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Lean Semesters

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Lean Semesters

How Higher Education Reproduces Inequity

Addressing in depth the reality that women of color, particularly black women, face compounded exploitation and economic inequality within the neoliberal university.

More Black women are graduating with advanced degrees than ever before. Despite the fact that their educational and professional opportunities should be expanding, highly educated Black women face strained and worsening economic, material, and labor conditions in graduate school and along their academic career trajectory. Black women are less likely to be funded as graduate students, are disproportionately hired as contingent faculty, are trained and hired within undervalued disciplines, and incur the highest levels of educational debt.

In Lean Semesters, Sekile M. Nzinga argues that the corporatized university—long celebrated as a purveyor of progress and opportunity—actually systematically indebts and disposes of Black women's bodies, their intellectual contributions, and their potential en masse. Insisting that "shifts" in higher education must recognize such unjust dynamics as intrinsic, not tangential, to the operation of the neoliberal university, Nzinga draws on candid interviews with thirty-one Black women at various stages of their academic careers. Their richly varied experiences reveal why underrepresented women of color are so vulnerable to the compounded forms of exploitation and inequity within the late capitalist terrain of this once-revered social institution.

Amplifying the voices of promising and prophetic Black academic women by mapping the impact of the current of higher education on their lives, the book's collective testimonies demand that we place value on these scholars' intellectual labor, untapped potential, and humanity. It also illuminates the ways past liberal feminist "victories" within academia have yet to become accessible to all women. Informed by the work of scholars and labor activists who have interrogated the various forms of inequity produced and reproduced by institutions of higher education under neoliberalism, Lean Semesters serves as a timely and accessible call to action.