10 Black Women in Academia That You Need To Know About

Hidden figures

by Isabel Calkins

In celebration of Black History Month, NYLON is running a spotlight series called UNAPOLOGETIC. Every day, we’ll celebrate different aspects of black culture through profiles, interviews, roundtables, reviews, videos, and op-eds. #Blacklivesmatter and we hold that truth to be self-evident.

Every single day new advancements are being made in the world of education, but when you look at the media and the people who are making these advancements, you rarely will see a black woman being honored. 

According to the National Council of Education 2012 education statistics report, African Americans make up 7 percent of all American college and university faculty. But out of that, African-American women only represent 4 percent of this total. And even though this number has increased slightly in recent years, it is still drastically lower than those faculty members of other racial/ethnic groups. 

With that in mind, we have rounded up 10 noteworthy black women in academia who are truly making a difference in the world of education, even if they are not always recognized. From pushing boundaries within the astrophysics field to making sure that all children have access to top-notch schooling and care, these women are changing the game. Get to know them in the gallery ahead.

Photo via Perelman School of Medicine

Eve J. Higginbotham

Dr. Eve Higginbotham, the vice dean for diversity and inclusion at the Perelman School of Medicine, has nearly three decades of experience in academia. Now a board-certified ophthalmologist, she received her S.B. and S.M. degrees in Chemical Engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in 1975 and earned her medical degree from Harvard Medical School in 1979. In 1994 when she was appointed Chair of the Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences Department at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, she became the first woman to head a university-based ophthalmology department in the United States.

Photo via africa.si.edu

Johnnetta B. Cole

A recipient of more than 60 honorary degrees, Dr. Johnnetta B. Cole is one of the more well-known leaders in the higher education community. Currently serving as the director of the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art, Dr. Cole is the only person to have served as president of both Spelman College and Bennett College for Women, two historically black colleges for women in the US. When she was appointed president of Spelman in 1987, she made history as the first African-American woman to hold this position.

Photo via New Orleans College Prep

Amanda Aiken

In her first year as principal of Lawrence D. Crocker College Prep, Amanda Aiken transformed the school from being the lowest performing to being the most improved school in New Orleans. In addition to currently being the senior director of Schools at New Orleans College Prep, Aiken is an adjunct professor at Relay Graduate School of Education where she instructs and tutors service elementary school teachers who are working on their Miller Analogies Test. With everything that she does, Aiken pushes her students to truly understand the importance of education and perseverance.

Photo via MarciaChatelain.com

Marcia Chatelain

In 2014, using the popular hashtag #FergusonSyllabus, Dr. Marcia Chatelain encouraged educators across the country to talk about the crisis in Ferguson, Missouri. Now an associate professor of History and African American Studies at Georgetown University, Dr. Chatelain is known for her work on race and activism.

Photo via Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

Shirley Ann Jackson

Ranked among the 50 Greatest Living Geniuses, Dr. Shirley Ann Jackson is currently the president of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and the highest-paid college president in the country. As well as having 53 honorary doctorate degrees, Dr. Jackson was the first African-American woman to ever receive a doctorate from MIT and to lead a top-ranked research university.

Photo via Pomona College.

Gabrielle Starr

Currently the Seryl Kushner Dean of the College of Arts and Science at New York University, Dr. Gabrielle Starr is extremely interested in 18th-century British literature and aesthetics. With awards and fellowships from more than 15 universities, her research on the correlation between the brain and art is transforming the way that people think about beauty. Beginning in July 2017, she will become the first woman and African-American president of Pomona College in Claremont, California.

Photo via Monica Cox

Monica Cox

In 2011, Dr. Monica Cox became the first African-American female to earn tenure at the College of Engineering at Purdue University. Now, Dr. Cox is the inaugural department chair and professor in the Department of Engineering Education at the Ohio State University. Over her career in higher education, she has authored more than 90 different publications focused on STEM education.

Photo via The Huffington Post

Chanda Prescod-Weinstein

As a descendant of Afro-Caribbean and Ashkenazi Jewish immigrants and the 63rd Black American woman to earn a Ph.D. in physics, Dr. Chanda Prescod-Weinstein has worked hard to promote black physicists. Along with being a theoretical physics postdoctoral associate at University of Washington, Seattle, she is currently an active member of the National Society of Hispanic Physicists and the Society for the Advancement of Chicanos/Hispanics and Native Americans in the Sciences. Before that, she held a Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Postdoctoral Fellowship at MIT where she was jointly appointed to the MIT Kavli Institute for Astrophysics and Space Research and the Department of Physics.

Photo via Tennessee State University

Glenda Baskin Glover

As the author of more than 100 articles and papers, Dr. Glenda Baskin Glover is one of the nation’s greatest experts on corporate governance. As the current president of Tennessee State University, attorney, and certified public accountant, she is only one of two African-American women in the country to hold the Ph.D.-CPA-JD combination.

Photo via LBJ School of Public Affairs

Ruth Simmons

In 2001, Dr. Ruth Simmons paved the way for black women in higher education when she became the first African-American president of an Ivy League university in the United States, as well as Brown University’s first female president. Now, after stepping down as Brown president in 2012, she is a professor of comparative literature and Africana studies, continuing to transform student's lives with her passion for leadership and academia.