In 1891, the state of Texas established the Industrial Institute and College for the Education of White Girls of the State of Texas in the Arts and Sciences. Located in the city of Denton, north of Dallas, the Industrial Institute is today known as Texas Woman’s College. This was the female counterpart of the Agricultural and Mechanical College of Texas, which the state legislature had established twenty years earlier, and which today goes under the name of Texas A&M University.
In the words of the enabling legislation, the Industrial Institute was intended as a place where white girls could acquire
“a thorough normal education, together with a knowledge of kindergarten instruction, together with a knowledge of telegraphy, stenography, and photography; also a knowledge of fancy, practical and general needle work, and also a knowledge of bookkeeping, with such other practical industries as may from time to time . . . be suggested by experience [as] fitting such girls for the practical industries of the age.”
Needless to say, much has changed since these lines were written. TWU was integrated in 1961 and matriculated men in 1994. But what interests me today is how “the practical industries of the age” have changed.
This is because I just received an e-mail from a doctoral student at TWU, inviting me to participate in her dissertation research. She is proposing to write a dissertation entitled,
“A Qualitative Exploration of Women-of-Color Professional Academic Advisors’ Perceptions and Experiences,”
and to present in this dissertation more or less what the title promises.
Now, academic advising is certainly one of the “practical industries of the age,” so this dissertation might be said to roughly align with the intentions of those old legislators. I daresay they would not be happy if they looked into what is nowadays meant by “a qualitative exploration,” but one could, perhaps, put their minds at ease by explaining that it is the “fancy needle work” of the twenty-first century.
What would really baffle those old legislators is that phrase “women-of-color,” and this not only, or even primarily, because they thought they had established the Industrial Institute “for the education of white girls.” As the doctoral candidate explains, to participate in her study, one must
“self-identify as a Woman of Color.”
Or, rather, one must self-identify with the definition of Woman of Color that the doctoral student helpfully provides. She begins by explaining that Woman of Color is
“an inclusive term for non-White women (e.g. cisgender women, transgender women, gender nonconforming persons who for professional reasons may find this language most appropriate).”
In other words, she will accept you as a woman if you present yourself to coworkers and students as a woman. You may be an actual, honest-to-god woman, or a man who believes he is a woman, or a man who knows he is a man but pretends to be a woman “for professional reasons.” It’s all good. But you had better not be one of them “white girls.”
The doctoral student goes on to explain that to be “of Color,” one must have been (personally or by legacy) on the receiving end of
“oppression at the intersection of race, class, and gender/identity expression in relation to European-based cultures.”
I don’t think one is required to tick the “class” box, since that would mean someone like Oprah Winfrey is not a Woman of Color; and we have already seen what “gender/identity expression” means. But race is non-negotiable. You had better not be one of them “white girls.” You can be anything else, really. Just not one of them “white girls.”
Lest the qualifier “non-White women” scare off some authentic Women of Color, the doctoral student provides “a few examples of how Women of Color might identify themselves.” These
“include: Black, Latina, Asian-American, Bi-racial, Hispanic, Native American, African American, Multi-ethnic, Indigenous, Asian, Arab American, Multi-Racial, Jewish, and so on.”
The examples are, in fact, limited to those you see in this list, but when it comes to the actual identities, the category Women of Color obviously includes many, many more. In fact, with the exception of “white girls,” it includes just about any sort of woman you can imagine (along with a few men).
This seems to me a very fine thing. After all, what could be more advantageous in “the education of white girls” than to lean that all the girls are going to be invited to a big party. All the girls, that is, except them.