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A Beautiful Black Mind: Calvin C. Hernton May 31, 2007

Posted by twilightandreason in African American Students, African Americans, Black Feminism, Black Students, Blogroll, Calvin Hernton, Higher Education, Oberlin College, race.

Calvin C. Hernton  

Calvin Hernton


My last post about Black feminism reminded me of Calvin Hernton, his scholarly and academic achievements, his personal and intellectual transformations, and his exceptional body of work. What better time to commemorate his legacy than on a day like today, when he and his work are so present in my mind.

 I first became aware of Calvin Hernton while I was writing my dissertation. Part of my project involved exploring the strategies used by African American women to write past the persistent gendering of Blackness as male (by people of all ethnicities). His exploration the interactions between gender and race in U.S. Black literature in The Sexual Mountain and Black Women Writers  was very helpful to me.

My high regard for Hernton’s legacy, however, is more deeply influenced by my encounters with Black men who knew him as a teacher and mentor.  Hernton touched the hearts and minds of many students during his 28-year career as an African American Studies professor at Oberlin College, but he holds a special place in the hearts of his former Black male students, many of whom experienced him as the only Black man to ever teach them at the college level.

As a Black woman professor, I am especially touched by how deeply his views on Black women writers influenced some of the young Black men in his classes. A Black attorney I know spoke reverently of the influence Herton’s own story of transformation from a male-centered view of Black politics and anti-racist activism to a broader more inclusive vision that recognized the value of Black women writers’ critiques of sexism in novels like The Color Purple, The Women of Brewster Place, and The Bluest Eye.

Another Black former student, now an economist and researcher,  includes this passage from The Sexual Mountain and Black Women Writers, on a tribute page he has created in memory of his professor, explaining that, “One thing that stands out in my memory of Calvin was his unwavering and principled stand against sexism, especially that ‘within the race,’ as he would say”: 

Because much of the writing of contemporary black women is critical of black men, both in the literary sphere and in real life, the men find it unpalatable. But black writing owes its very nature to the oppressive conditions under which blacks were and are subjected in America. The function therefore of black literature has always been, as Langston Hughes so declared, to illuminate and elevate the condition of black people. It is altogether consistent with the heritage of black writing that black women write about the meanness they have experienced and still experience at the hands of black men as well as white men. It is inescapable that women writers seek to illuminate and elevate the condition of black women, their whole condition. How is one to participate meaningfully in the struggle between the races if one is the victim of subjugation within the race?

–quoted on Caliban, a blog created by Dr. Mathews, a former student

I repeat that I never met Calvin Hernton; and for years I actually knew little of his work beyond his writings in my scholarly field. As my knowledge of his impact as a teacher has grown, however, I find myself feeling closer and closer to him, aligning myself with his legacy, aspiring to use the relationship between teacher and student in much the same way that he did, to create, challenge, and transform myself and my students, always with integrity, and always for the better.

 Calvin Hernton Links:

Posted by Ajuan Mance


Salon Essay Obscures the Work of Black Feminists May 28, 2007

Posted by twilightandreason in African Americans, Black Feminism, Blogroll, Debra Dickerson, Obama, race, Womanist.
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Never one to bring a particularly complex analysis to her engagement with issues of race, Debra Dickerson has now turned her focus to Michelle Obama’s decision to scale back to a 20% workload at her own job in order to be more available to assist in her husband’s presidential run.

Though Michelle Obama herself “expresses no regret about scaling down her job,” commentator Dickerson is in a state of mourning: “My heart breaks for her just thinking about it. Being president will be hard. So will being first lady for the brilliant Michelle — imagine, having to begin all your sentences with ‘My husband and I…'”

And Dickerson has a lot more to say on the subject. If you would like to read her entire article, you can access it at this link on the Salon.com website.

I am especially offended by this statement: “Most important, though, I hope Michelle will bring feminism to black women.”

If we go all the way back to Isabella Baumfree (a.k.a. Sojourner Truth), we could say that she invented Black feminism, and she did so as a former slave living in the 19th century. And what about the great numbers of African American feminist women (and some men) who have written books (like Ain’t I a Woman) and essays (like “A Black Feminist Statement“) defining their own Black feminism as woman-centered, socio-political discourse wholly distinct from privileged white women’s feminism. And Black feminism is not simply the domain of African American writers. Dickerson also overlooks the scores of  Black women who have disseminated their feminism through activist work in the classroom, on the streets, in their art, music, and dance, and in their work both against and within the houses of state and federal legislatures.

If Dickerson is unaware of the existence of large numbers of Black feminists, then she is certainly not likely to call attention to the womanists, those who follow Alice Walker’s lead by naming their Black woman-centered politics with a term whose distinctness is in and of itself a statement of African American women’s rejection of the narrow terms and concerns of white bourgeois feminism. A key component in all forms of Black feminism

The problem with Debra Dickerson is that her own deeply conflicted feelings about being African American cloud her perceptions of Black people. She does not see what is actually happening in Black communities. Rather, she processes all data that she takes in about Black folks,  Black opinions, Black progress, and Black shortcomings through her lens of guilty/repulsed/confused/alienated/sometimes embarassed curiosity.

Posted by Ajuan Mance

More Honorary Degrees for 2007 May 27, 2007

Posted by twilightandreason in African Americans, Black Colleges, Blogroll, Current Events, Higher Education, honorary degrees, Oprah, race.
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Add to my previous list of this year’s Black honorary degree recipients the follow scholars, artists, and visionaries (the awarding institution is listed to the far right of each name):

Posted by Ajuan Mance

Passionate Pursuit: A Grandmother at Yale Medical School May 20, 2007

Posted by twilightandreason in African Americans, Blogroll, Grandmother, Higher Education, Ivy League, Karen Morris, Medical School, Oprah, race, Ronald Mallett, Women in Science, Yale.

Karen Morris 

Karen Morris 

If you are a regular watcher of the Oprah Winfrey show, they you’ve already heard of Karen Morris, the history-making African American med student who, on the 28th of this month, will become the first grandmother ever to graduate from Yale Medical School.

If you aren’t familiar with the story of this soon-to-be doctor then this rough timeline, based on a 2003 article in Yale Medicine, will fill you in on some of the details of her inspiring road to the M.D. degree:

  • At age 11 Morris decides to become a doctor “so she could take car of her ailing grandmother, who died while Morris was still a teenager.”
  • At age 16 Morris gives birth to her first child, feeling that she has disappointed her family and foiled her efforts to go to college and become a doctor. 
  • In 1980 Morris completes high school and goes on to marry the man who had been her boyfriend since fifth grade.
  • Shortly after marrying, she learns that her husband opposes her plans to go to college.
  • Morris completes cosmetology school and runs a beauty shop out of her home.
  • At age 29 Morris, now a mother of five, enrolls at Harrisburg Area Community College.
  • She separates from her husband when he attempts to interfere with her studies. They eventually divorce.
  • In 1996 Morris graduates summa cum laude with an associate’s degree in nursing.
  • She enrolls at York College “with her children’s encouragement,” to work toward her bachelor’s in nursing.
  • While working at a men’s prison, studying toward her bachelor’s degree, and overseeing her children’s care and education, she begins taking medical school prerequisite courses.
  • In July of 2001 Morris attends a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation-sponsored summer program for minority students interested in medical school, where she excells.
  • In the first half of 2002 Morris is admitted to three of the four medical schools that she applies to, choosing Yale over Penn State and Pitt.
  • In June of 2002 she graduates magna cum laude from York College, with a bachelor’s degree in nursing. 
  • In the winter of 2003 she is profiled in Yale Medicine.
  • In April of 2007 Morris marries William Priester, a police sergeant from Windsor, Connecticut.
  • On May 4, 2007 Morris attends an mandatory class meeting of graduating Yale med students where she learns that the Oprah Winfrey Show has singled her out for recognition on its “Cheers to You” episode.
  • The following Tuesday Morris tapes the “Cheers to You” episode, during which she is joined on stage by her five children, her four grandchildren, and her husband.
  • During the taping of that episode she learns that the Ambi Skincare company has named Morris the first recipient of its Ambi Scholarship in Science and Medicine, and will be paying off all of her educational debt, a total of roughly 160,000 dollars.

Commencement will mark the beginning of the next chapter in Karen Morris’s career. Central Pennsylvania’s Patriot News reports that, “She will spend a year in internship at Lehigh Valley Hospital, near Allentown. Then she’ll move to Boston to study anesthesiology at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital, a Harvard-affiliated program. ”

There’s a powerful theme that runs through Karen Morris’s story, one that explains her relentless pursuit of a medical career, from associate’s degree in nursing to B.S.N. to M.D. And it is the same theme that at least partially explains Ronald Mallet’s 40-year quest for the secrets of time travel. These extraordinary figures are each driven by their passion for a specific subject or scientific question. In each case, neither could truly settle into or even envision a life in which the pursuit of their intellectual passion did not play central role. Each was willing to do whatever was required to make this so, even including the financial and personal sacrifices necessary to achieve multiple academic degrees.

Each day as I drive through the streets of Oakland, California, I see groups of young Black men, many of them high school aged, standing outside of convenient stores and on street corners during school hours, cracking jokes and talking trash and sometimes participating in the local underground economy. I see these young kids and I think of Ronald Mallet who despite his succes never particularly liked school, and I think Karen Morris who made some of the same youthful errors in judgement that many young women make in high school, and with the same results (teen motherhood). If each of these exceptional minds had not fallen in love with a particular field of study early in their lives (each of them had identified his/her life’s path by the age of 11), would they have spent their teen years standing on the corner, skipping school? I wonder what passion  might draw some of today’s young brothers away from the storefronts and street corners, and back into the classrooms. What passion — for art or mathematics or aviation or automobile design or space travel or the law or something entirely unique — would invest education with new meaning, so that they would finally see it as a means to an end rather than a [dead] end in itself?

Posted by Ajuan Mance

Ivy League Crush Raises Profile of the Nation’s “Second Tier” May 19, 2007

Posted by twilightandreason in Affirmative Action, African Americans, Black Students, Blogroll, Current Events, Harvard University, Ivy League, race.
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According to a recent New York Times article (Ivy League Crunch Brings New Cachet to Next Tier), Ivy League schools are more difficult to get into than ever before, which is bad news for prospective applicants, but great news for what has traditionally been known as the “second tier.”

As Ivy League admission rates have dropped from the low double digits to the very, very low double digits (from 20% or so down to 12% or less), institutions like Kenyon College (Ohio), Lehigh University, (Pennsylvania), Tufts University (Massachusetts), Pomona College (California), Bowdoin College (Maine), the University of Michigan, and the University of Virginia have experienced dramatic increases in the number of high school seniors seeking admission.

Consider these examples: Kenyon College received 4,200 applications this year, up from 2,000 apps only six years ago; Lehigh’s applicant pool of 12,000 represents a 50% increase over the last 7 years; and the University of Vermont’s 19,000 current applicants are more than double the number of students applying on 7 years ago (7, 400).

This may be great news for the so-called second tier; but is it great news for Black applicants? 

The Ivy League crush and the resulting selectivity trickle down will probably have little impact on Black admission and recruitment at private institutions. The Ivy League has for the most part had greater success that their counterparts in the next tier at recruiting and matriculating the nation’s strongest Black applicants. Using a combination of reputation, nationally recognized Black faculty, agressive minority recruitment, and generous financial aid packages, the 8 schools of the Ivy league have tended to enroll a disproportionate number of the nation’s Black National Merit Scholars (finalists and semi-finalists), National Achivement Scholars, valedictorians, and high scorers on the AP exams. The crush of applicants at colleges like Kenyon, Bowdoin, Lehigh, and Tufts is unlikely to have an impact on this trend, especially given the bold financial aid initiatives that institutions like Harvard have recently put into place to relieve the debt load on students whose families earn less that $80,000 a year.

The increasing selectivity of the second tier will have a greater impact on Black applicants to the nation’s most selective public institutions. Expect a downturn in the admission and enrollment figures at these schools, especially those located in Michigan and other states with ballot initiative systems. As the selectivity of major flagship universities increases, so too will the likelihood that anti-affirmative action measures will be placed on the ballot and approved by voters. Thus a dramatic decrease in the number of African American students in particular is quite likely at popular public universities across the nation.

The least predictable factor is how the smaller private colleges and universities will themselves respond to their greater selectivity. Such institutions might dramatically improve their Black student enrollments if they are willing to seek African American applicants from less traditional sources. Such institutions should be on the lookout for strong academic performers from low-profile urban and rural high schools that rarely send students to 4-year colleges; for first-generation college enrollees whose high school grades and curricula show great promise, but whose SAT scores might have suffered from lack of coaching and preparation; and for Black students whose grades and test scores are strong, but who might be overlooked by public university systems that have abolished their affirmative action programs. 

At the same time that these colleges and universities are beginning to look at themselves as national insitutions, I hope that they will continue or–in some cases–that they will start to cultivate a Black applicant pool that is local. This is a great moment for these smaller institutions. I hope that they will seize the opportunities that their prominence is opening up to them, and that each of the colleges will just the quality of its applicant pool not just by its selectivity, but by is diversity, as well.

Posted by Ajuan Mance

Black Scholars in the News May 9, 2007

Posted by twilightandreason in Academia, African Americans, Black Colleges, Current Events, Fisk University, Higher Education, Imus, race, racism, Slavery.
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On the responsibilities of being a pioneer in academic administration:

I remember being terrified and really wanting to find a way to say no. I was going to be on a stage and everyone would see my failure, and if I failed, when would the next African-American be appointed to that kind of position?

— Ruth Simmons, President of Brown University, at a meeting of all the female presidents in the Ivy League, on being offered the presidency at Smith College (from The Boston Globe).

On  presidential candidate Barack Obama:

There’s no one else who could say what he said about black people and their responsibility to the larger community.

— Charles Ogletree, Harvard’s Jesse Climenko Professor of Law, on Barack Obama’s recent critiques of the African American community (from The Charleston Daily Mail)

On Black colleges’ uneven response to demands for divestment from Sudan: 

“You can’t ask Fisk University to join the divestment movement when the state of their economic situation is so bad. Those movements are reserved for universities that have the money, that have the valid alternatives. Most of them can afford to follow a social investment strategy.”

— Ron Walters, Professor of Political Science at the University of Maryland, College Park (from The Baltimore Sun)

On UK efforts to mark the 200th anniversary of the end of the British slave trade:

Like many of you I’m sure, I really wanted to support the commemoration. But I found it hard to join in the official version of it.

For me it felt too much like a “business as usual” operation.

It was missing the elephant in the room – capitalism – and what the history of slavery tells us about the transition of capitalism from its mercantile to its industrial forms, and what these commemorations tell us about the condition of contemporary capitalism in our country.

— Paul Gilroy, Anthony Giddens Professor of Social Theory, London School of Economics (from The Socialist Worker Online)

On the Don Imus controversy:

The bitter reality of the pill Mr. Imus is forcing us to swallow is that each one of us has played a role in creating this climate. Many people in this country have a vested interest in perpetuating the stereotypes of the black community. Additionally, there is a segment of our nation that is most comfortable when receiving negative images of the black community…

The real tragedy of Don Imus isn’t what he said. The true tragedy of Don Imus is that it took so long for people to become outraged. I don’t begrudge Mr. Imus for being a racist. I begrudge us for making him a rich one.

— Michael J. Sorrell, President of Paul Quinn College (from The Dallas Morning News)

Posted by Ajuan Mance

Affirmative Action for Men? May 9, 2007

Posted by twilightandreason in Achivement Gap, Affirmative Action, Amber Arellano, Gender, Gender Bias, gender gap, Secondary Education.
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For all the research that shows that the system must change to accommodate boys’ needs, it’s shocking that more educators and policymakers aren’t addressing the problem — or even talking about it.Certainly, the press hasn’t discovered the issue in mass yet. So the public is largely unaware of how bad the problem is — and thus, does not pressure politicians to do more.

But I suspect that it’s also because neither the right nor the left like this issue. Liberals have focused so much on women’s disparity, it’s not politically correct to focus on boys.

And conservatives who argue that gender does not or should not matter — and who successfully helped pass Michigan’s ban on affirmative action in certain public programs and institutions — hate the fact that the programs that would help boys catch up in college-going are essentially affirmative action.

That’s a terrible shame. Now that boys need affirmative action, at the university level and earlier, it’s not there for them.

–Amber Arellano, in her May 7th column for the Detroit News

Detroit News columnist Amber Arellano believes that men and boys should be the next group to be targeted with a comprehensive affirmative action program. Like reporters for Newsweek, Time Magazine, BusinessWeek, and other mainstream newsmagazines, Arellano is disturbed by the fact that girls now outnumber boys on a number of U.S. college campuses.

I’ve read a number of articles on the subject of young males’ perceived “failure” relative to girls, and I remain skeptical. It’s not that the statistics quoted by journalists like Arellano are inaccurate. Indeed, all of Arellano’s facts are irrefutable. Girls are doing better in school that boys are; girls are applying to and getting accepted into college in greater numbers than their male classmates; and, in the end, young women are graduating from college at a higher rate than young men. 

All of the bits of evidence that Arellano offers to support her assertion that boys are underachieving relative to girls is true. But these facts have, to a greater or lesser degree, always been true. Girls have always done better in school than boys have. They have always been more likely to turn in their assignments on time, to score well on assignments and classroom exams, and to graduate, from both high school and college. Society has opened up sufficiently, however, that girls’ greater school success is now reflected in greater admission rates for girls at selective colleges and universities, greater admission rates to doctoral programs, and dramatically increased rates of admission to MBA, medical, and law programs.

Gone are the days when academically talented girls would be discouraged from prestigious careers like medicine and law. Gone are days when the nation’s most selective private colleges and universities were closed to women. Today’s guidance counselors are encouraging their female students to set the same goals as their male students, to take the same college entrance exams, and to apply to the same colleges and universities that past generations of advisors would have discouraged their female students from even considering.

As a result, girls’ greater maturity and focus at earlier ages, and girls’ substantially lower investment in forms of rebellion and resistance that would endanger their chances for academic success (troubled girls are less likely to be incarcerated, to commit violent crimes, or to drop out of school) are being rewarded with greater rates of acceptance into college, higher grades once there, and graduate school acceptance rates outstrip their male counterparts.

I do not believe that today’s teachers are biased against boys. I do believe, however, that teachers are less biased against girls that they once were. Today’s teachers are just as appreciative of enthusiastic learners, just as likely to reward strong students with academic and career mentorship, and just as intolerant of disruptive behavior as they were 50 years ago. Unlike the teachers of 50 years ago, however, teachers are just as likely to be supportive of strong female students with high aspirations as they are of strong male students with high aspirations. In education, with regard to gender, the playing field is finally, truly level. Teachers’ expectations are not tougher. It’s simply that without the academic glass ceiling looming overhead, girls — historically more enthusiastic about school that their male counterparts — are working harder than ever. Arellano’s interview with education researcher Kathy Stevens confirms this observation:

“We convinced girls that they needed to get serious about school so they can get good jobs and support their families,” says Kathy Stevens of the Gurian Institute, one of the country’s foremost training institutes trying to close the gender gap.

“And girls listened to us. They applied themselves. Boys even admit that girls study harder, they show up for class, and they turn in their college applications. A lot of boys are just not doing that.”

Today, for every 100 girls who graduate from high school, 96 boys graduate. For every 100 women who earn a bachelor’s degree, 73 men earn one.

–from Amber Arellano’s May 7, 2007 column in the Detroit News

Stevens and Arellano both believe that the absence of male teachers has contributed to a feminization of education and good grades in the minds of young boys:

Fewer male teachers means that boys increasingly view academic learning as feminine, which naturally they don’t want to be.

“This is important,” says Pollack. “Boys need to have male teachers and mentors, and they’re not enough of them.”

As the educational system has zeroed in on testing, language skills have become increasingly important, too. Boys’ brains are built differently. They take longer to learn to read and write than girls. As a result, they see girls mastering language skills first — and again, see learning as a girly thing. 

–from Amber Arellano’s May 7, 2007 column in the Detroit News

This is a very strong analog to the association in some African American communities of learning with “acting white.” Black activists respond to this phenomenon by demanding that young Black children be taught the fallacy of that belief. I believe that the same course of action would be appropriate for those young men who associate learning with being “girly.” This, I believe, is where the solution to the gender achievement gap lies. In an rapidly-changing and increasingly techonological society in which communication skills are key, in a 21st century America in which there are fewer and fewer career opportunities for those who do not have very strong writing, reading, and critical thinking skills, parents are continuing to raise their sons with an understanding of maleness and masculinity more appropriate for a largely rural, largely agrarian society, like the U.S. in the 19th century.

While they are encouraging their girls to value learning, to respect the authority of their teachers, and to avoid unnecessarily risky and anti-social behaviors, many parents are either ignoring or subtly reward their sons’ disruptiveness, underachievement, anti-intellectualism, and generalized rebelliousness (in other words, rebellion not against a particular social injustice, but simply for its own sake). Hence boys and girls, though raised and educated alongside each other, are entering school with very different ideas about they value of the learning and knowledge acquisition.

This is reflected in the degree to which boys — especially boys in communities of color — are rapidly being outpaced by their female classmates in virtually all areas of education. Arellano’s wish for schools to change is misplaced. While schools can always improve, in this case it is parenting practices that need to transform. No amount of affirmative action for males will succeed until the values that young boys learn in the classroom — the value of education, the importance of sharing ideas, respect for one’s teachers and other elders, etc. — are reinforced at home.

Columnist Arellano mourns the fact that in the current anti-affirmative action political climate, few politicians would support gender-based preferences for males, but I think her grief is misplaced. The current achievement gap between boys/young men and girls/young women is the result of the recent and widespread retreat from two centuries of a ingrained gender bias in education and employment that functioned as defacto affirmative action for males. Another way of saying this is that society’s retreat from many forms of institutional sexism has resulted in what is effectively a national version of those anti-affirmative action measures that are sweeping the country, except that it is gender preferences for males that have been eliminated, by virtue of cultural shifts, as opposed to race-based preferences eliminated by legislation. Centuries of male preferences in education and employment have led us to where we are today, with boys lagging behind and educators scratching their heads. A new version of affirmative action for males — who have experienced no fundamental historical discrimination in this society or any other — is not the solution.

Posted by Ajuan Mance

A Surprising First for Yale University May 7, 2007

Posted by twilightandreason in Academia, African American Students, Black PhDs, Black Students, Blogroll, Higher Education, Women in Science, Yale.

Paulette McRae 

Dr. Paulette McRae

“The fact that I’m making history for this is mind-blowing. It makes you think, wait, what year is it again?” –Paulette McRae (as reported by Maggie Reid, Yale Daily News)

The year is, in fact, 2007, a full 306 years after Yale University was founded, and more than 130 years after Edward Bouchet became the first African American to earn a bachelor’s degree from that institution (in 1874) and then the first African American in the U.S. to earn a Ph.D. (also from Yale, in Physics, in 1876).

Although Yale was originally founded exclusively for the education of white Christian men, the institution has since opened its gates to students of all ethnicities, religions, classes, and genders. And yet progress in each of these areas has been uneven. At universities across the country, men outnumber women in many graduate programs in the sciences, and white students and faculty outnumber their Black counterparts by an even greater margin. These differences are more exaggerated at the nation’s most selective universities.

It is in the context of this set of realities that I extend congratulations to Paulette McRae, Yale’s first African American man or woman to earn a Ph.D. in neuroscience. The Yale Daily News describes Dr. McRae’ achievement:

In 2002, after graduating with a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Rutgers University, Paulette McRae GRD ’07 applied to the neurobiology department at Yale, crossing her fingers that she would make it into the program. Little did she know that, when she did get in, she would make history.

McRae matriculated at Yale in the fall of 2002 and spent the next four years working diligently alongside her classmates and her professors, never once feeling out of place. But one day, while working in a lab class, McRae realized that she was the only black student in the room.

After asking peers and professors if there were other black students in their classes, McRae found that nobody could think of any others. It was then that she realized the significance of her enrollment.

On March 13, 2007, McRae became the first-ever black student to earn a doctorate in neurobiology at Yale.

— Maggie Reid, Yale Daily News

While she and her fellow graduate students were aware of the low number of Black graduate students, it was a while before either McRae or her colleagues figured out that she was alone in her department:

“Nobody noticed for a few years. The refreshing and amazing thing is that nobody was consciously thinking about it when I entered or the couple of years I had been there,” McRae said. “They’re just looking at the scientist I am.”

— as reported by Maggie Reid, Yale Daily News

Ironically, McRae’s singular status is an affirmation of her original motivation for pursuing doctoral study:

[For most of her undergraduate career] at Rutgers, McRae was planning to go to medical school and only changed her mind after a long conversation with her academic adviser and careful reflection on the pros and cons of medical school versus graduate school.

“Really, it was the lack of minority representation in academia that led me to my choice,” McRae said. “In school, I only ever had two African-American professors, and they were both in African-American studies.”

— Maggie Reid, Yale Daily News

Congratulations to Dr. Paulette McRae. May your career be challenging, fulfilling, and long. May you live and work long enough to experience that day when there will be no more first Black Ph.D.s in any field, the day when Black Ph.D.s in the sciences are no longer a rarity, no longer surprising, and no longer alone.

Posted by Ajuan Mance 

Black Folks in the Academy, Current Numbers and Recent Trends May 5, 2007

Posted by twilightandreason in Academia, African American Students, Black PhDs, Current Events, gender gap, race.

The Journal of Blacks in Higher Education (JBHE) recently reported that the number of doctoral degrees awarded to Black scholars is on the decline. In 2005, the most recent year for which statistics are available only 1,688 doctorates were awarded to African Americans. This number represents a decline of nearly 10 percent from 2004, during which African Americans earned 1,869 doctorates.

This surprising and disturbing report inspired me to further investigate the current state of affairs for African Americans in the academy. In compiling the following list of current facts and statistics I was especially interested in how dramatically the decreasing numbers of doctorates earned by Black graduate students, the heavy concentration of Black doctorates in a limited range of disciplines, and the dearth of Black doctorates in other fields deviates from the much more promising outlook for  Black bachelor’s degree earners (whose increasing numbers and wide range of majors indicate significant progress).  

Interestingly enough, the main similarity that I noted between the current state of affairs for Black doctorate and bachelor’s degree earners is in the realm of gender. Women graduates outnumber men at both the undergraduate and doctoral levels.

The List

  • Number of doctorates earned by African Americans in 1987: 787 (From JBHE)
  • Number of doctorates earned by African Americans in 2004: 1,869 (From JBHE)
  • Number of doctorates earned by African Americans in 2005: 1,688 (From JBHE)
  • Percentage of all U.S. doctorates earned by African Americans in 2005: 6.4 (From JBHE)
  • Percentage of all U.S. doctorates earned by African Americans in 2004: 7.1 (From JBHE)
  • Of all 2005 U.S. doctorates earned by African Americans, percentage that were in the field of education: 39.2 (From JBHE)
  • Of all 2005 U.S. doctorates earned by white Americans, percentage that were in the field of education: 18.8 (From JBHE)
  • Of all 2005 U.S. doctorates that were earned by African Americans, percentage that were in fields other than education: 4.8 (From JBHE)
  • Number of Ph.D.s awarded in astronomy in 2005: 72 (From JBHE)
  • Number of astronomy Ph.D.s awarded to African Americans in 2005: 0 (From JBHE)
  • Number of Ph.D.s awarded in physics in 2005: 1300+ (From JBHE)
  • Number of physics Ph.D.s awarded to African Americans in 2005: 10 (From JBHE)
  • None of the Ph.D.s awarded in the following fields were awarded to African Americans: geometry, computing theory and practice, astronomy, meteorology, theoretical chemistry, geochemistry, geophysics and seismology, paleontology, mineralogy and petrology, stratigraphy and sedimentation, geomorphology and glacial geology, acoustics, elementary particle physics, biophysics, nuclear physics, plasma/fusion physics, polymer physics, hydrology and water resources, oceanography, petroleum engineering, polymer and plastics engineering, communications engineering, engineering mechanics, ceramic science engineering, metallurgical engineering, agricultural engineering, engineering physics, mining and mineral engineering, ocean engineering, animal breeding, animal nutrition, agricultural plant breeding, plant pathology, horticultural science, fishing and fisheries science, forest science and biology, forest resources management, wildlife/range management, biotechnology, bacteriology, plant genetics, plant pathology biology, plant physiology, botany, anatomy, entomology, zoology, and veterinary medicine. (From JBHE)
  • Percentage of all Black doctorates that were earned by women in 1977: 38.7 (From JBHE)
  • Percentage of all Black doctorates that were earned by women in 2005: 64.9 (From JBHE)
  • Percentage increase between 1990 and 2005 in the number of doctoral degrees earned by Black women: 99 (From JBHE)
  • Percentage increase between 1990 and 2005 in the number of doctoral degrees earned by Black men: 68.7 (From JBHE)
  • Percentage of 2005 Black doctorate recipients who intended to pursue careers in academia: 59 (From JBHE)
  • Percentage of 2005 white doctorate recipients who intended to pursue careers in academia: 47 (From JBHE)
  • Percentage of all U.S. doctorates awarded to African Americans in 2004: 7.2 (Chronicle of Higher Ed)
  • Percentage of all U.S. doctorates awarded to Asian Americans in 2004: 5.6 (Chronicle of Higher Ed)
  • Percentage of all U.S. doctorates awarded to Latin Americans in 2004: 4.6 (Chronicle of Higher Ed)
  • Institutions granting the greatest number of doctorates to African Americans in 2004:

Posted by Ajuan Mance

Black Higher Education Firsts, #2 May 5, 2007

Posted by twilightandreason in African American Students, Barnard College, Black History, Bryn Mawr, Higher Education, Mount Holyoke College, race, Radcliffe College, Seven Sisters, Sewanee, Smith College, Vassar College, Wellesley, Wellesley College, Women.
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Here are the most recent additions to the Black Milestones in Higher Education timeline that I maintain over at twilightandreason.com:

1883 — Hortense Parker becomes the first African American to graduate from Mount Holyoke Female Seminary. In 1898 Martha Ralston would become the first African American to graduate from the newly reconfigured Mount Holyoke College.  According to Linda Perkins (in her article “Racial Integration at the Seven Sister Colleges,” in The Journal of Blacks in Higher Education), “the race of both Ralston and Parker was a surprise to the officials of the college when they first arrived” (Perkins, JBHE: No 19, p. 105). 

 Anita Florence Hemmings

Anita Florence Hemmings

1897 — Anita Florence Hemmings becomes the first African American to graduate from Vassar College. While she was enrolled, however, Vassar officials were unaware that she was Black. In 1927 Hemmings’s daughter Ellen Parker Love graduated from Vassar. It is unlikely, however, that Vassar officials knew that she was Black either. Her application listed her ethnicity as French and English. Vassar was noted for its resistance to admitting Black women, even women like Hemmings and Love who could pass for white.

1898 — Alberta Scott becomes the first African American woman to graduate from Radcliffe College. Scott would go on to teach at Tuskegee Instititue until 1900, when illness forced her to return to her childhood home in Cambridge, Massachusetts where she would remain until her death in 1903, at the age of 27. 

 Otelia Cromwell

Otelia Cromwell

1900 — Otelia Cromwell becomes the first African American woman to graduate from Smith College. The daughter of John Wesley Cromwell, she would go on to study in Germany and to earn a master’s degree from Columbia University (1910). In 1926 she would become the first African American woman to earn at Ph.D. from Yale (English).

1931 — Enid Cook becomes the first African American to graduate from Bryn Mawr College.  Linda Perkins explains, “In 1903, Jessie Fauset, an African American from Philadelphia, graduated at the top of her class at the city’s Girls’ High. It was customary that the school’s top student would enter Bryn Mawr on scholarship, but when it was discovered that Fauset was black, President Thomas raised money for Fauset to attend Cornell rather than have a black woman attend Bryn Mawr” (Perkins, JBHE: No 19, p. 106).  ** Belle Tobias becomes the first Black graduate of Barnard College. A Phi Beta Kappa graduate, Tobias would go on to earn a master’s degree from Wellesley College in 1932.

1970 — Nathaniel Owens becomes the first African American to graduate from Sewanee, The University of the South. Owens graduated with honors in English. Drafted right out of college by the Cincinnati Bengals, Owens decided to forgo a professional football career, choosing instead to enroll in Sewanee’s law school.

Posted by Ajuan Mance