Foundation Panel Discusses Minority Women in Academia

A six-woman panel sponsored by the Harvard foundation last night stressed the importance of role models for minority women in academia.

Ouzama N. Nicholson '94 introduced the panel to the audience of 12 to discuss the "double negative" minority women face.

Minority women face difficulties even before the decide to go into academics, according to Betty Louise Bell, a Native American visiting professor.

"If you're coming from a different background, you have a lot to learn," Bell said. "You have to learn each step as you take it."

Hilda Hernandez-Gravelle, assistant dean for race relations and minority affairs, recalled the congratulations she got from another Latina woman after receiving an award: "I can still hope for that [joining an institution like Harvard; for my daughter."


"These are the rewards that are very important very personal," she said.

"You're not strongly encouraged to pursue a career in academia." said Lalia Fernandez '94 "You don't see many other women doing it."


Gabrielle Tayac, a Native American Ph.D candidate, recalled asking herself first. "Did [the admissions office] make a mistake?" and then. "Did I make a mistake [in choosing to come here]?" but said it helped her to find a "critical mass" of eight Native American students admitted the same year.

The professors and administrators on the panel spoke repeatedly of the lack of a community.

"I have the dubious distinction of being the only African-American female [faculty member] in the College." said Katherine Tate, and associate professor of government.

Tate said the while she does not mind being asked to speak out on minority issues, such protest takes time and adds to the stress of her job "We thought that the time of struggle had passed and we could all get down to teaching." she said.

Hernandez-Gravelle said she had spent four years as the only Latina administrator in Harvard's history. "Women of color are overwhelmed," she said. "We need to change the numbers." But she added that men and whites should be important voices for diversity as well.

Hernandez-Gravelle said she often found herself "switching cultural panidad" and for fit in the order to be invited to the important meetings and "have input."