Something to Brag About
In 1993, as her nomination to a federal post faced a barrage of conservative criticism and mischaracterizations, Lani Guinier, both self-assured and certain, stood before a national audience with a simple request — to have a fair hearing and defend her views. Throughout that controversy, under the media’s close watch, Guinier held true to her beliefs and principles and, undoubtedly, her mere presence inspired someone, somewhere.
More than a decade later, Guinier’s unequivocal resolve remains. Today, it is not the national spotlight that claims her, but Harvard University’s law school, an Ivy League setting that has had its own share of controversy — Derrick Bell’s historic departure and her landmark arrival as the first and only African American woman to hold a tenured position there. Once again, Guinier remains grounded. When Black Issues senior writer Ronald Roach questions her about what has been the most challenging aspect of her Harvard tenure, she responds “I’m not allowing people to put me on a pedestal. … I didn’t want coming to Harvard to change me.”
In this edition of Black Issues, there are a number of women like Guinier, those who stand for something and hold true to their beliefs. Consider Dr. Francine McNairy, the first Black and first female president of Millersville University in Pennsylvania. As Erv Dyer reports in the feature story “On the Right Path,” McNairy took a risk several decades ago, heading to a university she had never heard of to give an assistant professor position a try. The risk paid off, but not only for McNairy, who has climbed the ranks from professor to provost to president, but also for the many students of color who have been inspired by her mere presence on campus. Or even consider Dr. Sabrina Thomas featured in the story “More Than Child’s Play.” Thomas no doubt took a risk by choosing to disagree with a famous study and focus her research on dolls, but the commitment has landed her a hefty grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities.
The real story here is the importance of representation, having women of color present in all areas of academia. The harsh reality is that there are still so many venues where that representation is scarce. Assistant editor Kendra Hamilton reports on a recent study that illuminates that fact in the science and engineering fields, where hiring, tenure and a number of other factors remain stumbling blocks to women and women of color even after they have received a doctorate. Although the numbers alone are dismal, the study’s author, Dr. Donna Nelson, is even more appalled that she may be the first to separate the data out for women of color. “A study of this importance should not fall to a lone chemistry professor at the University of Oklahoma,” she said.
But more often than not, it does come down to one — a lone law professor standing certain in the midst of national controversy, a single provost, or president bringing her personal commitment to students of color to her campus, or a single assistant professor seeking to make a significant contribution to her field. Yes, there is strength in numbers, but sometimes one can make a difference. Just ask Millersville University senior Brianna Glenn, who says when she is out recruiting for the university, “I brag about Dr. McNairy.”
That’s exactly what we need. More women of color and other women to “brag about.”
Robin V. Smiles
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