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Wash. U. Finally Gives an African-American Woman Tenure [Updated]

Categories: Education

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Parikh (center) and research subjects in Uganda.
A clarification: The University wishes to clarify that Parikh is the first female African-American professor to go through the entire tenure track, from assistant to associate professor with tenure, at Wash. U. Arts & Sciences. Other female African-American professors have been awarded tenure by the Arts & Sciences faculty, but only after they arrived at the university from other institutions.

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Washington University's Faculty of Arts & Sciences has granted tenure to Shanti Parikh, a professor of anthropology, making her the first African-American woman in the college's history to achieve that honor.

How nice to know that it's 2010 and we're still making progress!

Parikh said as much to Student Life, the Wash. U. student paper:

I've worked very hard, and I do feel honored. However, I think it's a bit embarrassing for Arts & Sciences that this is only happening in the year 2010. It seems to me like electing the first African-American president would have been harder to do.

Parikh arrived at Wash. U. in 2000 after serving in the Peace Corps in Kenya, earning a doctorate from Yale and doing fieldwork in eastern Uganda on how gender roles have been affected by the HIV/AIDS crisis. In the past decade, in addition to teaching and working on her own research, she married, served as the primary caregiver for both her parents until they died and gave birth to two children, now two years and six months old.

In her interview with Student Life, she acknowledged the difficulty of balancing family responsibilities with her work at the university. "Taking time off [for the sake of one's children] can lead to gaps in a woman's publishing, which might make her look unproductive, when in fact she's on maternity leave," she said. "It's not supposed to work against you, but there's still a lot of pressure to produce during that time."

Perhaps consequently, only 28 percent of Wash. U.'s tenured professors are women (up from 22 percent in 1999 -- hey, that's progress!) and, according to a survey conducted by the provost's office last May, they earn between $3,072 and $3,979 less than their male counterparts. The situation is even more grim for minorities, who comprise 6 percent of the university's tenure and tenure-track professors according to a 2009 report, also from the provost's office.

"People don't mean to let underrepresented minorities fall through the cracks," Parikh said. "I just think they really don't understand how pressing of an issue this is."

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