Yes, Black Lives Matter, but so do Black scholarship and Black professors, too.
Many Black professors—particularly those at predominantly White institutions—have long felt that the academy has been an isolating place.
In recent years, that isolation has become even more pronounced, as we’ve witnessed the vicious assaults on Black scholarship and the silencing of Black voices by colleges and universities that have disciplined scholars for voicing their views on social media about a wide array of topics.
And while many colleges and universities claim to have made great strides in recruiting Blacks to their faculty, many Black faculty are not staying. They are increasingly retreating from academia and putting their credentials to use in other sectors.
And that’s a shame, because all students need and should be instructed by Black professors.
There is, however, reason to be hopeful. This weekend, hundreds of scholars—some veteran, some graduate students and some newly-minted Ph.D.’s—gathered in Atlanta for the 5th annual Black Doctoral Network conference, an interdisciplinary convening that brings Black scholars together for networking, strategizing and sharing their work with each other.
“I get rejuvenated just being here every year and being able to be among other Blacks who are encouraging and supportive,” said one Black faculty member who teaches at a public university in Pennsylvania. “Despite our research and our teaching, so many of us are told by our colleges and universities that our scholarship does not really matter and that we should just be happy that we have a job. Being here at the Black Doctoral Network is affirmation that we do matter and that there is strength in our numbers.”
Founded by doctoral student Maurice Green, the Network was created to strengthen the bonds between Black academicians and reduce the feelings of isolation and loneliness that so many Black scholars face.
“For the 5th year the Black Doctoral Network has successfully provided a safe and brave space for intellectual exchange and support for hundreds of scholars from across the country,” said Deandra Taylor, who is the director of operations for the organization. “The current climate in America requires a new strategy for Black intellectuals. The Black Doctoral Network will remain at the forefront of the struggle for scholars to be heard, supported and encouraged.”
Thus the title of this year’s conference: “Black Scholarship Matters: Intellectualism, Race, and the Public Sphere.” More than a dozen workshops and panels were organized around a variety of topics, including the impact of Donald Trump’s presidency on academia and Black communities and how prospective graduate students should prepare their CVs and job letters as they ready themselves to go onto the academic market.
Prominent scholars like Drs. James Earl Davis of Temple University, Kris Marsh of the University of Maryland, Daniel Black of Clark Atlanta University and Julianne Malveaux, president emerita of Bennett College for Women, shared their experiences in the Academy. Anti-racist educator and author Tim Wise challenged institutions to create more inclusive environments on campus, not just for Black students, but the Black faculty who teach them.
Dr. Lawrence Scott, an assistant professor of educational leadership at Texas A&M University-San Antonio, says that he’s one of only a few Black male professors on his campus. After 17 years working as a Social Studies teacher, athletic coach, district-level instructional coordinator, guidance counselor, he made the transition to higher education. He traveled to Atlanta to solidify his network as he navigates his way through his first year on the tenure-track.
“Transitioning from K-12 to higher ed is a daunting task,” said Scott, who grew up in an impoverished, gang-infested area of San Antonio. “The best possible way to get acclimated was to connect with people who have an aligned spirit and an aligned mission on how we can help our people.”
College and university leaders have to do more than simply recruit Black people to teach at their institutions. Once they get there, they have to make a commitment to them and their research, reinforcing the idea that yes, Black scholarship and Black scholars do matter.
Jamal Watson is the executive editor of Diverse: Issues In Higher Education. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @jamalericwatson