When I read Katherine Mangan’s January 19, 2015 article in The Chronicle titled “Scholars and Activists Speak Out About Why ‘Black Life Matters,” more than what the faculty said, I was impressed because the young people appeared to be African American and faculty.
This combination is still rare even today so many years after Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech. It was clear that three out of four of the speakers/activists spotlighted had a faculty appointment. There was a professor, two assistant professors, and I want to believe that the director of higher education research and initiatives at Penn’s Center for the Study of Race and Equity in Education also had a faculty appointment.
I am hopeful that young African Americans are choosing higher education as the place to use their talents and that universities and colleges are realizing their value.
I know that there should be many more worthy African Americans in highly valued faculty positions, and it would be nice if there were more professors than there are.
Acknowledging these realities, perhaps we are reaching a point where universities won’t have to steal star African American academics from their peers because there are too few available.
Perhaps we are reaching a point where one does not have to be “the only” African American in a department in order to be valued for what one can contribute. And perhaps on this day when we reflect on what MLK Day means to us, we can look at the parts of the dream that are being realized.
The young professors in the Mangan article are just beginning their climb up the academic ladder, and they may experience some challenges along the way. My hope is that they and others like them will not be discouraged to the point where they will leave higher education.
They have a foothold and others who follow them and those who have been on the margins of higher education will need to follow the path that these fine young academics are charting.
We are moving forward, but we’re not there yet given that I was still struck by the fact that these young African Americans are on the faculty in higher education.