Nottingham emeritus professor among ‘phenomenal women’ in portrait exhibition


October 1st, 2020

A University of Nottingham emeritus professor is among 40 phenomenal women being celebrated in the first ever photographic exhibition to honour Britain’s black women professors.

Professor Gina Higginbottom MBE, who is also an alumna of the university, will be seen as part of the Phenomenal Women: Portraits of UK Black Female Professors, which features portraits of professors across a broad range of subjects including law, medicine, creative writing and sociology.

It was researched and curated by Dr Nicola Rollock, Reader in Equity & Education at Goldsmiths University of London, who has been examining the career experiences and strategies of black female professors at UK higher education establishments over the past three years.

Professor Higginbottom, Emeritus Professor in Ethnicity and Health, said: “I am immensely proud and privileged to be one of the 40 black female professors in this exhibition. Less than 0.5 per cent of the academic workforce in the UK are black and female. Each woman has trod a unique and individual path achieving against all the odds and overcoming many challenges. I applaud all the women for their achievements and tenacity and, of course, the research director Dr Nicola Rollock.

“I never regarded my academic role as a job – it has been and continues to be a way of life and amazing privilege.”

Professor Higginbottom’s career as a nurse, midwife and health visitor spanned 22 years and she later returned to the University as Mary Seacole Professor of Ethnicity and Community Health in its School of Health Sciences, where her research focused on ethnic minority populations and immigrant health.

Fewer than 1% of professors in the UK are black despite increases in overall levels of academic staff. Black women represent the smallest group when both race and gender are considered together. They are three times less likely to be professors than their white female counterparts and half as likely as black men.

It aims to highlight the presence and excellence of all the women included and provide a platform for debate about what it takes to reach this highest level of academic scholarship. The 40 women have all been professors at some point over the past three years. The project builds on Dr Rollock’s 2019 research which showed the barriers faced by black women as they worked to navigate their way through higher education and the strategies they used to help them reach professorship.

The portraits, which were taken by photographer Bill Knight OBE, will be on display and open to the public at City Hall in London from Wednesday 18 March until Tuesday 31 March. Professor Higginbottom’s portrait will then move to its permanent home in the University of Nottingham’s School of Health Sciences.

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