Pioneers, changemakers and innovators…

Black feminist activism and critical leadership in the Ivory Tower 

Forthcoming chapter…
Gabriel, D. (2022). Pioneers, changemakers and innovators: Black feminist activism and critical leadership in the Ivory Tower in Intellectual Leadership, Higher Education and Precarious Times. Fitzgerald, T., Gunter, H.M., & Nixon, J. (eds). London: Bloomsbury.
Black women are woefully under-represented in senior roles across the higher education sector.  While the percentage of Black professors is less than one per cent (155 out of 23,000), Black women account for less than one third of this figure (Hesa, 2020).  The persistence of race and gender disparities in academia suggests that the intellectual capital of Black women is both undervalued and unrewarded (Gabriel, 2020). The absence of Black women in university leadership roles can be attributed to anti-Blackness and its progenitor, White supremacy (Gabriel, 2021).  Whiteness is the common denominator in the experiences of Black women in the academe evidenced through shared intersectional experiences of invisibility, hypervisibility, exclusion, marginalisation, objectification and unbelonging (Gabriel and Tate, 2017). Yet it is the very raced and gendered oppression Black women experience that promotes agency and resistance.  Black feminist activism engenders the development of a unique skillset that includes bicultural competence, reflexivity and innovation further honed through collective activism and collaboration (Gabriel, 2017). Black women are therefore not passive recipients of gendered racism, but pioneers, changemakers and innovators who transform the institutional spaces they exist in and contribute to community empowerment (Gabriel, 2020).
Despite their absence in senior roles within the academe, Black women develop leadership skills through activism and resistance which they harness in service of social justice aims, to improve the experiences and outcomes of staff and students of colour, and uplift their communities. This chapter draws on autoethnography and Black feminist theory to analyse Black women’s intellectual leadership in academia. In so doing, it makes an important contribution in advancing alternative conceptualisations of intellectualism and leadership in higher education.
References cited
Hesa (2020) staff statistics UK accessed from
Gabriel, D., & Tate, S.A. (eds). (2017). Inside the Ivory Tower: Narratives of Women of Colour Surviving and Thriving in British Academia. London: Trentham Books.
Gabriel, D. (2020). Transforming the Ivory Tower: Models for Gender Equality and Social Justice. London: UCL Press
Gabriel, D. (2022). Do Black Lives Really Matter? Social closure, White privilege and the making of a Black underclass in higher education in Handbook of Critical Race & Whiteness Studies. Tate et al. (ed). USA: Routledge