Little is known of the experiences of Black female faculty members at top-ranking, research-intensive schools of social work. This paper helps to fill this gap by studying this demographic as a single case within the broader history of the relationship between higher education and Black females as understood through prior empirical evidence in other disciplines.
Methods: A content analysis of the faculty profile pages on the websites of the top 20 schools of social work according to U.S. News and World Report ("Best Schools," 2019) was conducted to gather emails for participant solicitation. Initially seeking 30 participants, after data collection, twenty-one of those solicited did not respond to the request. However, nearly one-third of the target purposeful sample (n=9) from nine different institutions completed in-depth, semi-structured interviews. Participants represented different academic ranks with years of experience ranging from two to twenty.
Interviews sought to understand the professional experiences these women had related to the culture and climate of their respective institutions, including their expectations upon arrival, onboarding practices, and daily interactions. Special attention was paid to matters of diversity, equity, and inclusion. The qualitative data were transcribed and analyzed using both deductive and inductive coding. The deductive coding was guided by theory and prior empirical studies.
Results: When studying Black female faculty members at top-ranking, research-intensive schools of social work as a single case of the relationship between higher education and Black females, prior empirical findings are withstanding. This study found that the challenges faced by these women can be understood within the primary themes of ambiguity surrounding tenure and promotion, imposter syndrome, lack of social and political preparation, and professional mentoring. Though not generalizable, these findings provide insights into patterns of behavior and experiences that may be applicable in similar situations.
Conclusion and Implications: This case study on the experiences of nine Black female faculty members at research-intensive schools of social work has shown that the cultures are more often than not inequitable and unnecessarily exhausting at best. There are many ways in which administrators can intervene to work towards change that will reduce the gap between the experiences of those with dominant identities and those with marginalized identities. For starters, institutions need to prioritize building trust with members of this group. Additional opportunities for improvement include but are not limited to social and political preparation during doctoral programs, hiring practices, clarity of tenure and promotion, and professional mentoring support.