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Programs & Services: Access

Sistah Network

sketch of African American woman from the shoulders up
Self Portrait, by Daisy Giles, used with permission

The Sistah Network is committed to helping Black women who are graduate students at the University of Denver contend with the pervasive challenges they face related to graduate student socialization and academic persistence. The Network meets 2-3 times per quarter; and membership is open to anyone, though its organizational priorities and aims are fixed.

Click the headers below for additional details.

Mission Statement

The Sistah Network provides women who identify as Black, in graduate programs across the University of Denver, opportunities for academic and professional development. To do this work well, the Sistah Network also promotes and facilitates the psychological, social, and emotional success of Black women in graduate programs. This mission is grounded in Black Feminist Thought which posits that Black women need safe spaces to participate in activities that give them voice, self-definition, and belonging (Collins, 2000).

Rationale

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.

Long-term Outcomes

A sustainable network of academic support for current graduate Black women from doctoral programs across the University of Denver with collaborations with CME and other campus student services.

A sustainable mentoring program that could include African American faculty/staff as well as non-African American faculty and staff who are aware of the politics of difference and willing to mentor Black women in graduate programs (Patton & Harper, 2003).

Nature of Meetings

The Sistah Network meets 2-3 times per quarter; and membership is open to anyone. Though, its organizational priorities and aims are fixed. The Network is committed to helping Black women who are graduate students at the University of Denver contend with the pervasive challenges they face related to graduate student socialization and academic persistence. If individuals have thoughts on these issues/topics, she would not be turned away from the meeting; however, it would be unreasonable to expect us to expand the meeting agenda or reframe our research to address that individual's concern.

Schedule
We will post dates, times and locations of upcoming meetings here shortly.

Contacts

  • Anthea Rooen Johnson, MBA, CME Director of Student Access and Pipeline Programs, email
  • Nicole M Russell, PhD, Asc Professor, Morgridge College of Education, email
References
  • Blackwell, JE (1983). Networking and mentoring: A study of cross-generational experiences of Black graduate and professional schools. Atlanta, GA: Southern Education Foundation
  • Collins, PH (2000). Black feminist thought: Knowledge, consciousness, and the politics of empowerment (2nd Edt). New York: Routledge.
  • Danowitz, MA & Tuitt, F (2011). Enacting inclusivity through engaged pedagogy: A higher education perspective. Equity & Excellence in Education, 44(1), 40-56.
  • hooks, b (1989). Thinking feminist, thinking Black. Boston: South End Press
  • Lorde, A (2007). Sister outsider. Berkeley: Crossing Press.
  • Lovitts, B & Nelson, C (2000). The hidden crisis in graduate education: Attrition from PhD programs. Academe, 86(6), 44-50.
  • Patton, LD & Harper, SR (2003). Mentoring relationships among African American women in graduate and professional schools. New Directions for Student Services, 104, 67-78
  • Thomas, GD & Hollenshead, C (2001, Summer). Resisting from the margins: The coping strategies of Black women and other women of color faculty members at a research university. In FB Bonner & VG Thomas (Eds), Black women in the academy: Challenges and opportunities [Special issue]. Journal of Negro Education, 70(3), 166-175.
  • Turner, C & Thompson, J (1993). Socializing women doctoral students: Minority and majority experiences. Review of Higher Education, 16(3), 355–370.
  • Valadez, J (1998). The social dynamics of mentoring in graduate education: A case study of African American students and their graduate advisors. In HT Frierson (Ed), Mentoring and diversity in higher education (Vol.2). Greenwich, CT: JAI Press.
  • Watt, SK (2003). Come to the river: Using spirituality to cope, resist, and develop identity. In MF Howard-Hamilton (Ed), New Directions for student services: Meeting the needs of African American women (pp. 22-40), San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.