Original Research

Academic identities of South African black women professors: A multiple case study

Ncamisile T. Zulu
Transformation in Higher Education | Vol 7 | a151 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/the.v7i0.151 | © 2022 Ncamisile T. Zulu | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 31 August 2021 | Published: 24 May 2022

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Ncamisile T. Zulu, Department of Humanities Institute, Faculty of Humanities, University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban, South Africa

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Background: Literature on the academic identities of South African black women in higher education institutions predominantly focuses more on students and academics in general and less on professors. Studying the academic identities of black women is important in understanding how their reality in higher education is constructed and professors are particularly important to study as their leadership position can shape the types of opportunities and challenges they and others encounter.

Aim: This article aimed to explore the academic identities of five black women professors in two South African universities and what influences them. This study uses empowerment theory to understand the way these five black women academic professors see themselves academically and what informs the way they see themselves academically.

Setting: The black women professors were recruited from two South African universities in 2018.

Methods: Semi-structured interviews were used to collect data from the five black women professors. Data were analysed using thematic analysis.

Results: Collectively, the five participants seemed to show two academic identities: the encouraging scholarship and student learning academic identity and conducting research for (social) transformation academic identity. These identities seemed to arise from both the inspiring and discouraging encounters they had with some of their teachers and lecturers. The article has implications for policy and practice.

Conclusion: The significance of the study is that it highlights themes, which can be useful to understand how black women professors talk about their identity and understand how their reality is constructed.


academic identities; black women; empowerment theory; professors; South African universities


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