Patricia J. Williams, James L. Dohr Professor of Law at Columbia University, published these words twenty-five years ago in her renowned essay on slavery, race, gender, and rights called "On Being the Object of Property":
There are moments in my life when I feel as though a part of me is missing. There are days when I feel so invisible that I can't remember what day of the week it is, when I feel so manipulated that I can't remember my own name, when I feel so lost and angry that I can't speak a civil word to the people who love me best. Those are the times when I catch sight of my reflection in stores windows and am surprised to see a whole person looking back.
In a symposium last week at Columbia Law School that celebrated her continued work in law, critical race theory, and intersectional feminism, she recalled the climate in which she wrote this reflection on the dispossession of black people in general and black women in particular.
Women's colleges were born out of institutionalized sexism. So, do we still need women's colleges?
In mid-December the Huffington Post published a guest editorial by Elizabeth Pfeiffer titled, "Don't Like the Gender Gap? Women's Colleges Might Just Be the Answer." In her post, Pfeiffer defends the all-female Scripps College. She argues that a school should be defined by "the richness of the community…and the possibilities this kind of environment offers."
I agree: Schools should be defined by the richness of their community. But that goes beyond a gender binary. How about those whose identity does not fit within this heteronormative binary of man or woman?
Pfeiffer asks, "Why is Scripps, or any women's college, still relevant?" Pfeiffer believes one reason is because of the leadership roles she was able to take on, as well as the idea that women's colleges instill a sense of leadership. She cites the fact that women's college graduates make up "more than 20 percent of women in Congress and 30 percent of a Businessweek list of rising women in corporate America."
One of my greatest high school regrets is that I never took an auto shop class. I would have had a chance to learn some practical skills like changing oil and changing a tire. At the time, I doubt it fit into my schedule, but entering a class of mostly boys scared me as well. It's not that I was afraid of boys—I considered myself a feminist despite not fully understanding what that meant—but it would still have been intimidating to walk into a classroom full of dudes.
When does this happen, this point where men are encouraged in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math and women are left out? My mother teaches kindergarten; in her class, all the kids seem equally excited by counting and banana slugs. But somehow, by the time women reach the higher echelons of education, there is sorting out, if you will, in which mostly men go in one direction and women in another.
In India, the roof is used as an economic indicator. Whether your roof is made of thatch, tin, or tiles sends a message about your place in society.
Academia has a less-literal ceiling that serves as a symbol of status: the new book Presumed Incompetent describes the difficulty of Latinas climbing the ladders of academia as an "adobe ceiling" (a reference, of course, to the traditional corporate "glass ceiling").
Recently, Latinas have been gaining a high-profile foothold in academia. Chief Justice Sonia Sotomayor—the court's first Latina—described herself as a feminist in a recent interview with Eva Longoria. And, despite the fact that it is much overdue, Yale finally gave tenure to its first Latina law professor.
"When did Chicana studies become cool?" a friend of mine asked me, after looking at the website of our own Alma Mater, Pitzer College. I don't know when exactly it was, but the field of study has become a topic of conversation on the heels of the news that America is a nation of "minority majority" babies.
When I received the course guidelines for the first year of my Master's here in Denmark and Germany, I immediately Googled my future professors. I was disappointed to learn that all except for one were white men (this has since changed – we have a woman and another non-white man, rejoice!).
Granted, the European context is very different from the American context and there are a wide array of factors that come into play, but still, disappointment is a valid feeling. My disappointment did not last too long, as I was pleasantly surprised when one professor turned out to be well-read in social movement media.
Fast forward a few months. In one course on politics (sidenote: taught by three white men) the course was covering the BRIC's (For those unfamiliar with the silliness of academic acronyms, "BRIC" refers to rising global economic powers of Brazil, Russia, India and China.) In my course, complete with classmates from 45 different countries (though predominantly European), several classmates brought up the fact that though we were discussing the BRIC's, we were reading texts from professors in the US and Europe, but not from the countries being referred to.
In my last post, I explained my love for the new anthology Presumed Incompetent: The Intersections of Race and Class for Women in Academia. Using personal narratives, empirical studies, and scholarly essays, over 40 different authors discuss the challenges faced by academic women of color in higher education. I emailed with Seattle University School of Law Professor Carmen G. Gonzalez about what it's like to put together such a meaty and long-overdue book.
How did the idea for this book come about?
CARMEN G. GONZALEZ: As women of color who have managed to survive and thrive in academia despite formidable obstacles, we (the co-editors of Presumed Incompetent) felt a need and a responsibility to create a public dialogue about the subtle and not-so-subtle forms of workplace bias women of color experience.
I brought just one book to India: It was a 570 pages hardcover on race and class. It is true, I did consider that it could be used as a weapon or a seat if needed. Still, it got me through a 30-hour train ride. I call it my "survival book"—without it, the long, hot days of travel would have been unbearable. What would your survival reading be?
So, I thought the point of making the investment to get more education was to not rely on government assistance. I want to be careful about my tone, since I was a welfare recipient as a child. I don't think we should stigmatize men or women who need assistance, but this is a frightening precedent for institutions to set for women and families.