an only child it often seemed like a lonely one. My parents, who migrated from South Carolina, believed that a person could have anything they wanted in life, as long as they worked for it. Therefore, it was very important to them that I receive a formal education in order to be something “Big”. For me to be something “Big” meant that they had to run a tight household in order for their “Big” plans to come into fruition. My parents were overprotective and strict. This meant I didn’t go off the porch or block until I was well into my teenage years.

I learned at an early age that children were to be seen not heard; to behave in a manner that was acceptable and just “go along to get along.” This included only “speaking when spoken to.” Throughout my formal education, before attending college, my teachers stated on my report card, in the comments section, words that were often repeated, “Sheila is a good worker but she talks entirely too much.” My parents lauded me for excellent grades but I was always berated or punished for “talking too much.”  That type of chastisement not only went on at home but also at family gatherings.  Close family and church members knew about how Sheila could not keep her mouth shut. Over time, my spirit as well as my voice was diminished. So, I became silent and took on the identity that was handed to me.  Once I got to high school, I was labeled as a stuck up person because I didn’t talk much about the “happening things”, nor could I hang out with any of the girls from school except one. Nevertheless, I was at the top of my class in my academic work.  During this time of “parental molding” I developed (and still do have) a passion of reading and learning new things, except Statistics 😊.

When I graduated from high school my name was included on the National Honor Society rolls, I also was pregnant with my first child by the school’s basketball star. My mother told me that my life was over and I could forget about going to Peirce Jr. College where I had been accepted. I acknowledged what she said with sadness and regret as I too believed I wouldn’t amount to anything.

Over the years, major life changes happened. I ended up getting married at the very young age of 19 years old and had three more children. However, the academia DRUMS were calling me. I enrolled in Community College of Philadelphia. Unfortunately, I would not be able to finish until my children were attending a military school and entering college as well. During those turbulent years I encountered domestic abuse in several forms (physical, emotional, financial, and especially verbal) from my husband, job changes and finally…divorce. During those times I still hadn’t fully found the strong voice that was silenced long ago. However, once I chose to put one foot in front of the other and keep walking, with God’s grace and mercy, my VOICE began to come back and tell me to “keep moving…No Matter What!”

find your voiceMy voice, filled with determination, courage and purpose came back as I chose to become an adult learner attending Peirce College where I found safety in the classrooms to talk and be heard. I was heard by my academic advisor when she announced at the ceremony how the student they were about to award said “All she wanted to do is walk in her purpose and succeed.” She then awarded me with the Peirce College Walker Center for Academic Excellence Full Time Student of the Year Award!

Has your voice ever been diminished? Where did you find your voice, again?  What was the turning point in your life that made you rediscover your voice?




The Beauty and Power of Mentorship

By Beryl S. Jeffers, Ed.M.

Merriam Webster defines a mentor as a: a trusted counselor or guide. b: an influential senior sponsor or supporter. When I was an undergraduate student in the 1980’s at a predominately white institution in upstate New York, Mr. Edward Bell would have told you that he was my mentor. Little did I know how invaluable he would be in my life for over 30 years. I viewed him as a kind and caring administrator, a strong leader, full of compassion and an insightful person. Who knew then that I would one day follow in his footsteps and also mentor other young professionals in and to join the higher education field. However, I wasn’t sure back then that he was my “mentor” or at least, I did not know that this was the term that one would use. He took an active and sincere interest in my academic classes; he encouraged my hopes and dreams; he cared about me and my well-being and my social life and he would check-in. On Friday nights, he would invite a small group of students (African-Americans and Hispanics) to his beautiful home for a delicious home cooked meal, watch a movie, or just talk. His wife, who is an excellent cook, was always present with the group of college students.

Today, Mr. Bell, who was the Associate Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs, is happily retired and now lives in North Carolina. He sees mentorship just as important in the 1980’s as he does in 2018.  He recently told me “I strongly believe that it’s something that should be available to all students, not just those at the top of the class or “at-risk”. And its goal should be helping students along whatever path they choose, not necessarily encouraging them into higher education.” This vision of mentorship is spreading at institutions of higher education. Most universities want to make it a central part of the student experience, something that I think is critical to student success. For mentoring to effect institutional change in higher education, it must be more than informal or spontaneous. The leadership within an institution must first recognize and identify the need for mentoring and then plan, develop, support and promote a program that directly addresses and supports a mentoring program.

Mentoring students doesn’t mean acting like a parent or being a best friend. Mentorship has been described as a “professional” relationship as opposed to a “personal” one. This framing, I think, can remind faculty and staff not to take it personally when a student they are mentoring chooses not to follow their advice or acts in ways with which they mentor 2disagree. Students, must retain their autonomy. That’s just part of what makes these relationships difficult to manage. No one can make them happen in the first place. That’s why Mr. Bell talks about the effort in terms of increasing the odds that students find a mentor. “Mentorship can’t be forced,” he says, “but it can be encouraged. And when it happens, research suggests, college becomes a richer experience for students – both during and after their time on campus.” Mentoring is a term generally used to describe a relationship between a less experienced individual, called a mentee or protégé, and a more experienced individual known as a mentor.

Traditionally, mentoring is viewed as a dyadic, face-to-face, long-term relationship between a novice student and a supervisory adult that fosters the mentee’s professional, academic, or personal development (Donaldson, Ensher, & Grant-Vallone, 2000). It is important to acknowledge that the term “mentor” is borrowed from the male guide, Mentor, in Greek mythology, and this historical context has informed traditional manifestations of mentoring. The traditional model is but one configuration of mentoring within a wide range of possible models that vary in their structure and function. As for structure, mentoring can involve a one-on-one relationship or a network of multiple mentors (Bird & Didion, 1992). Furthermore, mentoring relationships can be informal or formally assigned, long-term or short-term in nature, and convened electronically or face-to-face (Kasprisin, Boyle Single, Single, & Muller, 2003; Packard, 2003b).

In conclusion, my mentor has been a mainstay in both my professional and personal life. I honestly can say that I still call or text him weekly. Every career and mentorship is unique and may have different criteria and characteristics. You must recognize that professional development through mentorship can be highly beneficial to both mentor and mentee. I strongly believe that mentoring is a critical element in preparing higher education leaders of the future. I feel fortunate enough to have had this experience.


Did/Do you have a mentor? Do you see mentoring students as an important part of your job?  What do think is the role of a mentor?

Give Peace a Chance

I heard a speaker last night who talked about “peace”. He travels the country and documents what people think peace means and what they are going to do to achieve it over the next year. The speaker was, photographer, John Nolter and he is the founder of “A Peace of My Mind”. On the website, “Holocaust survivors, refugees, artists, former prisoners, teachers, immigrants, veterans, and more share inspiring stories of compassion, forgiveness, and transformation in a series that celebrates our common experience and sense of community” ( He made me begin to think about what peace means, is, looks like, and what am I going to do to have it. As I thought about a “peace of mind”, I thought about what brings me peace and the lyrics of this song came to mind:

“When peace like a river, attendeth my way, When sorrows like sea billows roll
Whatever my lot, thou hast taught me to say, ‘It is well, it is well, with my soul“.

“It Is Well With My Soul” is a hymn written by Horatio Spafford. The song writer had just lost his 4 daughters in a ship wreck and a son a few years earlier to pneumonia and yet he found a way to have peace in the midst of the storm. I am assuming that he understood that peace many times comes from the belief that there is a God, by whatever name called, in control of all of this! I believe there is little we can do besides to live right and righteous; to stand for justice; to serve others; and to recognize our Blessings and good luck have nothing to do with our individual intelligence, skill, or power, but are due solely to the unpredictable goodness of God. I also choose to belive that when bad things happen, there is a greater plan that I can’t see yet so I have to trust God. I can choose to sit in sorrow or to find peace. With that understanding, I can have hope, light and peace in my soul – a supernatural peace that surpasses natural understanding; a peace that allows me to say, it is well with my soul.

John Nolter said there are many things you can do to increase peace but he highlighted three.

  1. He said we have to listen to each other. We have to listen without talking! We must have conversations ”face to face so we can walk side by side.” We have to have difficult conversations with people who are different from ourselves.
  2. Even if those conversations get hard, we have to stay at the table. If you stay at the table long enough and if you are willing, you can reach consensus. Too often, people leave the table without understanding. Stay at the table, ask questions and then, listen for answers.
  3. Finally, forgive. Forgiveness is not for the other person. Forgiveness allows you to move forward. You can sit in anger, hurt or disappointment and get bitter or you can choose to forgive and get better. The choice is yours!


In a time in our country where there seems to be more division than cohesion, peace2more misunderstanding than understanding, and more finger pointing than hand holding, it is important for us to be clear about what peace is, and how will we know when we have it.

With this in mind, what does peace mean to you? What are you going to do to bring more peace this year?

“Who in the Hell left the gate open?” Better yet—just whose gates are we keeping, and why?

by Karima I. A. Bouchenafa, M.A.

Some years ago, on my favorite social media network, a friend posted a meme that made me both chuckle and cringe. The meme offered a ranking of doctoral degrees in descending order of perceived importance, with a rather specialized degree holding the top position, and with the beloved generalist Ph.D. falling dead last on the list. I chuckled at the meme because I’ve heard the jokes about frustrated Ph.D.s finding themselves “flipping burgers” at McDonald’s and other fast food establishments, rather than fast-tracking on the tenure path. I’ve blinked in amazement at the dizzying number of “doctoral mills” of questionable accreditation that seem to have cropped up everywhere in recent years (Bartlett & Smallwood, 2004). I even put my own doctoral journey on pause a few years ago for a number of reasons—one of which was what I perceived to be a lack of rigor in the program in which I was enrolled and my own “degree snobbery.”  Far too often, I found myself questioning the rigor and repetitiveness of the required coursework, and doubting the potential return on the investment of significant student loan debt that I was taking on to finance this degree. While sharing in the virtual laughs this meme elicited on my friend’s “wall,” I was instantly reminded of a classic video clip featured in an iconic gospel compilation album’s (Rough Side of the Mountain ©1989) television commercial from the late 1980s. With gratitude to the late Rev. B.W. Smith and his sermon titled “Watch Them Dogs,” many African-American viewers of this commercial adopted his refrain, “Who in the Hell left the gate open?” as the question of choice whenever questions of decorum and belonging arose in social spaces.

Midway through my last laugh, I found myself cringing because I slowly realized that, by laughing, complicitly, at this meme’s not-so-subtle  message about the relative amount of respect afforded to various “types” of doctorates (researcher/scholar versus practitioner) and the disciplines in which they’d been granted (social sciences versus natural sciences, or STEM versus humanities, etc.) , I was tacitly participating in the type of elitism for which many academic institutions have historically been known (Gross & Grambsch, 1968)—and I was enjoying it. So, I asked myself a hard question: Why? Why did I enjoy this bit of in-group ribbing when the in-group, which remains predominantly white and male, still views me as an outsider (Smithson, Sopeña, & Platow, 2015) and, often, holds me to much more stringent standards of performance and applies much more strident penalties if or when my performance falls short of those standards (Evans, 2007)? Why did I enjoy this undercurrent of false power that I felt rippling beneath my skin and escaping on the breath I exhaled while laughing at this meme? Why did I enjoy this “position” I felt my master’s degree and so many doctoral-level credits afforded me? Why did I so eagerly adopt this position as “intellectual gatekeeper” without earnestly interrogating all that it entailed, and asking a not-so-simple question:  just whose gates was I  keeping, and why? In exploring my own answers to these questions, I saw an opportunity to confront an unfortunate observation about my own experiences with place, power, and politics, both within and outside of academia—that the Black woman’s struggle for, and eventual attainment of, hard-won positions, especially as faculty and administrators in higher education, is often fraught with many emotional burdens that may manifest as hazing, at worst, and heightened scrutiny or “gatekeeping,” at best. Constant pressure to prove our merit may lead us to treat ourselves and our sisters unnecessarily harshly as we strive to be “twice as good” (Drumming, 2013) as our non-Black peers. locked outIn some cases, our striving to prove our merit on our respective campuses and to our colleagues may result in “cultural taxation” (Joseph & Hirshfield, 2011), leaving us overburdened and unable to connect with and mentor our sisters, resulting in a benign neglect that can deprive us all of opportunities to forge much-needed connections and develop avenues of camaraderie and advocacy. A much more detrimental result of such “gatekeeping” lies on the other side of the “gate”: our sisters seeking mentors and advocates may  develop bitterness and other antipathies toward those sister-academics and sister-administrators from whom they might have expected assistance, guidance, and “safe harbor” in the midst of academia’s epic political and professional storms (Agosto & Karanxha, 2011-2012).

As we continue our journey through academia, seeking to open gates for ourselves and our sisters, we will take some of the wisdom of our African ancestors with us:

Do not forget what it is to be a sailor because of being a captain yourself…

A fight between grasshoppers is a joy to the crow…

If you want to go quickly, go alone. If you want to go far, go together…

Have you been stuck on the other side of the gate? Or, have you been a gate keeper? What have you done to help others or what has been to done to help you get through the gate?




Agosto, V., & Karanxha, Z. (2011-2012). Resistance Meets Spirituality in Academia: “I Prayed on it!”. Negro Educational Review, 41-66.

Bartlett, T., & Smallwood, S. (2004, June 25). The Chronicle of Higher Education. Retrieved December 13, 2015, from Section: Special Report Volume 50, Issue 42, Page A9.

Drumming, N. (2013, October 4). “Scandal’s” racially charged motto: “You have to be twice as good as them”. Retrieved from

Evans, S. Y. (2007). Women of Color in American Higher Education. Thought & Action: The NEA Higher Education Journal, 131-138.

Gross, E., & Grambsch, P. V. (1968). University Goals and Academic Power. Washington, DC.: American Council on Education.

Joseph, T. D., & Hirshfield, L. E. (2011). ‘Why don’t you get somebody new to do it?’ Race and cultural taxation in the academy. Ethnic and Racial Studies, 121-141.

Smithson, M., Sopeña, A., & Platow, M. J. (2015). When Is Group Membership Zero-Sum? Effects of Ethnicity, Threat, and Social Identity on Dual National Identity. PLoS ONE, 1-18.

The Royal Engagement

By Aminat Balogun

It’s the news everyone has been talking about; Prince Harry and American actress Meghan Markle are engaged! And the best part is, she’s black! Black people everywhere are celebrating this triumph for the people. With that ring on her finger, Markle is achieving the goal none of us really knew we wanted to achieve, but is valued nonetheless. She’s breaking barriers and making history, and we couldn’t be happier! Or at least most of us couldn’t be happier. Among voices of elation, there are always voices of doubt…

“She’s not really black, though…”

“They only like us when we’re light-skinned…”

“If she was really black there’s no way they would be engaged.”

“So what, there’s a ‘black princess’ now.

What’s that got to do with me?”

These are just a few of the negative comments that have been tossed around over the past few days. While most of us are thrilled that a black woman is becoming part of the royal family, there are those that question the significance of this event, especially considering that Markle is a fair skinned black woman who some say, “acts like she’s white”. So should we really be excited that she’s marrying a royal? The short answer is yes. Yes, we should be excited. We should be overjoyed! For the first time in history, a person of color is marrying into the British royal family and this is important! meghan1When people of color rise to positions of notoriety, they become beacons of the culture. This engagement sets a beacon of African-American culture at the forefront of British society, bringing us one step (though it may be a small one) closer to our vision of total racial acceptance.

But the simple existence of a black royal isn’t enough to satisfy this goal. If we have any hope of improving racial equity, we must start by creating a culture of acceptance and love amongst ourselves. That means disregarding our destructive ideas of what it means to “act black”. That means setting aside of our damaging ‘light-skin’ and ‘dark-skin’ dichotomies. That means halting our judgments of one another and simply accepting each other as human beings. I can think of no better way to do this than to accept and support those members of our community who are in the public eye, Meghan Markle included. Not only is she black, she is a feminist and humanitarian who is truly worthy of our support. We should rally around her and help to celebrate her happiness! I was        taught, if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all. Times are changing people. There’s no more space for hate in our community, especially considering the very uncertain times we live in. So, to anyone who feels the need the speak against Meghan Markle, please just stop. It’s unnecessary. Instead of tearing down one of your own, focus on accepting her and celebrating her joy.

What are your thought about Meghan Markle and the royal engagement?

Prioritizing Black Women’s Voices

by Victoria I. Brown

About a week ago, Stephanie McKellop, University of Pennsylvania Teaching Assistant (TA), came under fire for admitting that she calls on the Black women in her classroom first, then the people of color, and finally the White students in the classroom. Opponents of this practice have derided her for discriminating against students and detracting from the educational environment of the classroom.  However, I’d argue that prioritizing black women’s voices in this particular class setting contributes to the academic enrichment of all the students.

McKellop is not a mathematics TA. She is not explaining the clear-cut nuances of different formulas to her students. She teaches HIST-345: Sinners, Sex, and Slaves: Race and Sex in Early America – a topic that clearly impacts African American students on a much more personal level than POC or White students. African American students are likely to have personal narratives on how class topics are relevant to their families, their communities, and even their own sexual encounters. Given that certain students experience residual effect of sexualized violence in early America even today, it is critical to prioritize those students’ contributions. Furthermore, students in social science classes benefit immensely from hearing the personal narratives and subjective contributions from their peers. In a setting where all parties are not affected equally, all parties should not necessarily have equal speaking time. Finally, even if you don’t agree that this particular instance of asymmetrical class participation is good, you should consider class participation in other settings. Many times, Black students are overlooked in social science classes and drowned out by their non-black counterparts.

Yet there are some merits to the oppositions’ arguments. The most pressing is how one distinguishes the black students, especially in class which directly relates to the mixing of races over time. Perhaps in an effort to prioritize one black student, she is effectively silencing another lighter-skinned black student. Second is whether a student’s participation explicitly and implicitly affect their grade. Perhaps White students are receiving artificially deflated grades because they aren’t receiving an opportunity to speak up in class. Finally, some question the validity of McKellop’s intentions. Perhaps what she claims to be of the best interest for her students is actually just a perpetuation of White saviorism.

To be a Black woman in a Penn classroom is to live a contradiction. I am one of the few Black people in the room, and it feels as though everyone is always watching. I assume my classmates notice what I wear to class and what time I arrive. I’m sure that they take note of what I say, and pay particular attention to how I say it. Though, while I consistently feel like I am the object of everyone’s attention, I also feel invisible. Professors often overlook my hand for a lighter one in the back of the room. McKellop teaches a class that largely deals with Black women and their narratives. Considering my own personal experience, and the experience of other black women in academia, perhaps it may be a good idea to prioritize our comments, at least just this once.