knowing many other women of color who have made similar research choices in an effort to give back to society. She also acknowledged the invisibility felt by many women of color in academia, relating their experiences to Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man19.
Barabino put her remarks in the context of the academy and its origins, and emphasized the usefulness for women of color of understanding this history. She noted that the academy was founded by people who were not women of color and did not share the experiences, knowledge, or responsibilities of women of color, and that the academy therefore did not evolve as a system designed for their survival or success.
Barabino discussed the fruitfulness of cross-disciplinary research. She co-leads an NSF-sponsored program. Cross-Disciplinary Initiative for Minority Women Faculty, which engages social scientists who study women of color in the sciences and engineering, and helps educate women of color about the unspoken assumptions and norms of academia. Their ultimate goal is to shift the conversation from one of survival to one of thriving. Barabino concluded with a quote from Audre Lorde, calling on women of color to be forces for change: “As women we have been taught either to ignore our differences, or to view them as causes for separation and suspicion rather than as forces for change.”
Evelynn Hammonds, dean of Harvard College at Harvard University, spoke on the retention of outstanding faculty and the importance of institutional culture as well as resources provided to individual faculty. She began with an example of an outstanding woman scientist of color who left her tenure-track position at Harvard in favor of an institution whose climate and culture would provide the support she needed. Hammonds raised this as a case of the failure of mentoring programs that are not consistent or comprehensive, and she called for analysis of how, when, and why mentoring works and how, when, and why mentoring fails.
Hammonds remarked on the career trajectories of Nobel Prize winners, noting that for every individual, the presence of a mentor—often more than one—at every point on the pathway was critical to their success. She noted that she herself has benefited greatly from mentors along her own career path but that many women of color lack this critical support.
Hammonds expressed the view that we have failed in our measurement and analysis. She expressed great appreciation for the data presented in the first session of the conference, and she spoke to the problem of small sample sizes and the need to collect nuanced information about the experiences of women of color in academia. She pointed out that the problem is not a fear among women of color of being identified, but rather a fear of retribution. Hammonds urged the development of better metrics to describe the experiences of women of color, highlighting the need for deeper analyses of climate, causes, and context. She specified that the relevant contexts are both of individuals in their local contexts and of departments and institutions.
Universities have an economic imperative to provide an environment in which their faculty, in whom they have invested heavily, will thrive. Hammonds called on provosts and deans to provide leadership, keeping faculty on track with the goals and values of the institution. This imperative is not only one of values but is also economic. Investment in a new tenure-track faculty member is great, and for an institution not to support that individual’s success within the institution is economically foolhardy. To support the outstanding researchers who have been brought onto the faculty is to maximize the department’s and university’s research dollars.
19 Ellison, Ralph. 1952. Invisible Man. New York, NY: Random House.