The Role of Relationships in the Lives of Women Scholars
In the CHAE Report (Fall 2015), Dr. Gonzalez discusses the importance of the role that relationships play in the lives of women academics.
Written by Dana Kanhai, doctoral student
Assistant professor Leslie Gonzales explores the role that relationships (e.g., academic, personal, or familial) play in the lives of women academics. With Aimee Terosky of St. Joseph’s University, she is studying how the relationships women hold inform the work of these women as faculty broadly, and more specifically, how these relationships invigorate the intellectual work of these women.
One of the studies is guided by a qualitative retrospective approach based on interviews with women senior scholars of diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds. Several recruitment methods were employed in order to recruit women senior scholars from the humanities, social science, sciences, and the applied fields. Theoretical insights from feminist theories, including work that addresses women’s way of knowing, critical race feminism, and the politics of knowledge ground the study. Women senior scholars were asked to reflect on the course of their academic career and to describe if, and how, relationships have been instrumental to their growth and development as intellectuals.
Gonzales says, “This work is exciting to me because it provides the opportunity to re-imagine the craft of intellectual work.” Most people imagine learning as a solitary undertaking, particularly when one thinks of senior scholars, yet feminist scholarship has long described collectivity as a source of learning and knowledge among women. However, this idea has not really been explored in the lives of women scholars.
Her work, Gonzales believes, provides at least three distinct contributions. First, it is poised to present a new narrative concerning modern-day academics; the work investigates how women take epistemological, methodological, and overall intellectual risks in their work. Second, her work assumes the importance of relationships and learning in non-conventional spaces that are potentially far outside academia and other conventional learning spaces. Third, her work foregrounds the experiential and personal sources of knowledge women and women of Color academics carry with them, but which are rarely afforded the space to be understood or articulated in discussions about intellectual work. In sum, her work aims to understand if and how the relationships women hold: (1) enhance their self-efficacy as thinkers, knowers, and theorists of their own right, (2) provide validation for their ideas, but also for their experience as a source of knowledge, and (3) influence them to take intellectual risks.
The focus of this study emerged in findings of a larger study conducted by Gonzales and Terosky (Gonzales & Terosky, 2015; Terosky & Gonzales, 2015a; Terosky & Gonzales, 2015b) where they addressed three questions: (1) How do faculty, employed at different types of institutions, experience their careers; (2) How do faculty learn about norms and expectations about their work; and (3) How do faculty negotiate the organizational expectations if and when they are contradictory to their own aspirations? The results of their study indicated the importance of relationships, particularly colleagueship. Gonzales shares, “We found that at community colleges, colleagueship propels faculty to engage in learning that centers on scholarly writing, which is not commonly perceived to occur in these settings. At comprehensive and research universities, women and women of Color seemed to use their relationships as spaces for affirmation and validation about their careers, perspectives, and research choices.” Moreover, relationships between faculty members developed organically, often growing out of similar backgrounds and interests rather than formal or institutionalized attempts to foster interaction between faculty members.
With this new study, Gonzales and Terosky are attempting to expand on these insights gleaned from their earlier work, and they hope to better understand the role that relationships play in the lives of women scholars. They are anchoring their attempt “to unearth all that informs one’s intellectual craft” in feminist theories, such as those offered by Patricia Hill Collins, Ana Martinez-Alemán, Carol Gilligan, Sandra Harding, and Dorothy Smith. Gonzales believes the implications of their work are numerous. She shares, “Most importantly, and I hope this is true of all of my work, I want to be able to communicate to young aspiring scholars, especially women of Color, their knowledge and the whole of their experience matters, and there is a place for them within the profession.”
Gonzales, L.D. & Terosky, A. L. (accepted, forthcoming 2016). From the faculty perspective: Defining, earning, and maintaining legitimacy across academia. Teachers College Record, 118 (9), TBD.
Gonzales, L. & Terosky, A. (2015). The presence and purpose of relationships in academic careers: A closer look at faculty life and learning. Manuscript submitted for publication.
Terosky, A. & Gonzales, L.D. (2016). Re-envisioned contributions: Experiences of faculty employed at institutional types that differ from their original aspirations. The Review of Higher Education, 39(2), 241-268.
Terosky, A. L., & Gonzales, L. D. (2015). Scholarly learning as vocation: A study of community and broad access liberal arts college faculty. Innovative Higher Education, 40(4), 1-16.