Teaching Black Women's History and Other Stories:
Ruminations of a Young Black Female History Professor

Rhonda Y. Williams, Ph.D.

Critically speaking about our disciplines and ourselves, places us on a path to learning different from academically acceptable and more-often traveled roads.... Voicing and writing our stories, taking our spaces and sharing our spirits, we build what we need for survival and liberation.
                                     - from Spirit, Space and Survival

     I am a young Black female, who, at the time of this writing, had fourteen months of full time experience as a history professor at Case Western Reserve University, known for its prowess in science and technology. I knew I was the only Black person in my department, which has never had a tenured Black faculty member, and up until 1992 did not have a tenure-track faculty line for an African-Americanist. But I had not verified, up until now, that out of two hundred faculty members in the College of Arts and Sciences, I am the only Black woman with a tenure-track job. Talk about "hypervisibility and superisolation," "exaggerated visibility and invisibility," and a "hyperembodied state," I felt like a conspicuous aside.2 Clearly, being a Black woman in the (white) academy presents numerous challenges. It is a hard row to hoe.3

     Teaching Black Women's History and Other Stories, a series of contemplations about daily events, exposes (by no means novel, yet no less important) issues confronted by a neophyte Black female professor. It is my attempt, literally and figuratively, to wrestle with (and negotiate) the problems I face in the classroom (or what Gina Mercer dubs in her "Feminist Pedagogy to the Letter," the "marshy arenas of power"4) and the attendant issues of pedagogy, authority and professorial expectations. Whatever questions are raised tend to linger unresolved. I have not found (nor even luckily stumbled upon) closure.

     What has brought me to this place? The first month or so of hectic, frustrating, mostly painful and sometimes exhilarating classroom (and other academic-related) experiences during the Fall of 1998 compelled me to (re)visit questions of pedagogy, the challenge of developing a transformational learning environment, the hardship and contradictions embedded in establishing legitimacy and the myriad other demands (externally and self-imposed) that accompany being Black, female, young and junior faculty in academe.


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May 2000