...I might assert myself to a professor and then come home and cry... 'cuz I was going crazy! But I always showed that real hardcore side of me... It was really interesting because being the only African-American woman working on my Ph.D., and I was the first one in ten years to get a Ph.D. from this particular school, so I had to show this professional side of me that was really strong ("Leslie").

The Sisterhood Response

"It's very lonely at these universities." ("Hazel")

     The tendency toward withdrawal and toughness, in self-defense so to speak, was met by another response pattern on the part of members of this small sample of African-American women professors -- that of the formation of support groups. The emergence of such groups was facilitated by the fact that members of this sample lived in or near an urban area with a relatively large African-American professional population and a good number of African-American women academics.

     A total of eight different groups were mentioned by the women when I conducted the 1992 follow-up interviews with my midwestern group. They had not been mentioned in the original interviews conducted in the previous five years. Some of these groups were discipline-based and allowed the participants a chance to exchange research ideas with one another, read drafts of each other's current work, and get feedback on project ideas. Others were geared more toward socializing and were described as providing an opportunity to swap "war stories." Some of the women were members of more than one of these groups, while others were unaware of the existence of such groups other than the one to which they belonged. All of the sisterhoods or support networks, regardless of the catalyst that brought them into being, seemed to have evolved in response to the stresses of negotiating the impact of sexism and racism as well as to have provided relief from a perceived sense of isolation from like-minded peers. "Hazel," in 1992, explained that the group she belongs to meets once a month for "social reinforcement and emotional support...a reality check." She captured the essence of a sense of isolation when she stated simply, "It's a very lonely at these universities."


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May 2000