promoting black women in sociology: comments on a blog post by adia wingfield

Adia Wingfield, professor of sociology at Washington University, St. Louis, wrote an interesting post at the Gender & Society blog about the under-representation of black women in sociology. Here is Professor Wingfield:

Where are black women sociologists today? The ASA reports that between 2007-2010, only 6% of doctorates awarded in sociology went to African Americans. In 2016,  according to the Survey of Earned Doctorates, only 31 black women received theirs in sociology. A look at the representation of black women in tenure track and tenured academic positions reveals an ongoing trend of underrepresentation. Only 2% of full professors, 2% of associates, and 4% of assistant professors are black women.


The kinds of challenges that are omnipresent for black women workers in predominantly white environments are present for them too—marginalization, micro (or macro) aggressions, difficulties finding mentors and sponsors who can facilitate their career advancement. As academics, black women professors also must confront colleagues’ tendencies to denigrate or dismiss their research (this is particularly present in the inclination to label work that focuses on race and/or gender as “me”search). There are also the heavy service burdens that come with being underrepresented, ranging from mentoring students of color to helping universities resolve their issues with diversity and inclusion.

I do not dispute the diagnosis of the problem, nor the facts that Professor Wingfield cites. I do disagree with the focus. Yes, it is true that women and people of color do encounter double standards, hostility, and burdensome service, but I don’t really see that as a core factor driving under-representation in the academy. Why? By the time you are on the tenure track, you will probably get tenured, even if some, or many, people are fighting you. The issue is getting people in the right place to start with.

I would focus on a different process: the interaction of the tenured faculty at the top 20 or 30 programs with the cohort of women and students of color. Why? Sociology, and most academic fields, are heavily slanted toward elites. Most jobs go to people in a relatively small group of PhD programs and the big awards go to people who publish in the “right” presses and went to the “right programs.”

But enrollment in elite programs is not enough because there are fewer jobs than applicants. This is where mentoring comes into play. What you will discover is that people get jobs via publication, often as co-authors with faculty, or the article benefited from tons of mentoring. In my informal count, about 2/3 to 3/4 of junior faculty at research intensive programs have a co-authored publication with faculty. And many of these publications are effectively “dude canoes,” to use one of Omar Lizardo’s terms.

So I worry less about micro-aggression and service burdens, even though they are real. Instead, I would have a frank discussion about how we can get the core research intensive faculty in the big doctoral programs to be more inclusive on their research teams. Until that happens, there will still be vast under-representation.



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Written by fabiorojas

June 17, 2019 at 12:01 am

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  1. I do dispute the diagnosis of the problem because Wingfield does not establish that black women are underrepresented in sociology (leaving aside that she does not define what underrepresentation means in this context). She only cites information on black women in academia overall and women in sociology overall, nothing on black women in sociology which is kind of a problem for making the case for the underrepresentation of black women in sociology.

    Someone who in one sentence decries the lack of mentoring for black women and a few sentences later complains about the “burden” of mentoring student of color is neither coherent or credible.
    The same goes for someone making arguments like: “my sense is that black women are likely underrepresented among the top ranks of academic jobs in various universities. A a full professor of sociology should know that her “sense” is not a valid measure.
    And for statements like this: “there is the particular irony of working in a profession where many colleagues study systemic patterns of inequality, but still rely on racial stereotypes and assumptions to justify their reluctance about hiring black faculty.” I would like to see data on the “racial stereotypes and assumptions” of sociology faculty that this statement refers to. Also, the available data from ASA show that it is easier for blacks than non-blacks to get faculty positions.
    And for false analogies like” “the barriers that sidelined sociological thinkers like Wells-Barnett…during their lives still persist today.” Wells-Barnett was a journalist and she was anything but sidelined, her writing was widely published and she was a popular speaker in US and Europe.



    June 20, 2019 at 6:06 am

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