Shattering the Silences

This 90-minute documentary explores issues of faculty diversity in American higher education in the mid-1990s, focusing on the experiences of eight minority scholars in the humanities and social sciences at a wide range of institutions. The program illustrates ways in which teaching and research by these scholars -- who are Asian-American, African-American, Native American, and Latino -- affects students, university communities, and the academic disciplines in which they work, and the triumphs and disappointments they encounter in their personal lives and academic careers.

takes a surprising and provocative look at the success and distress of minority scholars in the humanities and social sciences at universities from Seattle to New York. These scholars relate poignant stories about the obstacles and challenges on the journey to the ivory tower. There is both humor and pain as these minority voices in the academy tell a double-edged story.

Minority scholars are introducing new perspectives and fresh questions in university classrooms. While they have invigorated disciplines by contributing a wealth of new scholarship, the number of minority professors is still alarmingly small and the pipeline is fragile.Across all disciplines ninety percent of professors are white.

Opening up institutions doesn't happen easily. New scholarship is by definition challenging and minority scholars are constantly drawn into a debate over who defines truth and who decides what to teach. Answering to the needs of an overwhelmingly white institution, minority professors are also often overburdened by the demands put upon them.

The controversial issues of the Culture Wars and affirmative action are part of the atmosphere in which these scholars are trying to make a difference. Student voices are also heard in this passionate and fast-paced documentary.

The featured professors are African-American, Latino, Asian-American, and American Indian. They are superb teachers, riveting role models, and pathbreaking scholars in history, literature, sociology, ethnic studies, and political science.


Minority professors have worked primarily at historically black colleges and universities, Puerto Rican universities and community colleges. In 1941 a survey of predominantly white colleges and universities conducted by the Julius Rosenwald Fund found only two tenured Black faculty members -- both in non-teaching laboratory positions. Before world War II Hispanics were nearly invisible in academia.

From 1935 on. the NAACP's legal arm filed numerous suits contesting the failure of graduate and professional schools to provide equal opportunity to Blacks. Many universities and professional schools continued to oppose the admission of Blacks into their graduate and professional programs, despite court decisions ordering their admission.

The landmark Brown v. Board of Education decision in 1954 cleared the path for desegregation of American schools and universities. The civil rights movement and affirmative action legislation moved the project of ending discrimination in education forward.

The Black civil rights movement also stimulated a series of other movements demanding equality and justice: Mexican-Americans, American Indians, and Asian-Americans all began asserting their rights to be full participants in American society and that meant access to higher education as students and professors.

According to data from the American Council on Higher Education, during the early l960s African-Americans represented less than one percent of faculty at predominantly white campuses and, as recently as 1979, only two percent of all faculty in higher education . By the end of the 70's Hispanics only represented l.5 percent of faculty at the nation's colleges. By 1993 faculty of color represented 12.2 percent of all faculty. Minorities, particularly women of color, are clustered at the bottom of the professional ladder as assistant professors and non-tenure track lecturers. Twice as many men of color hold faculty positions as minority women. Faculty of color achieved their largest gains at full professor and associate professor levels from 1991 to 93.

Research by Gloria Cuadraz, who appears in the documentary, indicates that in 1966 12 percent of the California population was Hispanic yet less than a third of one percent of Berkeley's student body was Hispanic In the entire University of California system, less than one percent of students were Hispanic. By 1990 Chicano faculty members in the University of California system numbered 1.6 percent. By then almost one in four Californians was Hispanic.

By 1993 African-Americans represented 4.8 percent of all full-time faculty yet they represented 12 percent of the U.S. population.


Minorities in the general U.S. population
African-Americans: 12%
Hispanics: 9%
Asians: 3%
American Indians 1%

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