By: Anne E. Bromley | University Communications
University of Virginia faculty members and students have taken on the complex subject of black girlhood in several ways – on the academic front, through an emerging interdisciplinary field focusing on black girlhood; and in positive community engagement. Their aim is to understand what holds girls of color back while developing and supporting programs that help them thrive.
For researchers such as assistant professor Corinne Field and others, it has become clear that broad efforts to help all girls, or all African-American youth, are not specifically empowering black girls. Their work is urgent and the potential benefits to society are great.
“More black girls are thriving artistically, culturally and in many other ways, but research shows they historically have been subjected to racial and gender biases that stand in the way of greater successes,” Field said. “Our goal is to conduct research about the experiences of black girls in ways that will elevate the conversation and yield greater opportunities.”
UVA is among more than 50 institutions participating in the Collaborative to Advance Equity Through Research, a national coalition committed to taking meaningful action to support and improve research addressing the lives of women and girls of color.
“This is a multi-year effort with deep UVA roots,” Field said. A member of the College of Arts & Sciences’ newly designated Department of Women, Gender and Sexuality, Field is the co-founder of the History of Black Girlhood Network, an informal collaboration among scholars working to promote research into the historical experience of black girls from the 16th century to the present in Africa, the Americas and Europe.
With 2003 UVA alumna LaKisha Simmons, an assistant professor of history and women’s studies at the University of Michigan, Field organized the Global History of Black Girlhood Conference, coming up Friday and Saturday in the auditorium of the Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library, which will bring UVA faculty and students together with other scholars and artists.
“The Global History of Black Girlhood Conference is just one way for UVA to express its commitment to the Collaborative to Advance Equity through Research, and to the collaborative’s goals,” Vice Provost for Academic Affairs Archie Holmes said. “UVA supports research addressing the lives and experiences of women and girls of color because we know that making this research available, present and visible changes the academic landscape.
“When academe commits to talking more about women and girls of color,” Holmes said, “we encourage them to join us, to learn with us and contribute to the body of knowledge. We want girls of color to come to Grounds to be our students, and these women to build a successful academic career here. Their full and equal participation is essential in our society.”
Students from a range of ages are playing major roles in exploring history and current issues in the conference and other UVA projects.