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Transcendence over Diversity: black women in the academy

By Heidi Mirza


Universities, like many major public institutions have embraced the notion of ‘diversity’ virtually uncritically- it is seen as a moral ‘good in itself’. But what happens to those who come to represent ‘diversity’- the black and minority ethnic groups targeted to increase the institutions thirst for global markets and aversion to accusations of institutional racism? Drawing on existing literature which analyses the process of marginalization in higher education, this paper explores the individual costs to black and female academic staff regardless of the discourse on diversity. However despite the exclusion of staff, black and minority ethnic women are also entering higher education in relatively large numbers as students. Such ‘grassroots’ educational urgency transcends the dominant discourse on diversity and challenges presumptions inherent in top down initiatives such as ‘widening participation’. Such a collective movement from the bottom up shows the importance of understanding black female agency when unpacking the complex dynamics of gendered and racialised exclusion. Black women’s desire for education and learning makes possible a reclaiming of higher education from creeping instrumentalism and reinstates it as a radical site of resistance and refutation

Year: 2006
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  1. (1997). 1 Black is used here to mean women of visible difference, this includes women of colour such as those of African and Asian origin unless otherwise specified (
  2. (1999). 5 The BBC was called ‘hideously white’ by Greg Dyke the director general of the BBC in 2001 for being 98% white; With less than 1.3% of black and minority ethnic staff in higher education
  3. (1995). Colonial desire: Hybridity in theory, culture and race, doi
  4. (1993). Outside in the teaching machine New York Routledge Subdury J (
  5. (2005). The non-performativity of anti-racism’ paper presented at SUNY New

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