Them Bad Girls At Spelman

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Abstract Summary

African-American respectability politics are founded in ideals of whiteness, yet they are reinforced within the homes, social spaces, and institutions of the black community. HBCUs have long served as hubs of black intellectualism and racial uplift, but have not escaped the consequences of conformity to identity conventions. At Spelman College, this ideal manifested into the image of the “The Spelman Woman" -- a student who exemplifies societal notions of propriety -- which has led to the ostracization of students who do not fit this model. “Them Bad Girls At Spelman” utilizes handbooks, publications, and student records found within the school’s archives to narrate the sociopolitical climate at Spelman from the 1950s through the 1970s. The study compares the oppositional viewpoints of students and the administration by reconstructing pivotal events and individual experiences. By introducing the stories of students whose actions challenged Spelman’s legacy and traditions, this work argues that what was perceived as bad behavior actually served to promote a more inclusive image of who and what a Spelman woman could be. Ultimately, this work shows that unconventionality is rewarded by the expansion of spaces in which Black women can both cultivate change within their communities and express their authentic identities.

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