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The trials, tribulations, and triumphs of black faculty in the math and science pipeline: A life history approach

Lisa D Williams, University of Massachusetts Amherst


This study explores the career progression and life history of black mathematicians and scientists who teach on university faculties in the United States. It investigates the following questions: Why are there so few black mathematicians and scientists in colleges and universities in the United States? What is the experience of black students who express an interest in science and math? What barriers do black scientists and mathematicians face as they move through school towards their career in higher education? What factors facilitate their success? ^ The current literature shows that there are few women and minorities teaching or working in math and science compared to white men, although reasons for this underrepresentation are still not well understood. I explored this phenomenon by conducting two sets of in-depth interviews with twelve black faculty, six women, six men, from both historically black and predominantly white higher educational institutions in the United States. My interviews were based upon a life history approach that identified the participants' perceptions of the barriers and obstacles, as well as the supports and facilitators encountered in their schooling and career progression. ^ The findings from the study show the importance of a strong family, community, and teacher support for the participants throughout their schooling. Support systems continued to be important in their faculty positions. These support systems include extended family members, teachers, community members, supervisors, and classmates, who serve as role models and mentors. The life study interviews provide striking evidence of the discrimination, isolation, and harassment due to race and gender experienced by black male and female mathematicians and scientists. The racial discrimination and the compounding effect of racism and sexism play out differently for the male and female participants in this study. ^ This study suggests directions for future research on the experiences of young black students who are currently in the math and science educational pipeline. It also offers recommendations for ways in which parents, teachers, administrators, faculty, advisors, and government officials can enhance the educational experiences of black students who express interest and have skills in math and science. ^

Subject Area

Mathematics education|Black studies|Educational sociology|Labor relations|Science education|Higher education

Recommended Citation

Williams, Lisa D, "The trials, tribulations, and triumphs of black faculty in the math and science pipeline: A life history approach" (2000). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI9978572.