Britain’s black female professors celebrated in new exhibition

Phenomenal Women: Portraits of UK Black Female Professors will go on display at London’s City Hall

A new photographic exhibition in London will honour Britain’s black female professors.

The exhibition, Phenomenal Women: Portraits of UK Black Female Professors, gathers together portraits by photographer Bill Knight of 40 women who have all been professors at some point over the past three years.

The subjects are drawn from a broad range of disciplines including law, medicine, creative writing and sociology and include award-winning author Bernardine Evaristo, who is professor of creative writing at Brunel University London; poet and playwright Joan Anim-Addo, who is professor of Caribbean literature and culture at Goldsmiths, University of London; and Cynthia Pine, the first woman ever to be appointed head of a UK dental school.

According to a 2019 report by AdvanceHE, fewer than 1% of professors in the UK are black despite increases in overall levels of black academic staff. Black women represent the smallest group when both race and gender and considered together. They are three times less likely to be professors than their white female counterparts and half as likely as black men.

‘The sector is failing black women’

Dr Nicola Rollock, reader in equity and education at Goldsmiths University of London, consultant and public speaker, researched and curated the exhibition.

Dr Nicola Rollock researched and curated the exhibition. Photo by Bill Knight

Dr Rollock has been examining the career experiences and strategies of black female professors at UK higher education establishments over the past three years, and her 2019 report for the University and College Union (UCU) showed the barriers faced by black women as they worked to navigate their way through higher education and the strategies they used to help them reach professorship.

“I want Phenomenal Women: Portraits of UK Black Female Professors, to challenge perceptions of what a professor looks like, to highlight the intersectionality of race and gender and to showcase the achievements of this under-represented group of academics,” said Dr Rollock.

“As a relatively invisible and unknown entity, these women stand out in their respective fields. The sector is failing black women and needs to be purposeful and explicit in its efforts to retain and promote them.”

Challenging perceptions

UCU general secretary Jo Grady added: “The fact that we can exhibit portraits of the UK’s black female professors demonstrates just how few of them there actually are. This project shines an important light on a severely under-represented group of staff and should challenge people’s perceptions of what a professor looks like.

“Our research shows that far too many black staff in universities face significant barriers to promotion, as well as an insidious culture of bullying and stereotyping. We have to transform a system that black women say is riddled with unfairness and bias. That starts with an overhaul of promotion structures to ensure genuine equality of opportunity.”

The exhibition will be unveiled tonight at law firm Paul Hastings to celebrate International Women’s Day, before going on display to the public at London’s City Hall from 18 March until 31 March.

Professor Joan Anim-Addo of Goldsmiths, University of London. Photo by Bill Knight

The black female professors featured in the exhibition are:

  • Gloria Agyemang – professor of accounting
  • Joan Anim-Addo – professor of Caribbean literature and culture
  • Bugewa Apampa – professor of pharmacy education
  • Udy Archibong – professor of diversity
  • Diamond Ashiagbor – professor of Law
  • Florence Ayisi – professor of international documentary film
  • Fareda Banda – professor of law
  • Claudia Bernard – professor of social work
  • Sonia Boyce – professor of black art and design
  • Enitan Carrol – professor of paediatric infection
  • Donna Chambers – professor of tourism
  • Nelarine Cornelius – professor of organisation studies
  • Patricia Daley – professor of the human geography of Africa
  • Jacqueline Dunkley-Bent – chief midwifery officer, NHS England and visiting professor of midwifery
  • Akwugo Emejulu – professor of sociology
  • Engobo Emeseh – professor of law
  • Bernardine Evaristo – professor of creative writing
  • Lynette Goddard – professor of black theatre and performance
  • Stephani Hatch – professor of sociology and epidemiology
  • Gina Higginbottom – emeritus professor of ethnicity and health
  • Adele Jones – professor of social work
  • Tessa  McWatt – professor of creative writing
  • Heidi Safia Mirza – emeritus professor of equalities studies
  • Dorothy Monekosso – professor of computer science
  • Bertha Ochieng – professor of integrated health and social care
  • Phoebe Okowa – professor of public international law
  • Funmi Olonisakin – professor of security, leadership and development
  • Olivette Otele – professor of history of slavery and memory
  • Ann Phoenix – professor of psychosocial research
  • Cynthia Pine – professor of dental public health
  • Tracey Reynolds – professor of sociology
  • Laura Serrant – professor of community and public health nursing
  • Iyiola Solanke – professor in EU law and social justice
  • Shirley Anne Tate – professor of sociology
  • Patricia Tuitt – professor of law
  • Carol Tulloch – professor of dress, diaspora and transnationalism
  • Ijeoma Uchegbu – professor of pharmaceutical nanoscience
  • Toni Williams – professor of law
  • Marcia Wilson – dean, Office for Institutional Equity
  • Cecile Wright – professor of sociology

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