African American Women in Higher Education – Leilani Brown

Black History Month is a time to recognize and celebrate what the African American community has accomplished and contributed to the society we know today. There are many different aspects and contributions to our society that are often overlooked, the month of February allows for the African American community to be commended for their admirable contributions despite their constant mockery. There are many events to attend and to learn from, especially on and around the USD campus. One of the many is Collective Conversations which is administered through the United Front Multicultural Commons. The conversation that was reserved for Black History Month was constructed around minority women in the work industry. In particular, it had a divine focus on the contributions of African American women, especially of those on campus. While we gathered, learned, and collaborated we learned about the role that women have in society as well as their trials and tribulations to not only be accomplished but to also be recognized. During my time there I had the opportunity to learn about the contributions and accomplishments that women have in society especially those of African American descent, and how their importance is often overlooked and demised. Hearing about and from these women emphasizes why it is important to understand why and how things have come to be, and maybe history will not repeat itself. I will walk you through some of the insights that I gained during the event, and maybe we both will leave with a better outlook on African American women, and women as a whole.

Going into this even I had no idea what to expect. All I knew was that the name if the recurring event was Collective Conversations: Celebrating Black Women. The structure of the event entailed an introduction, an activity, and lastly, we would hear from some of the honorary speakers. An introduction to the United Front Multicultural Commons. It provides a space on campus aimed to meet the needs of multicultural students and the student body as a whole, and an introduction to what the event would entail. Next we moved into an activity that would give rise to our conversation. The group was sectioned into even smaller groups, and we were given small pieces of paper that had a name and an industry in which they belonged to. I received Shonda Rhimes. Many know her from her hit ABC shows Greys Anatomy, How to Get Away with Murder etc. I was to present my person and then to ask if those in my group had heard of her or know of who she was. Among Rhimes, there was Misty Copland and a few others I have not heard of. Following sharing our person and gathering some extra information from the group, we were asked a series of questions which connected the things we had discussed to marginalized identities of others in their same field. As a group we elaborated on why these women were unknown on a vast platform, and why they were not as recognized as others in their same field. We also elaborated on why these few women had been an exception to their particular industry. As a group we had come to the conclusion that women of different racial/ethnicity backgrounds, and sexuality did not have the same opportunities that others have. When presenting our findings to the rest of the groups, we could see a trend happening. Although we did not dive deep into our findings, we were able to self-reflect on the information that had been presented to the group as a whole. As we moved onto the next section of the event, we were able to hear from the honorary speakers. The first to speak was Hannah Gray-Chambers, a graduate assistant in the Black Student Resource Commons. Chambers is pursuing her masters in Higher Education and Leadership. Her explanation on her choice of study, “I want to serve as a resource and representation for Black Students at Higher Education Institutions” (Chambers).  She elaborated on where she went to school at, her role in the BSRC, and how she landed here at USD. Chambers emphasized that no matter what she put her mind to, she never let the opinions of those around her to deter her from the things that she wanted to accomplish. She also emphasized that she would be there for others that did not have the same support and enthusiasm she would give herself. I would say in my opinion, that these are the main reasons why she is a part of the BSRC. I think that her role in others’ lives along with the control she took of her own life is why she is a part of the BSRC. She is there to provide some insight to those going through the process of empowering themselves along this college journey, especially those apart of the African American Community. Lastly, we heard from Khalia Li whom is a doctoral student in Leadership studies. She also elaborated her role on campus, her walks of life, and where she stands on the expansion of higher education. She is continuing her education at USD, she had previously attended and received her Master’s degree, in hopes to receive her Doctorate degree. As she elaborated on the things she has achieve and why she pushed to achieve them, I was able to self-reflect and understand the role that women have in the higher education industry. I am also able to see how these African American women advocate for the increase in quality of higher education available to women, especially women apart of the African American community.

Figure 1: Collective Conversations Flyer

As I now move forward into the reflection and connection between Collective Conversations and Black history, I will now be able to create a bridge of understanding for both you and I.

As I look back on the conversations surrounding the role of Chambers and Li on campus, I can see the continuation of a fight. A fight that African American women have been fighting since the Civil War and is continued through Higher Education now. Their roles in Leadership and Higher Education speak volumes to the representation they wish to provide to those of younger generations. Though African American women in higher education were once, “…encouraged to get an education for “race uplift”. It was thought that these women could aid with the improvement of the African-American race” (Howard-Vital). An evolving understanding on racial uplift, higher education was once thought to do good for the race yet the women in higher education are often overlooked. Before going into the Collective Conversation, I was unaware of these women that were on campus. I think that this speaks for the underrepresentation of African American women in Higher Education. Chambers and Li also represent the pivotal outcome of African American women who are thought to, “…seek careers in traditional areas (social work and teaching) tend to be other-oriented and gain satisfaction from helping others…” (Howard-Vital). I would agree that they are absolutely other-orientated as they would not be resources on campus, and maybe be more interested in their individualistic self-worth. Although I had not had the chance to ask if they had felt isolated in their roles of African American women in higher education, I think that the lack of representation of women in their positions speaks to why they are passionate about the role they play on campus and in the African American community. Other than their dedication to be represented both as women and African American women, their ties to their community are monumental. I think that they would agree that it is their hands to continue the fight for their community (Fannie Lou Hamer). Also said by Hamer, “We have a job as black women, to support whatever is right, and to bring in justice where we’ve had so much injustice” (Fannie Lou Hamer). Hamer showcases how both Chamber and Li’s fight is not only for themselves but for those to follow in their footsteps. African American young ladies and women in their community will be able to see the paths that they trailblazed for themselves, and hopefully gain inspiration to trailblaze paths of their own.


Figure 2: Hannah Grey-Chambers

Figure 3: Khalia LI

The Importance of the Collective Conversations does not lie in only the realm of representing African American women in higher education, but also the role they play to the fascinating history of the African American community as a whole.

Figure 4: Fannie Lou Hamer


Works Cited

Hamer, Fannie Lou. “It’s In Your Hands: Fannie Lou Hamer (1971).” N.p., n.d. Web. 12 May 2020.

Howard-Vital, Michelle R. “African-American Women in Higher Education: Struggling to Gain Identity.” Journal of Black Studies, vol. 20, no. 2, 1989, pp. 180–191. JSTOR, Accessed 12 May 2020.

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