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‘Crafting Unique Solutions to Complex Dilemmas’

‘Crafting Unique Solutions to Complex Dilemmas’
Collection of essays details experiences of Black professionals on predominantly White campuses  Although White institutions routinely argue that they want and value diversity in students, faculty and staff, the numbers still remain low, and “rarely have efforts been made to understand the perspectives and complexities of Black professionals’ existence in their institutions,” say the authors of a new collection of essays.
The highly personal accounts that fill the pages of Our Stories: The Experiences of Black Professionals on Predominantly White Campuses seek to fill a gap in understanding the Black perspective on White campuses. Often beginning with the essayist’s birth, or in some cases, with parents’ humble beginnings, most of the essays include a testimony of the writers’ first experience with college education, instead of their first professional experience on a college or university campus. And though the connection is not explicitly made for the reader, the lengthy narratives serve to explain that all people of color — students, faculty and staff — face similar dilemmas at predominantly White colleges and universities.
Published by the John D. O’Bryant National Think Tank for Black Professionals in Higher Education on Predominantly White Campuses (JDOTT), the purpose of this collection of essays is to contribute tangible information on what it takes for Black professionals to succeed at majority White campuses, and to provide a glimpse of what their experiences on these campuses are like.
The collection features 13 chapters by contributors who hold a range of administrative and faculty positions at predominantly White campuses. Easily accessible, the chapters incorporate diversity in various styles including poetry, narratives, critical essays and spiritually influenced pieces. The individual chapters offer insights on personal journeys, professional challenges and understanding institutional racism, just to name a few.
The opening chapter, “Walking in the Wake: A Father’s Legacy and a Son’s Pride,” was written by Richard L. O’Bryant, son of John D. O’Bryant, the late visionary for both JDOTT and this collected volume. In this essay, the younger O’Bryant sets the very personal tone of the essays to follow as he gives an account of his father’s experiences and contributions to public education in Boston.
The other essays focus on more hands-on matters in the profession. Dr. Kenneth B. Durgans in “Evolution of a College Administrator or Maintaining One’s Cultural Integrity While Working on a Predominantly White Campus” concludes that “we must cultivate each other,” because “I was fortunate enough to have several mentoring elders to impart their wisdom unto me as I weathered those professional storms. Their willingness in sharing knowledge and guidance was not lost on me, as I always seek to do the same for others.” And Stacy Lynette Downing’s “The Beginning of the End” addresses the challenges of making the professional leap from student to administrator at the same university.
In “Creating Our Own Success: A Bird’s-Eye View of the Journey Towards Tenure from One African American Faculty Woman’s Perspective,” Dr. Sheila T. Gregory advises that when negotiating the tenure process, be true to what you really want out of your professional experience. Gregory opted not to seek a tenure-track position in order to focus on her teaching and research.
“Chronology of an African American Administrator: The High Level Mammy” is an example of the type of probing titles and subjects this collection addresses. In this chapter, S. Nzingha Dugas explains the precarious position that Black women administrators often face on predominantly White campuses. Arguing that “the Mammy concept is symbolic of African women’s transference from field slave to house Negro to house servant,” she makes a historical connection between slavery and contemporary expectations of Black professionals on predominantly White campuses.
LaJuana K. Williams in “An African American Woman Working for a Negro” also places her analysis in a historical context as she refers to W.E.B. DuBois’ idea of double-consciousness. Her narrative on unhealthy work environments reveals that “the oppressors of Black professionals on predominantly White campuses often are other Black professionals.”
Readers of this collection should not skip the epilogue, which offers strategies for negotiating predominantly White campuses with outlined sections on assessing agendas; assessing outcomes; assessing allies; and transmitting knowledge and skills. — Kaylen Tucker is a doctoral candidate in the English department at the University of Maryland, College Park.   

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