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Answering the Call: The Role of HBCUs in Engaging Black Women's Identity Politics

Reimagining Historically Black Colleges and Universities

ISBN: 978-1-80043-665-7, eISBN: 978-1-80043-664-0

Publication date: 26 May 2021


Nearly 45 years ago, the Combahee River Collective, a group of Black feminists, released their statement, which served as a call to action to address gaps in contemporary Black feminism by engaging in antiracist and antisexist identity politics. In 1983, Jacqueline Fleming explored the making of matriarchs at historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) and predominantly white institutions (PWIs). Since then, there have been few explorations into the construction of Black womanhood at HBCUs (Njoku, 2017). Educational research across contexts that explores the construction of gender among African-American women has also been limited. This demonstrates a need to speak truth to power, challenging existing power structures throughout the academy. The inadequacy of educational narratives from Sistas at HBCUs, and across all institutional contexts, has yielded a single story of resilience that is used to validate the need for research on Black men, yet ignore Black women. As we look upon the survival of HBCUs beyond 2020, we must reconsider the ways that HBCUs contribute to the idea of identity politics and the existing challenges to these identity politics within HBCUs. In this chapter, we argue the importance for HBCU leaders to engage the Combahee River Collective's call by intentionally investing in Black women and amplifying narratives that give depth and debunk the myths and ignorance of Black women's college experiences. Truth-telling in this case harnesses the voices of African-American women at HBCUs “in the specific goal of confronting existing power relations”. We provide an updated response to the Combahee River Collective Statement in which we delve into the ways HBCUs contribute to identity politics and the challenges to identity politics at HBCUs. This chapter challenges power relations not only within the context that the narratives occurred but also within an academy that has failed to excavate them, until now.


Covington, M. and Njoku, N.R. (2021), "Answering the Call: The Role of HBCUs in Engaging Black Women's Identity Politics", Crosby, G.B., White, K.A., Chanay, M.A. and Hilton, A.A. (Ed.) Reimagining Historically Black Colleges and Universities (Great Debates in Higher Education), Emerald Publishing Limited, Leeds, pp. 109-119.



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