For Christian women called to both motherhood and the academy, the challenges of trying to balance career, family, and faith can be overwhelming. Enter Power Women: Stories of Motherhood, Faith, & the Academy, a new book created by and for Christian academic mothers navigating this complex calling in life. With a wide variety of contributors from different backgrounds, academic disciplines, and stages of both parenting and career, the volume offers data, personal stories, and resources not only for academic mothers, but also for administrators and other faculty who seek to support the professor mothers among them.
For the book’s editors, the project was personal. Nancy Wang Yuen is an associate professor of sociology at Biola University (La Mirada, CA), a sociologist, and a pop culture expert. Deshonna Collier-Goubil is the founding chair of the department of criminal justice at Azusa Pacific University (Azusa, CA), where she is now serving as interim dean of the School of Behavioral and Applied Sciences. Both are also mothers.
Kim Phipps, who is in her 17th year as president of Messiah University (Mechanicsburg, PA), spent many years as a professor on Christian campuses, and is a mother herself, interviewed Yuen and Collier-Goubil to talk about the book and how it can be used by CCCU leaders to support the academic mothers on campus. This conversation has been edited for length and clarity. The full conversation is available on the CCCU’s YouTube channel.
Kim Phipps: I’d like to start by asking both of you to share what motivated you to work on this particular volume.
Nancy Wang Yuen: I was part of a professor mothers group at Biola University. Most of us had young children and were trying to navigate a complex and challenging work environment [while] balancing our family and our faith and our work, whether that was research or teaching and service. … Out of that working group came a desire to document what we were going through [in order] to be able to share some of that wisdom and to disseminate it to a larger audience. I think that there are some very unique challenges that Christian women of faith who are professors, both in Christian universities as well as non-Christian universities, face in being able to balance these often competing but synergistic interests in our lives. The germination of the seeds of that became Power Women. …
Deshonna Collier-Goubil: There is a dearth in the research, so there’s a gap where the experiences of Christian faculty moms hadn’t been discussed. …. So we put our heads together to think about what are some of the unique experiences, challenges, and joys, and that’s how we came up with the list of topics and contributing authors.
Phipps: There’s a lot of interesting data in here. … There were two things that I think administrators should especially be thinking about. … One is the tenure gap for academic moms, who are three times less likely than men with children or women without children to get tenured. Second, there’s the data that shows that even though they may have a dip in their publication productivity early on in motherhood, academic moms actually produce more publications than their peers over time. What can we do on our campuses to better support academic women who are also mothers, and how we can make it possible for them to achieve their professional goals?
Yuen: I think that tenure looks different across the different CCCU campuses, and that there isn’t [always] the “tenure clock” in the same way that there is in a lot of universities. [But there is] tension in the fact that women, especially women with children, are slower to get tenure or don’t achieve tenure as much because of that tenure clock. There’s the intersection between the tenure clock and the biological clock, which makes it really difficult to be productive in those first years of the tenure clock because you kind of have to choose between having children or being productive. And if you do have children, then [you may] have to sacrifice or at least be very strategic in being able to balance the research and writing — and when you become a new professor, you also have to teach and do service. It’s a lot to have to do in those first years.
Part of the reason why I chose my first job to be at Biola is because there was no clock – I could actually have children and delay tenure if I wanted to. And that was actually really a selling point for me. But I know that at other universities, if there is a tenure clock, there needs to be flexibility. Especially with that statistic that comes out of one of our chapters on research by Dr. Maria Su Wang, where she finds that mothers, even with additional children, are actually more productive [after the initial years of child-rearing], which is so counter to what university administrators imagine. There’s that stereotype that if you have lots of children, then you’re not going to have that productivity. But that’s actually not true in terms of statistics. I think that that’s very valuable to know that in fact, if we were to just delay that clock a bit, that mothers with children actually are as much, if not more, productive in terms of research productivity. I think universities need to be very mindful of that, especially administrators, in instituting parental leave … for both mothers and fathers. So especially at Christian universities, we really should be supportive of families and allow for that kind of flexibility.
Phipps: Absolutely. Christian universities and colleges have an even greater responsibility, I think, because of what our value system is — to care for families. And yet when I talk to women across the CCCU, sometimes they find a real resistance to that kind of flexibility and unwillingness to address some of those challenges. And they see it as sometimes rooted in the way the church broadly is structured. I wondered if that was also your perspective — that sometimes our own theological commitments, which really aren’t related to this issue, but somehow they adversely affect the way we support families on our campuses, particularly women.
Collier-Goubil: Yes, I think on Christian campuses, we do have this mixing between our theological perspectives and our church experiences, into this unique place of employment. … We have a chapter by Dr. Teri Clemons that talks about the misperceptions of maternity leave in the academy. … There’s this thought that maternity leave is like a vacation, so mom faculty should be super productive during those times. But having [an infant] at home or, if you’ve adopted children, introducing kids into your home, it’s completely chaotic, and your time is all over the place. That should definitely be considered by administrators.
But I think the main takeaway [in the book] for administrators — specifically on Christian campuses, where oftentimes leadership roles are male dominated — should be listening to the stories. Throughout the book, there are so many personal stories that will help to identify and give voice to your faculty’s needs. That might help administrators when they’re thinking about tenure and promotion decisions.
Yuen: Yes, and I think that parental leave often looks different for men and women. Men do use parental leave often to do research, whereas women as the primary caregivers — not just in Christian households but across society — find it much more difficult to be able to catch up on work or complete projects while also taking care of children.
We’ve seen this during the pandemic. We started this [book] several years back, but … there’s research that’s already showing that there’s a huge productivity gap … because of the shutting down of daycares and places where children can go when parents are working. Mothers are bearing the brunt of that, and now women are seen as less productive because they can’t use that time. How can they possibly balance helping young children get on Zoom to do their classes, and on top of that teach their own Zoom classes and write a book? This is asking way too much. But we’re seeing that administrators, more than ever, need to be sensitive and understand the unequal societal expectations placed on mothers to care for children, especially during this time. …
Collier-Goubil: This also tags onto … promotion opportunities into administrative positions. Coming out of the pandemic, there’s been a lot of movement in our economy — economists are calling this the Great Resignation because so many people are shifting positions. How many of our mom faculty even have the energy to apply for a position that may have become available in their university? I think administrators need to identify those faculty and send them a note and encourage them. … Sometimes, they just need that nudge, because it was a very difficult period of time for people who had to both care for their children at home and then also work at the same time. …
Phipps: One of the things I appreciated is that the book was hopeful while clearly pointing out the challenges. There were wonderful messages of how to support each other well. Could you speak to the importance of creating spaces, whether on campus or in the church, for people to listen to each other’s stories and then learn from those stories to be able to put support mechanisms in place?
Yuen: Absolutely, and there needs to be funding for it. [For our group,] what was lovely was that we were able to get some money to have lunches. Because professor mothers, our time is so limited. Most of us are trying to schedule our classes so that we can go home and be able to spend time with our kids, help them with homework, or just let the babysitter or caregiver off. … But our mental health, our spiritual health, our emotional health is so important. So being able to have that watercooler time to be able to talk with colleagues to share information — that’s so valuable, as we know, for professional growth and advancement. … [It was so helpful to have the funding] to sit down, eat, and be able to share wisdom and resources. … But we also were able to get money for speakers [to come to the lunches]. One of our contributors, Dr. Doretha O’Quinn, was one of our speakers for the group. … From that visit, she was able to then mentor a lot of professor mothers who really got so much from her previous talk and how she was able to navigate successfully all of that before us. All of that is so essential for Christian institutions to support professor mothers in that way so that we can contribute and grow and give more back to the university and our students.
Collier-Goubil: We also have a couple other [chapters highlighting] holistic support. Dr. Yiesha Thompson speaks from the perspective of being an adjunct faculty and that, even for adjuncts, there’s need for that support so that they can share resources to improve their craft. Dr. Yvana Uranga-Hernandez talks about homeschooling [and working], which completely blew me away — because this is a dream, sometimes, I think a lot of Christian moms have about wanting to homeschool and wanting to work. And here she is, doing both. A part of that was her connecting with these support services in selecting her homeschool community. So, she talks about how that support is needed. Nancy and I have a chapter where I also talk about being a solo parent. My husband passed away two years ago, so I solo parent our twins. I talk about my village — it’s an old African proverb that it takes a village to raise children — so I talk about my village and what that looks like.
I think this book can be such a support to even spark these conversations. At the end of the book, we have discussion questions to use as a tool to help the mom faculty to begin to think about how they can find this support … and for administrators to say, “Okay, what’s the list? How can we support you best? Here’s where we can put our money where our mouth is because we want to invest in you who bring so many gifts to our campus.”
Phipps: Do you start [those conversations on the book] with administrative leadership? Do you start with a group of professor mothers themselves? Do you start with a mixed group? What do you think would be the best way to introduce this book into the fabric of a CCCU campus community?
Collier-Goubil: I would say all hands on deck, especially coming out of the pandemic. I think prior to the pandemic, I probably would have said start with professor moms to help them to identify the unique needs of their particular campus. But coming out of the pandemic … it would be beneficial to campuses to have both administrators reading this together as a reading group, and then also allowing professor moms, these power women, to have a reading group as well. There are two different things that are going to happen from those two different groups.
For professor moms, they’re going to be able to identify and kind of begin to creatively come up with what they can do to band together to have scholarship … [and] to craft a better idea about how to move forward in their careers. For administrators to get together and to read the stories … [it will help them identify ways] to come back and offer support that would speak so much life into these women, which then reverberates throughout the entire university — the departments will be better, the programs will be better, and the students will be better….
Yuen: I remember when I attended a dinner at the president’s house as a new faculty, and I had to bring my child. I was wearing her, and I definitely felt like some people were like, “Where’s your husband?” They were kind of confused by my existence because I was not what they imagined a new professor to look like. …There are biases [like these] that I think administrators if they are reading [the book], they could talk about, whether it’s in themselves or in members of their division. In terms of retention, we need to unearth and be able to address that, because those biases can turn into toxic work environments for professor mothers, who have so much to contribute. These power women have so much to contribute.