Shortage of Women of Color in American Higher Education

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Women of Color in Higher Education

Racism is one of the world’s major issues today. “Nine out of ten people in the society today believe that racism does not exist and is something that affects millions of people every day”. Many people are not aware of how much racism still exists at our schools, workplaces, and anywhere else where social lives are occurring. Less than fifty years ago, America was a society of segregation and racism. Racism is defined as “the belief that a particular race is superior to another”. Although it is clear things have changed, racism is still visible in modern America (Cohen, 2005). Relationships between the African Americans and the whites are generally better than they were in the forties and fifties. Historically, the women of color have experienced discrimination based on race and/or ethnicity, and gender in their quest for access and advancement in higher education. The women of color are currently succeeding in roles at college and university. This paper will address the issues facing leaders of educational institutions, including workplace challenges, and provide national networking and mentoring opportunities, as well as guidance and the strategies for career planning.

Whereas college tuition seems to skyrocket every now and then, it is well recognized that postsecondary education is associated to future economic success. According to Thomas, Biereman & Landau (2004), this makes it more important for more women of color to attain college degree at higher rates. By achieving college degrees at similar rates as other women, the women of color will be capable of improving their economic status and reduces the economic imbalance between the whites and the non-whites. The women of color have experienced most improvements in educational attainment as women among most ethnic and racial groups receiving degrees at higher rates. However, they continue to suffer from setbacks in breaking into the lucrative fields, including math and science. They experience financial problems, and have extremely lower rates of completion in comparison with the white women. Approximately 30 % of white women had a higher college degree in 2007, compared to the 21. 4% and 14.9% of the black and Hispanic women respectively with college degrees (Ceci, Williams, & Barnett, 2009). Irrespective of the gains in education achievement, the representation of the women of color among the high ranks of university faculty and college remains a sophisticated picture notable for the underrepresentation of women in various fields.

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The women of color continue making inroads into many professional schools, though when they arrive to get their education, the faculty responsible for teaching them is not essentially reflective of this student population (Cohen, 2005). Between 2005 and 2006, the women of color comprised of slightly less than a half of their white counterparts. During the same period, the women of color made up only 18 % in law school faculty. Less than 15 % of full professor were the women of color. According to Thomas, Biereman & Landau (2004), only 10 % of law school deans were the women of color. Another study also showed that the representation of them remained low despite the overrepresentation of women among the lecturers and instructors.

A similar dynamic is also apparent in medical schools. In 2008-09, the women of color comprised of less than a half of the white women of medical school. In addition, not more than 10 % were full professors. Similarly, only 10 % of the dentistry faculty were the women of color, and none were professors. The women of color are slightly more represented among the veterinary science faculty, with about 30 % of the faculty being the women of color. According to the study conducted by Ceci, Williams, & Barnett (2009), the women of color comprised of less than a half of the assistant deans medical school positions. Ceci, Williams, & Barnett (2009) also emphasized that they were underrepresented in elsewhere in administrative structure. Despite the increase of 140% between 1998 and 2008, only 12 % of department chairs and deans were the women of color.

Lastly, similar patterns are presented in business schools. Half of the new doctorates in business are awarded to women. However, only 15 % of assistant process and 10 % of professors are women. Cohen’s (2005) study revealed that only 8 % of business school deans are the women of color. These professional schools represent a sharp contrast to the fields that were historically regarded as more feminine. For instance, about 70 % of higher education credential librarians are women.

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Causes of the Shortage of Women of Color in Higher Education

Particular attention needs to be paid to the women of color from the disadvantaged backgrounds. This is because life circumstances frequently complicate the educational challenges they already confront by virtue of their gender. Ceci, Williams, & Barnett (2009) pointed out that the women of color experience dual discrimination in which their ethnic and racial backgrounds compound the challenges arising from their gender. Both the Hispanic and African American women have higher than average high school dropout numbers, and lower than average high school completion rates. Regardless of the challenges, the women of color are still more likely to receive a bachelor’s or associate’s degree than their male counterparts.

Cultural and financial issues are another cause of the shortage of the women of color in higher education. They are also more likely to experience more factors putting them at risk for not accomplishing their higher education. For instance, in 2001, more than 60 % of low-income students were the women of color as well as about 70 % of single parents. The women of color are far more likely to cite changes in family conflicts and status at home, or personal problems as the reasons for leaving postsecondary education than their male counterparts. This is an indicative of the cultural family-linked burdens placed on women of color, which might affect their education (Cohen, 2005).

Another cause of the lower graduation rates among the women of color is sexual harassment. Regardless of the substantial amount of attention paid to the problem of sexual harassment in college campuses, it continues occurring, and to have an effect on the capability of the women of color to succeed in higher education. The American association of University Women revealed that about 40 % of these women reported being sexually abused. The study also revealed that about 7 % of both men and women of color were being harassed by faculty members. Because of sexual harassment, about 16 % of female victims reported that it was hard to study or pay attention in class, about 9 % dropped or skipped classes, and 27 % avoided certain buildings or places in campus (Ceci, Williams, & Barnett, 2009).

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According to Cohen (2005), the lack of family-friendly policies is a cause for the shortage. Learning institutions do not properly implement or integrate family-friendly policies. This is likely not to attract the women of color job applicants. Because of both disproportionate burden of child bearing and rigors of attaining tenure that falls onto females, the women of color entering the academic profession are frequently faced with a decision to avoid finding a tenure-track position and start a family or to delay starting a family until they have tenure. In addition, the hiring committees are also likely to question the commitment of the academics with children, even though it is legal. Because of deplorable financial status, coupled with childbearing problems, the women of color are likely to be underrepresented in higher education. Moreover, the women with children are almost twice as likely to take part-time, non-tenured positions so that they can attend the needs of their families. A study conducted by Thomas, Biereman, & Landau (2004) indicated that the women of color with children were 35 % less likely to pursue tenure-track position than their male counterparts with children do.

A lack of standard processes also account for the shortage of women of color in higher education. Several colleges and universities have established policies and procedures to ensure that the hiring process is equitable. However, the simple fact is that such policies are implemented by hiring academic departments in haphazard, piecemeal and inconsistent ways. Whether the cause is the fact that the hiring committees themselves lack diversity or an insufficient understanding of the institutions’ mission to hire or recruit the women of color, the outcome is frequently inequitable and disorganized hiring process that disproportionately puts the women at a disadvantage (Cohen, 2005).

The undervaluing of research on the women of color also significantly contributes to the shortage. The academics who focus their studies on ethnic and/or gender issues might also find themselves at an additional disadvantage in the hiring process. Most female applicants with such a study focus often feel that traditional academic departments undervalue this research. As O’Banion (2006) put it, these studies have been trivialized, ignored or appropriated without the credit that would have been given to a man’s work. Most women of color find themselves directed towards finding jobs in smaller area study departments, frequently as joint appointment with another woman, more conventional department, frequently doubling the service commitments of these hires.

Effects of Shortage of Women in Higher Education

Education is power. It assists people to be aware of their rights, to make rational decisions and to safeguard themselves from oppression and abuse. Nevertheless, many people in the US are being denied the access to higher education, and a vast majority as the women of color (Ceci, Williams, & Barnett, 2009). There are various deep rooted religious, social, economic and cultural factors serving to exclude the women of color from receiving the same higher education as their male counterparts. The shortage of the women of color in higher education excludes them from occupying the positions of power and authority. According to O’Banion (2006), the lack of education has an effect throughout the lifecycle of the women. Higher education is one of the significant tools that can break the intergenerational cycle of oppression, poverty and abuse of the women of color. Cohen (2005) pointed out that education has the power to transform the societies. Highly educated women of color are more aware of their rights and they are likely to have fewer healthier children. They can safeguard themselves against diseases such as HIV. Such women are also likely to send their children to school in order be educated. A greater involvement of educated women of color in the economy and political process would result into a better world today as well as for the forthcoming generations.

Another effect of the shortage is the increased poverty levels among minority communities that are already suffering from a bizarre poverty. This is because they are often discriminated against at schools, public offices, and during hiring process. Such discrimination has resulted into low incomes among the minority families. For instance, it was noted that the black Americans are likely to find more difficulties than the whites when searching for employment. This is because most employees are likely to scrutinize every qualification presented by the minorities. Some employees have gone to an extent of denying minority groups employment opportunities because of either gender or race (Ceci, Williams, & Barnett, 2009). This is due to the notion that minorities are not well educated, and lack technical or professional skills needed in the job markets. The shortage of women at higher learning institutions only worsens the situation. In fact, certain employees have used the shortage as a yardstick for measuring the incapability of persons of color to work professionally. This horrendous level of racism economically disadvantages the women of color, leading to increased poverty levels.

The shortage of women in higher education also has an impact on the quality of life of the people of color. As mentioned above, highly educated women of color are aware of the importance of living healthyly. According to Ceci, Williams, & Barnett (2009), over 35 % of people of color do not have literacy skills required to fully succeed and participate in the present complex world. Thomas, Biereman, & Landau (2004) pointed out that people with low literacy levels might struggle with solving complex problems and coping up with technologies. The bottom line is that such individuals, especially the women of color, have very few opportunities to improve their jobs, household income, and most important opportunities to improve the quality of life they enjoy with their families. By increasing the number of women in higher education, the government will significantly improve the quality of life of these people.

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The under representation of the women of color in higher education has an effect of largely decreasing their involvement in national debate on the key issues. Such issues include women’s rights, reproductive healthcare and economy (Cohen, 2005). Women have a direct impact on these issues, which affect their families and communities. Indeed, the women of color tend to have a slot at stake in the policy decisions being made, especially those linked to employment, healthcare and economy. This is because they are likely to benefit from the reforms intended to equalize the opportunity for all Americans. However, their continued underrepresentation might undermine the entire process of equalizing opportunities for all Americans. The few women of color who are highly educated cannot fight for female slots in powerful government offices. The shortage of the women of color in higher education is likely to continue affecting the political stand of these communities. Politics is all about numbers, which implies that as the number of women continue decreasing, their ability to push for reforms also decreases.

Suggestions for Resolutions

Faculty members and their unions seem to be unfortunate to have several pioneering activities take on gender and racial discrimination over the last few decades. This has left a legacy upon which one can draw. Building on this legacy, this paper strongly recommends that every higher education institution makes faculty diversity a significant component of the union agenda in campus. Faculty diversity comprises of not only racial, but also ethnic and gender diversity. According to Cohen (2005), this can be achieved by taking an in-depth assessment of what is happening on the diversity front of universities. An in-depth assessment of the diversity front should comprise of three significant processes. The first step is urging local leaders to consider performing an inventory of institutions in order to assess the condition of diversity in the student body. The second step is membership or leadership involvement. Cohen (2005) encourages higher education institutions to take inventory of campus diversity conditions to leaders, and commence probing discussions concerning the issues. The third step is the establishment of diversity committee. In order to transform the analysis into a concrete action program, Ceci, Williams, & Barnett (2009) recommended that every local affiliate to establish a standing committee to coordinate and oversee diversity-related activities.

The second recommendation is establishing extremely diverse hiring practices. Since the responsibility of faculty hiring is so widespread at academic institutions, O’Banion (2006) provided a series of recommendations. O’Banion (2006) encourages higher education institutions to establish and implement a clear diversity strategic and mission plan. An institutional commitment to gender diversity has been found to create a more welcoming campus climate by sending message to staff, students and faculty that employing a diverse faculty is essential in the success of the institution. Local unions can foster the creation of such mission and plans, and can assist in their implementation. The institution should therefore organize for forums at which leading researchers on the women of color present findings to administrators concerning the benefits of diverse staff and faculty. Educating hiring department concerning the institutional gender plan and mission, through collective bargaining for hiring process, can significant increase the number of women with color (Ceci, Williams, & Barnett, 2009).

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Diversifying the educational pathways will also address the shortage of the women of color in higher education institutions. The achievement of faculty diversity requires educators to move more students from the underrepresented groups, including the women of color, onto educational pathways that result into academic careers. According to Thomas, Biereman, & Landau (2004), the females have attained considerable gains in the last 3 decades. However, they are still underrepresented in the growing STEM fields and among the ranks of full time jobs. In addition, the women of color, who experience compounded challenges, are woefully underrepresented across the board. In order to deal with this concerns, local higher education unions should bring some of their members together in colleges’ “feeder” pre K-12 unions in order to determine what can be done cooperatively to assist elementary, middle and high school student envision higher education careers.

Conclusion

The women of color have experienced discrimination based on race and/or ethnicity, and gender in their quest for access and advancement in higher education. By achieving college degrees at similar rates as other females, the women of color will be capable of improving their economic status and reduces the economic imbalance between the whites and the non-whites. Cultural and financial issues are another cause of the shortage of the women of color in higher education. They are also more likely to experience more factors putting them at risk for not accomplishing their higher education. The under representation of the women of color in higher education has an effect of largely decreasing their involvement in national debate on the key issues. Such issues include women’s rights, reproductive healthcare and economy. Diversifying the educational pathways will also address the shortage of the women of color at higher education institutions. The achievement of faculty diversity requires the educators to move more students from underrepresented groups, including the women of color, onto educational pathways that result in academic careers.

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