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Discussing 'Living Thinkers'

Morris Library hosts film screening and panel discussion

The University of Delaware Morris Library screened the film Living Thinkers: An Autobiography of Black Women in the Ivory Tower on Oct. 17.

The film was originally shown on April 29 as part of the UD ADVANCE institute’s national conference “Women of Color in the Academy: What’s Next?” held in Clayton Hall. Conference attendees had the opportunity to ask questions of the filmmaker, Roxana Walker-Canon, after the screening.  

At the October showing in the library, Pat DeLeon, Trustees Distinguished Professor of Biological Sciences, Regina Wright, associate professor in the School of Nursing, and Ann Aviles, assistant professor of human development and family studies, all shared their thoughts on the film at a panel discussion following the screening. 

Sharon Neal, associate professor of chemistry and biochemistry, moderated the panel.

“We thought it would be a great idea if people on campus who were not able to attend the conference were able to see [the film]. And we also thought that in addition to rescreening the film it would be interesting to have a conversation with some University of Delaware scholars around the theme of the film,” said Neal.

 The film features black women faculty members from a variety of higher education institutions. Each shared how their own educational experiences growing up have directly and indirectly affected their careers within the field of higher education.

While all of the faculty highlighted in the film had similar tales of being raised in families that valued education and stressed its importance, few were prepared for just how isolating the academy can be for faculty, particularly women faculty of color. 

Those in the film related to having their academic subject questioned on its rigor, or experiencing different expectations for faculty based on their gender.

The UD panelists echoed these sentiments.

“I remember when I started at Delaware. I was the first black woman in the sciences in the entire University,” recalled DeLeon. “[A colleague] asked about my research area. I said I was a reproductive geneticist, I study sperm function, and he said to me, ‘Could you work in something less personal, like viruses?’”

The three panelists represented a wide range of experience with the University of Delaware. DeLeon began working at the University in 1976. Wright grew up in Delaware, attended UD as an undergraduate and returned as a faculty member in 2011. Aviles started this fall.

The Office of the Vice Provost for Diversity and the University of Delaware Library hosted the screening and discussion. The film is part of the library’s permanent collection and is available for viewing.

The event coincided with the library announcing its acquisition of the papers of L. Eudora Pettigrew, the first African American to hold a position in central administration at the University of Delaware. Pettigrew was appointed associate provost for instruction in 1981.

Also on display in the Morris Library is the first floor exhibition, “Two Steps Forward, One Step Back? Women of Color and the Dance of Academe,” curated by librarian Carol Rudisell.


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