We all know that Black history cannot be contained to just one month. The trials, triumphs, consistencies, complexities, heartbreak, and happiness of Black people must be embraced and shared throughout the entire year. Black history is not monolithic; instead, a myriad of experiences contributes to a broader narrative. As such, Professors at the university level have carved out their own niche approaches to teaching and researching Black identity, history, and culture. Through conversations with academics and thought leaders, BAUCE has reviewed the different lenses through which people discuss this topic.
Politics, Identity, & Social Movements
Some universities focus on a more existential facet of Black history: what does it mean to be Black? What are the implications of being a member of this identity group? How has this identity evolved over time? Rutgers University, a research institution based in New Jersey, offers a course aptly titled, “The Black Woman”, which leverages ideas from psychology and sociology to analyze different experiences from Black women. Barnard College, a New York City-based college for individuals who identify as women, has offered a course called “Black Women, Performance, and the Politics of Style.” Different portrayals of Black women in theater, television, and cinema form the basis of discussion for this class. It takes a close look at the appearances, mannerisms, and behaviors of well-known Black women throughout history. The University of Pennsylvania takes a more global approach through a course called “African Women: Lives Past and Present” that highlights the contributions that African women have made to political movements across the continent. This includes matters of religion, legislation, finance, commerce, literature, and entertainment. Black women have made immeasurable contributions to these areas throughout history, and these various courses reinforce this reality.
The healthcare discrepancies that Black women face are staggering. A study by the American Journal of Public Health found that Black women were less likely than their white counterparts to receive medical intervention when enduring pain. A longitudinal study conducted by the Center for Disease control found that Black women are more likely to die during childbirth than any other group of women. While the statistics are scary, there are courses designed to explore the underpinnings of this issue. Spelman College, a historically Black university for women, has offered a course called “Gender and Health in Cross Cultural Perspective” to dissect the historical roots and present-day causes of disparities in medical care. There are also advocates whose research enables them to enact change beyond academia. After losing her uncle to cancer, Dr. Andrea Curry decided to pursue a PhD in racial health disparities. Dr. Curry wears many hats including adjunct professor, consultant, and researcher. This versatility facilitates open interactions between Dr. Curry and patients of marginalized backgrounds. She can help encourage reluctant individuals to seek preventative care rather than waiting for a health crisis to become severe. When reflecting on her experiences, Dr. Curry shares, “My experiences are not just for me. They are also meant to encourage others along the way.”
There are also BAUCE’s who use their academic backgrounds to help others incorporate more wellness, inclusivity, and intentionality into their lives. Dr. Kim Hires, who spent years as a clinical research nurse and then as a professor, has translated her education into a passion for instilling wellness practices into others. After finishing her PhD before age 30, Dr. Hires studied HIV in Black communities. But eventually the stress, inequity, and pitfalls of academia inspired Dr. Hires to leverage her background beyond the classroom and work as a leadership coach, speaker, and author. Working as a nurse introduced Dr. Hires to the metaparadigm approach to medicine, which suggests that culture, environment, and personal experiences all materially impact one’s health. Equipped with this holistic view, Dr. Hires helps individuals combat burnout and exhaustion.
Sexuality & Gender Identity
Intersectionality, a term created by Dr. Kimberle Crenshaw, suggests that the different facets of an individual’s identity will shape their lived experiences. Some professors have designed courses that explore Black women’s history in a way that combines race, economics, sexual orientation, and gender identity. Amherst College, a Massachusetts-based liberal arts institution, has offered a course called “Black Sexualities”, which examines how gender and sexuality translate into societal influence (or lack thereof). Northwestern University, which is located near Chicago, has allowed graduate students to enroll in a course called “Theorizing Black Genders and Sexualities”, which draws from feminist philosophies, queer studies, politics, history, and sociology to investigate the role of gender in Black communities.
Academics, advocates, and activists are expanding Black narratives 365 days a year in lectures, legislation, education, and entertainment. Whether it’s through research, coaching, writing, mentoring, or teaching, there are endless channels through which they explore the lived experiences of Black women all over the world.