The marginalization of Black graduate women at predominantly White institutions (PWI) is a persistent problem in US higher education. Institutional factors such as few role models (Valadez, 1998), less support for research interests (Turner & Thompson, 1993), unwelcoming, insensitive, and isolative environments (Watt, 2003), and fewer research and funding opportunities (Lovitts & Nelson, 2000) can shape Black women's experiences in graduate programs. The experiences of Black graduate women at PWIs often are aligned with their positions of differential status, wealth, and power within US society (Collins, 2000; hooks, 1989; Lorde, 2007). Pervasive attitudes of racism as well as differential access and power continue to limit educational opportunities for Black women in graduate programs at PWIs in the US.
At PWIs there exists great potential for disconnect between espoused intensions, theory and practice as it relates to Inclusive Excellence (IE) (Danowitz & Tuitt, 2011). Given these realities, Black graduate women are rarely afforded the opportunities to engage in the four dimensions of IE, including equity, positive campus climates, robust learning and development, and diversity in the curriculum. There is a need for Black graduate women to feel supported in their journey of graduate school. The Sistah Network aims to address some of these issues.
Black women have been extremely resourceful in using their position of marginalization to resist the oppression they have encountered within the academy and society at large despite the enduring history of disenfranchisement they have faced (Thomas & Hollenshead, 2001). In order to maintain this position of resistance, Black graduate women in the academy must pool their collective energy and continue to proactively identify and participate in formal and informal mentoring relationships as well as pursue both conventional and unconventional connective opportunities. The Sistah Network is an example of a connective opportunity.