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Can You Find the Impact of Black Educators in Higher Education?

by Alexis Maxie

“To Geneva… A fine, black sister, who’s really got it together! Thanks for your help in making “our” dream a reality… THE AFRO AMERICAN PLAYERS, INC.”

Photo of Dr. Geneva Gay smiling during the 1960s.
Dr. Geneva Gay

This “fine, black sister” 1 spoken of was none other than Dr. Geneva Gay. In the 1970s Dr. Gay was appointed the chairman of Afro-American Studies at the University of Texas at Austin. This graduate student became the chairman only a few months after receiving her Doctorate in Philosophy. This woman “really got it together” 1 and through her impact on her students at the University of Texas she is still spoken about to this day by that generation of individuals.

Just shy of 60 years ago, black faculty members integrated the University of Texas. During this era of integration in the 60s and 70s not much light shines on the black faculty of this southern institution. Integration topics centered around the student body, what they needed, how they changed things, and how the institution changed with them. By not talking about these black educators that joined the field of higher education in formerly all-white southern institutions takes away from the impact they left on the development of higher education for black and other students of color. This is an issue.

The University of Texas at Austin was founded in 1881 and at that time having a black face at this institution meant you held the position of servitude in some form, and holding a place of anything else would have been unimaginable. A wave of a new change came about in the late 1940s early 1950s leading to the unimaginable becoming a reality. Gaining an education was important for black students, and as they integrated this institution of higher education in the 1950s, they could understand that their education was lacking something crucial. After screaming for a new course of study that targeted the cultures of the minority students, black educators found an opportunity to come in and shakeup these southern institutions. Black educators reflected something these students saw in themselves that would help with their engagement in their education. By looking into the experiences of black faculty members at the University of Texas more insight was found on the troubles and challenges they faced, and through their experiences more value connected to the lessons they shared with their students.

Educators, teachers, professors, mentors, leaders, father figures, sister figures, mother figures, family members, life coaches, counselors, partner in crime, no matter the title they all the people who teach the students who are making it into institutions of higher education. Looking at the University of Texas at Austin, being a black person was an issue that limited the experiences of students and faculty members with the institution in the 1950s thru the current 21st century. Following the institutions desegregation and integration little to no focus put on the educators for the newly integrated student body and the initiation of a new program of study. This issue is continuing to rear its ugly head now at the University. Less than 6% of full-time faculty members in Southern institutions were black back in 2007.2 As of 2017 at the University of Texas at Austin less than 15% of faculty members were black,3 meaning just around three dozen or so faculty members are black. These statistics do not give the full impact of how small the population of black educators are at this institution.

As a current African American Student completing my fourth-year of study at the University of Texas at Austin, I have had over two dozen professions, a total of five professors of color and only one has been a black professor. The disconnect between me and my professors that are not of color is very prominent. By looking into what previous black faculty members faced at the University of Texas, more insight into the root of the issues keeping these educators low in quantity can be addressed. Yes, stereotypes, historical backgrounds, teachings, and micro-aggressions will continue to find their way into the work space of black educators striving to help students of color education, but like Dr. Geneva Gay stated as an educator she is here to serve the students, who are the future.4 I can only hope that I will have a professor leave an impact with me to were in 60 years from now I can recall with fond memories of my time with them.

  1. Afro American Players, “Journey Into Blackness” issue, AAP, Inc. Magazine, 1971. Almetris Marsh Duren Papers, Box 4A246, Folder “T” File (Minority Faculty and Staff), Dolph Briscoe Center for American History
  2. Masters, Benjamin. “The Underrepresentation of Blacks in Higher Education”. The Journal of the Core Curriculum: 161.
  3. Stone, Brianna. “The 5 Percent: UT Lacks Black Representation”. The Daily Texan, 2018.
  4. N/A, “Faculty Spotlight: Geneva Gay”. Multicultural Education: Goals and Dimensions | UW College of Education, 13 Dec. 1970.

 

Bibliography

Primary Sources (Archives)

Almetris Marsh Duren Papers, Box 4A246, Folder “T” File (Minority Faculty and Staff), Dolph Briscoe Center for American History

Secondary Sources (Articles, Books, Journals, Webpages)

Faculty Spotlight: Geneva Gay. Multicultural Education: Goals and Dimensions | UW College of Education, 13 Dec. 1970, education.uw.edu/admissions/osdi/faculty-spotlight/geneva-gay.

Masters, Benjamin. The Underrepresentation of Blacks in Higher Education. The Journal of the Core Curriculum: 161.

Stone, Brianna. The 5 Percent: UT Lacks Black Representation. The Daily Texan, 2018.

Photo of Alexis Maxie
Alexis Maxie

Fourth year African-African Diaspora Studies and Athletic Training double major with a minor in Biology student at the University of Texas. Currently serving as a Senior Athletic Training Student for the UT Men’s and Women’s Track & Field and Cross Country, and an Executive Board Member for the student organization of Umoja. Alexis has a very busy schedule with her studies, practices, games, and traveling with various UT sports teams, yet she still has time to connect with her fellow black students. Finding her way through college has been a challenge and through her entry level research she is beginning to see trends that she hopes to make aware to others to help improve the quality of education students of color receive in higher education through the limited resources available to them. As her time is coming to a close at the University of Texas she wants to leave the campus with students of color aware of how to make the best out of their education and how to fight against the barrier that seems to grow between us and the faculty members that are not of color.