How Stress in the Academic Environment Impacts the Health of Black Women

Researchers at the University of Wisconsin and the University of Texas have found that the high-stress environment of higher education may negatively impact the mental and physical health of Black women in the academic world.

Researchers conducted four rounds of national surveys of Black women academics and two rounds of interviews with Black women faculty members in social sciences disciplines from across the nation.

“We are exploring how faculty roles, and the institutions in which faculty work, might relate to the kind of racial and gender stress that has been evidenced to make people sick,” notes Rachelle Winkle-Wagner, a professor in the department of educational leadership and policy analysis at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. “In our study, we found that higher education institutions normalize severe racial and gender stress and sickness as simply part of the faculty job for Black women.”

Professor Winkle-Wagner added that “Our project is not just about experiences for Black women faculty members and whether they are good or bad. Our work is quite literally about life and death for many of the Black women faculty members in the project. Our hope is to create recommendations for safe, healthier, and more affirming campuses so that Black women faculty members can thrive — and stay healthier, too.”

The research team has now received a grant of nearly $500,000 from the Spencer Foundation to expand their research to Black women faculty in STEM fields. They will also explore if there are differences in stress levels between Black women who teach at historically Black colleges and universities and Black women at predominantly White institutions.

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  1. I’d like to see the study expanded to administrators. There is very little job protection on the administrative side. Retention of Black women administrators in Higher Education is difficult. Institutions enjoy the positive publicity of having a Black female Director, VP or Dean. However there is little support for this group and they often work without administrative support or the needed resources that seem to easily flow to other offices. I’ve yet to encounter a Black woman HE administrator at a PWI with a secretary. Less than 8% of Higher Ed administrators are Black, and 5% of university Presidents are Black women. The ability to improve faculty experiences is almost impossible with the current demographics in HE leadership.

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