As a former student of Dr. Shaw, I often wonder why we never really talked about how being "both Black and female" had circumscribed her behavior within the academy. I remember few conversations about what it is like for her on the other side of the desk. Dr. Shaw was recently featured in The Chronicle of Higher Education as one of the few tenured African American women on the faculty at The Ohio State University (The Chronicle of Higher Education, 1996, 13). Her research about Black professional women suggests application to Black women in academe today: How do race, class, and gender interact in the academy?

     This paper charts one assistant professor’s course. First, I will discuss what the history and legacy of African American teachers, primarily in elementary and secondary schools, tell us about the act of teaching, and how the ideology associated with academic excellence is transferred to the university. Second, I will explain how we Black women define ourselves within the context of the white academy, and how that definition is mediated by the structure of the institution. Finally, I will consider how one obstacle can be overcome in the tradition of our predecessors. I begin with the history of Black women educators.

A Legacy of Teaching

     In the 1930s, Dr. Anna Julia Cooper wrote about the significance of teaching in the Black community.

"Whether from force of circumstance or from choice and loving consecration, we are ministers of the gospel of intelligence, of moral and material uplift to a people whose need is greater than the average need around us by reason of past neglect,-a people who are habitually reasoned about en masse as separate, distinct and peculiar; a people who must be fitted to make headway in the face of prejudice and proscription the most bitter, the most intense, the most unrelenting the world has ever seen. . . ."  (Lemert and Bhan 1998, 250).


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May 2000