Howard University Hosts Chat and Chew to discuss the ongoing battle of Black women in academia

Kalaya Jones, a Howard student, voiced her opinion during the Chat and Chew discussion.

By: Autumn Coleman

Participants gathered in the reading room of Founders’ Library, Howard University’s Center for Women, Gender and Global Leadership hosted a “chat & chew” discussion about recent events involving Black women in academia. 

The chat on Jan. 26 was based on the recent resignation of Harvard President Dr. Claudine Gay and the suicide of the VP of Student Affairs at Lincoln University, Antoinette Candia-Bailey. 

“Oftentimes, we are talking about trauma,” said the center’s director, Dr. Cassandra Veney. “Usually, it’s after the fact, but there is all sorts of trauma before one even reaches ‘the academy.’”

Attendees said that they have felt the weight of being a minority in the field of academia. Undergraduate, graduate, and Ph.D. candidates took turns speaking about their experiences.

Some said they formerly worked at or attended predominantly white institutions (PWI). 

“The situation with Dr. Gay is at the intersection of sexism and racism,” said Timea Webster, Howard’s associate director of alumni engagement in Development and Alumni Relations. “I knew that Gay wasn’t going to get out of this.”

Many echoed these sentiments in their testimonies, citing higher education’s continued resistance to diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) as their main concern.

“This feels like a purposeful attack on DEI,” said Trinity Smith, a Howard freshman from Texas. “It feels like a push towards a lack of diversity, and I’m anxious about my future career in a male-dominated field.”

The discussion allowed many students to express their concerns about their academic future. 

After speaking, they were each offered solace by the older attendees who have experienced similar setbacks through their own time in spaces of white higher education. 

“I watched the service of Dr. Candia-Bailey, and the reverend said something that stood out to me… ‘it doesn’t take anything away from a candle to light another candle,’” Veney said. “I have found mentorship can offer a lifeline to people of color in academia. Even just mentoring a few can make it worthwhile.” 

Days earlier, Howard University hosted Stacey Abrams, Ronald W. Walters Endowed Chair for Race and Black Politics, in the School of Business auditorium, where she was asked about her thoughts on the events surrounding Dr. Claudine Gay. 

“What happened to Dr. Gay was a perversion of what should’ve happened,” Abrams said. “There are legitimate conversations to be had about how we address issues of speech on campus, [and] how we address issues of academic honesty, but none of that had a thing to do with DEI.

“They manufactured a moment, and we let it happen.”