I am absolutely thrilled that my alma mater The University of Texas at Austin Department of History has selected Dr. Daina Ramey Berry as its new Chair. What a bold move! Dr. Ramey Berry will be the first African American woman in the Department’s 132-year history to serve in this leadership role.
This is a big step for my alma mater.
A distinguished scholar, experienced administrator and institutional servant, Dr. Daina Ramey Berry is well-prepared and positioned to lead our department. Her research agenda focuses on the enslaved, and she is author of The Price for Their Pound of Flesh: The Value of the Enslaved from Womb to Grave in the Building of a Nation. As her institutional service demonstrates, Dr. Ramey Berry comes with a wealth of credentials and leadership experience that will add value to the direction and growth of the department.
I find this selection notable, especially considering my experience at UT. To put it frankly, it was extremely isolating.
I never saw myself in the department, nor did I ever feel like it saw me.
Even up to the 2000s, the Department failed to embrace the presence of African Americans as students or professionals. To put this fact in perspective, let’s view the realities. There was not one African American professor in the Department when I arrived nor when I graduated. On top of that, Dr. Alton Hornsby was the first African American to receive a doctorate from the Department in 1968. I was the second in 2000. In fact, my personal motto to keep me moving forward through the difficult matriculation process was
If Hornsby can finish in ’68, I can finish in ’98.
Although I recognize that a lot can and has changed in twenty years, institutional racism and sexism run deep. Yes, change is inevitable; however, it is extremely difficult to dismantle systemic structures. Understanding the culture of the University and Department, which perpetuates Whiteness and male dominance in both sophisticated and unsophisticated ways, I commend my Department and alma mater for making such a courageous and “revolutionary” decision. Dr. Berry’s presence in this roles speaks volumes…
Dr. Ramey Berry begins her term on September 1st.
Congratulations, Dr. Berry! I am soooo happy for and proud of you! I am expecting great leadership from you! I am sure that the Department and University, if they have not done so already, will recognize the gem that they have in you!