Dissertation: Adrienne Lawson-Thompson

Cohort 1, published 2010


African American Female Faculty at a Northern California State University: Recruitment and Retention


The recruitment and retention of faculty of color remains one of the most difficult challenges facing American higher education (Antonio, 2002; Fenelon, 2003; Perna, Gerald & Baum, 2007; Sorcinelli & Billings, 1992; Stanley, 2006; Taylor, 2002; Webb & Norton, 2008) especially among African American female faculty. This is problematic considering evidence suggests that having a diverse faculty increases the retention and graduation rates of students of color (Adams & Bargerhuff, 2005; González, 2007; Hagedorn, Chi, Cepeda & McLain, 2007). The purpose of this study was to explore the phenomenon of Black female faculty recruitment and retention experiences in academia. The following research questions guided this study: 1) What are the perceptions and experiences of the recruitment process of African American women faculty? 2) What are the experiences of African American/Black female faculty who went through the RTP process? 3) What factors contribute to the successful retention, tenure, and promotion process (RTP) for Black female faculty? Preexisting data from the California State University (CSU) Chancellor’s office and the California Faculty Association informed this research of the system wide racial and ethnic demographics of faculty, and specifically the status of African American female faculty in the CSU. This qualitative research study utilized face-to-face interviews with seven Black female faculty at a Northern California State University (NCSU). Autobiographical methods provided participants an opportunity to theorize and make sense of their experiences through critical self-examination and self-reflection. These methods are especially important in establishing voice for women who have historically experienced silence, exclusion, and experienced a sense of powerlessness within the academy. Therefore, Black Feminist Thought (BFT) and Critical Race Theory (CRT) were utilized to frame this study which gave respect and voice to the women in this study. As a result, narratives and testimonies key sources of data. The researcher analyzed common themes from interviews rather than analyze numerical data collected. An analysis of the data provided insight into higher education cultural environment, the ethnic and gender profile, and RTP experiences and perceptions among African American female faculty members. Many of the participants described how mentorship from colleagues paved the way for obtaining a faculty position, and especially in regards to their Retention, Tenure and Promotion (RTP). Black feminist and critical race perspectives have suggested that creating and sustaining strong connective relationships with other Black women are essential to their social and psychological wellbeing (Hughes & Howard-Hamilton, 2003). Moreover, participants often stated that having a voice in faculty meetings was very important, especially when the faculty do not reflect the demographics of students being served. The data indicated that participants in this study have a sense of powerfulness in their department, either as a leader, committee chair, or just a faculty member with a good self-perception. Majority monoculture human development theories are harmful when they are used as the primary lens to understand the developmental needs and experiences of Black women because these theories are validated on non-Black persons. According to Howard-Hamilton (2003) Black feminist thought and critical race theory provide an appropriate framework which adds an important element of depth to our understandings about the struggles and needs of Black women in academia. As a result of race and racism in U.S. Higher Education, scholars use CRT and BFT as a method of storytelling to show the permanence of race (Robinson & Clardy, 2010). The researcher promotes the utilization of CRT and BFT as a tool of analysis in education can help lead toward the standardization of these theoretical frameworks to ensure the quality and richness of research (Delgado, 2001; Lee, 2008). This study suggests that university leaders have to purposefully, strategically and actively pursue a critical mass of African American female faculty. In addition, university leaders have to provide the necessary structured mentoring systems in order to promote the successful RTP of Black female faculty members. The overarching implication of this study is that institutional leaders in the California State University must be more deliberate about recruiting and retaining faculty of color.

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