When Dr Nicola Rollock was given a grant two years ago to look into the careers of Black female professors in the UK, there were just 25, out of 19,000 professors at British universities. ‘I had so many questions,’ says Rollock. ‘Why are there so few? What was their journey? What stories and advice did they have to share?’
With her research, the academic made some recommendations for change, but she also wanted the public to engage with these shocking statistics and the stories of the professors. ‘Many of the experiences resonated with me. Some of the professors talked about a competitive, toxic and unwelcoming academic terrain.’
As well as provoking a much-needed conversation, Rollock wanted to celebrate the now 35 Black female professors at UK universities. The result is ‘Phenomenal Women’, an exhibition at the Southbank Centre, which features portraits of the scholars by photographer Bill Knight, including the four London-based professors pictured here. Rollock hopes that people learn something from the project. ‘I want them to think: I didn’t know this data existed. I want them to be disturbed by that, but I also want them to be fascinated by these women. They come to life in Bill’s portraits.’
The Southbank Centre will be closed during lockdown, but visit the website for updates, plus videos and essays you can watch and read online.
Professor of Organisation Studies at Queen Mary, University of London. She looks at how policy can aid social inequality and injustice.
Professor of Black Art and Design at UAL and, in 2021, will be the first Black woman to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale.
Professor of Sociology at the University of Greenwich. Her research focuses on families, migrants and gender and racial identities.
Professor of Creative Writing at Brunel University London. In 2019, she became the first Black woman to win the Booker Prize.