Inside the Ivory Tower Review by Prof Heather Savigny

This is an immensely powerful and important book. Deborah Gabriel and Shirley Anne Tate have brought together an enormously inspiring series of essays where women of colour share their stories and experiences of both becoming and being academics in the UK system.

Many of these stories are from women who are the first in their families to go to University or to gain a PhD, and every single one of these chapters resonates with empathy and an understanding of the students for whom they now function as role models and sources of support and encouragement.

Every single chapter details experiences of racism and sexism that these women have faced along the way.  These experiences are deeply shocking both within the confines of the institutions they are in (see especially Shirley Anne Tate) and in the wider academy (Heidi Mirza’s conference experience is traumatic reading) not least because of the ways that cultures of racism and sexism have served to dehumanise women (Deborah Gabriel) and question the very contributions that they might make to a scholarly community (Elizabeth Opara). These women’s stories need to be told and these experiences articulated: they provide solace in the isolation that can characterise being ‘other’ in the White male academy; they provide inspiration in the strength and courage these women have faced in their daily battles against both micro aggressions and structural racism and sexism.

Each of these stories also show us how institutions and cultures can be challenged and changed; voices found (Jenny Douglas) and countless lives improved as a result of the research and professional work that the authors do.  We see the ways that strength and courage serve as a bedrock for change both at the level of University leadership and management (Marcia Wilson) and in the creation of support networks for marginalised groups external to the University (Ima Jackson).  The status quo is also challenged by the support that colleagues have sought and received through internal networks (Aisha Richards), sisterly communities (Deborah Gabriel) and mentoring (Claudia Bernard).  There are thoughtful reflections here in remembering to ask for, or create, our own bases of support if they are not institutionally available. Crucially, these chapters collectively remind us of the importance of defining your career for yourself rather than being defined by it (Josephine Kwhali).

This book really should be mandatory reading for all of those within Universities: for VCs seeking to effect more socially just and inclusive HE institutions, for Deans and HR managers on hiring committees and for colleagues to gain an insight in to the  barriers that women of colour of face in their daily professional lives and for those women of colour beyond the authors of this book, to know that they are not alone in their struggle.

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Prof Heather Savigny

Prof Heather Savigny

Heather Savigny is Professor of Gender, Media and Politics at De Montfort University. Her research interests are interdisciplinary and focus broadly at the intersection of debates between gender, politics and media; and is primarily concerned with the structural operation and distribution of power and mechanisms through which disruption is desirable and possible.

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