By LaTunya Evans, Communications Specialist
In March, across the country, women are recognized and honored for their numerous contributions to society during what is known as Women's History Month.
Mississippi Valley State University (MVSU) recognizes these significant contributions women have made and are making in higher education. MVSU stands firm on creating a space for everyone, including women, to learn, lead, and teach.
Historically, statistics highlight the low percentage of women in higher education. According to BestColleges.com, there was not a college or university that accepted women as students before 1835. This encouraged women to create higher learning institutions strictly for enrollment.
Because women were determined to learn, no obstacle would prevent them from receiving the desired higher education.
Dr. Gail Hargrove Marshall-Brown, the Visiting Assistant Professor for Mass Communication at MVSU, recalled when she faced an obstacle while pursuing her Ph.D.
"I decided to go back to school to receive my Ph.D., which was challenging but rewarding because I, at the time, was taking care of my father, who suffered from Alzheimer's," explained Dr. Brown.
After enrolling, her father's health slowly declined, causing a strain on her focus and energy for school.
"I initially enrolled at the University of Southern Mississippi during the summer of 2010 but had to withdraw due to my father's health. But after he passed later that year, I returned part-time because I was determined to finish what I had started," said Dr. Brown.
Eventually, Mrs. Brown completed her Ph.D. in Mass Communications, elevating her to Dr. Brown. According to the National Science Foundation's Survey of Earned Doctorates, black women have earned four percent of doctorate degrees.
Receiving a doctorate was a goal for Dr. Brown because of her love for knowledge and learning. However, for every woman who attended college, obtaining a degree was never a goal but more of an extraordinary opportunity to be taken advantage of.
"I did not plan to go to college, but my mom stressed either going to college or getting a job and moving out of her house after completing high school. There was no option, so two weeks before school began, I enrolled in Southern University at Baton Rouge," said Dr. Kathie Stromile Golden, the Provost/Senior Vice-President for Academic Affairs at MVSU.
After four years at Southern University, Dr. Golden completed her bachelor's and master's degrees, spotlighting her as the ideal person for a higher education career.
"I had a professor who called me and offered me the opportunity to teach a class for a professor on Southern's leave. Then, after that year of teaching, that same professor told me there was a need for someone to teach Political Science and Sociology at the campus in Shreveport, so I accepted it," said Golden.
Dr. Golden remained at the university for six years, serving as the Coordinator for the Social Science Program, too, during her time. While there, the University of Kentucky recruited students, and Golden was one of the students offered a fellowship to complete her doctorate.
Receiving her Ph.D. was not in her plans. Still, due to her curiosity for new information and interest in becoming more knowledgeable in her career field, Golden knew the opportunity was a golden one for herself.
"I decided if I were going to stay in academia, I would need more training. So that made me decide on my Ph.D., but it was never planned," Golden explained.
Educating others influenced Dr. Golden and LaTonzia Evans, the Instructor of English in the Department of English and Foreign Languages at MVSU. Evans chose to seek her doctorate after teaching found a place in her heart.
Evans said, "I decided to obtain my Ph.D. after I found my love for teaching."
During her program, Evans quickly realized the positive impact completing her degree would have on her career.
"I knew my Ph.D. would unlock career opportunities in higher education that my bachelor's and master's would not. The Ph.D. program at The University of Memphis has enhanced my teaching, public speaking, and presentation skills," said Evans.
Evans is completing her doctorate in Literary and Cultural Studies, emphasizing African American Literature.
According to AAUW.org, black women receive 64.1% of bachelor's degrees, 71.5% of master's degrees, and 65.9% of doctoral, medical, and dental degrees.
"College degrees have been important for the advancement of people, and they have also opened doors that have not been opened for women, particularly women of color. So, education has always been stressed as a way out and up," said Dr. Golden.
While black women are attaining more college degrees, the idea of women receiving higher education is not accepted by all.
Patsy Parker, Ph.D., wrote in an educational journal on The Historical Role of Women in Higher Education that "Conservatives claimed it would destroy the role of women in the household as homemakers, wives, and mothers. Liberals, on the other hand, claimed that a college-educated woman would be a better homemaker, wife, and mother."
Before women could attend college, many depended on their husbands and men in the family for income, food, and resources. Black women, in particular, helped their households by going outside the house for low-end work, such as housekeeping for other families and businesses.
"Before 1970, women had to marry for financial stability. This devastated African American women as their quality of life depended on working. Many worked in very low-paying jobs as the help," explained Evans.
Working in low-paying jobs with poor conditions was all available for uneducated black women. With little to no education, many black women were forced to continue to thrive for the better in unfavorable environments.
"I spoke with Ann Moody's brother and discussed that his mother had to accept some things she did not want to because she lacked an education. He mentioned that to me multiple times in our one encounter," stated Judge Deborah McDonald, Mississippi Court of Appeals Judge.
The idea that college degrees damaged the household continued the ancient belief that women's position in society was in the house. For black women, it continued the idea that their place was in someone else's household as the help.
"Historically, women have been given the role of nurturer, but often women fail to care for themselves. Education and college degrees pave the way for women's self-care. College degrees are precious to women as they can support themselves financially by contributing to the household and improving their socioeconomic status," said Evans.
With the diversity in family dynamics today, some black women have been placed in the position of head of household.
According to Institute for Women's Policy and Research, more than four in five Black mothers (81.1 percent) are breadwinners, with most Black mothers (60.9 percent) raising families independently. In addition, there are three times as many single Black mother breadwinners as married Black mother breadwinners."
This meant that some black families relied on the income of black women to keep their households functioning.
"Women, for the most part, these days are the head of our households, and it is important to be able to provide for ourselves and our families, so getting a higher education degree will facilitate that," explained Judge Latrice Westbrooks, Mississippi Court of Appeals Judge.
As more women stepped out of the home and into the classroom, roles deemed for women became a family effort to keep the household functioning. Now that women were improving their education while maintaining a family, other family members, such as men and parents, alleviated some parental and household duties so that the women could complete their degrees.
Dr. Brown spoke about the support she received from her husband as she was completing her doctorate. "How your household functions while you're getting your degree, depends on who your spouse is. I have to give it to my husband. He never complained about having to clean around the house or cook for the family while I was in school."
The ancient belief that housework was only the woman's job has been altered since more women have attained positions outside the house. Likewise, how men support their wives and families has evolved since women, too, have accolades and achievements of their own.
"I remember talking to some friends, and amid the conversation, my husband made it his duty to let them know that I was now Dr. Gail Brown instead of Mrs. He had never done anything like that, but I was quite flattered," stated Dr. Brown.
"After, I asked him why he had done it. He said it was because he knew how hard I had worked for my degree and felt it was important that I receive my recognition, and he wants everyone to know how proud he was of me for finishing what I had begun," continued Dr. Brown.
Women have been the backbone of support for their families for decades. But now, women understand the importance of creating, executing, and achieving life goals for themselves. For every goal made, there will be challenges that await.
Dr. Golden expressed thoughtful advice for women considering elevating their education but needing more confidence.
"Know that you are important and do not compromise your goals for anyone. Go after what you want, and do not let anyone demean the value of your goals," Golden said.
History displays women's fight for other liberties, but as Judge Latrice Westbrooks mentioned, education is crucial to help women gain liberation.
"Education is a way to free your mind, so if you can be free in your mind, you have no limitations. Thinking education is harmful is not rhetoric black women need to buy into because that is a way to enslave the mind. An enslaved mind can be a controlled mind. So don't be controlled," said Judge Westbrooks.