The women I interviewed spoke specifically about sexism, racism, and classism (in that order) as having the most impact on their ability to perform effectively in their positions. My findings indicate that responses to the bicultural stress described by Bell (1990), and evidenced by the comments made by the women interviewed, took two forms. The first response was the evolution of what I term "toughness," a resilience accompanied by a high level of competitiveness and the adoption of what one woman defined as a "loner" stance. The second pattern was the response of collectivity -- the formation of support groups or, following Collins (1990), "sisterhoods."

Patterns of Response: Individual Toughness, Collective Support

The first response pattern to bicultural stress took place at the individual level in the form of what some of the women described as "toughness," coupled with a strong sense of competitiveness. The second response pattern was manifested at the collective level, the move toward the formation of support groups or, following Hill Collins (1990), a "sisterhood response." These groups served both social and professional functions and also as a locus for informal mentoring. The following narratives illustrate these patterns.

Makin' It on Your Own: The Loner Stance

"You lose a part of you." ("Leslie")


     Relative to the evolution of resilience or toughness, several of the women articulated a conscious awareness of having developed this attitude as a consequence of their experiences as graduate students or later as faculty members at predominantly white and male-dominated institutions. Leslie's story, again, perhaps best illustrates the process by which these African-American women arrived at this position. Leslie was particularly in touch with the events that had shaped her as an African-American woman graduate student when she described the way in which the experience of sexism in a "heavily male-dominated discipline" affected her. She describes being a loner during her graduate years, studying incessantly and having to show a "professional side" that she felt contradicted the way she really felt:


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May 2000