WNN: How does it feel to have been chosen director of the Center for Women?
Yarbrough: I was thrilled. I really liked the people I met here, where the job was located, that it covers the entire University. [Yarbrough’s position at Tufts focused on students.] I liked Earl Lewis—he seemed like a person who would be moving a diversity agenda forward. All of these things really appealed to me, and Emory in general . . . there are so many enormous things going on here that make it a very exciting place to be. Before I change anything, I would like to see how things work.
WNN: During the interview process, did you see anything about the center you might want to change?
Yarbrough: I would like to see the center serve as many kinds of people as possible—faculty, staff, students, a mixture of racial groups, sexualities, and international and domestic [community members]. So far, I haven’t heard anything that would raise red flags. I really like the financial planning series. Oddly, I haven’t seen a lot of that at other women’s centers. Women still make less than men and still have challenges in terms of negotiating financial matters. Financially, women are treated differently in the workplace than men, much to their detriment. I think this type of practical-skill learning is great.
WNN: What other types of challenges do women face in the academy?
Yarbrough: Some people see women’s higher college graduation rates as a sign that women have made it, but we need to look at what barriers women still have, such as moving up within colleges as faculty or staff administrators. Women are still primarily in the least lucrative majors—not business and engineering or the hard sciences but rather education and the humanities. How can we shift some of that? For men, it would be wonderful to have more of them as K–12 teachers. I also worry that there’s this pressure to maintain a 50-50 balance in colleges. What does that mean for women to have to work harder to get into college than men? Looking at those kinds of issues will be important for universities to do over the next few decades.
WNN: Why did you want to move away from your work with LGBT students to work with women?
Yarbrough: I started out doing women’s center work. I felt that the LGBT center was an offshoot of my gender work, coming back to my original interests rather than a departure. I’ve always seen gender and sexuality as highly intersecting areas, not separate realms. Certainly, the focus in my academic work has been gender and sexuality.
WNN: What’s your personal background?
Yarbrough: I grew up in Leeland, Mississippi, on the river, a very, very poor, predominantly black town known for its blues. [Yarbrough’s family moved to Pensacola, Florida, when she was ten.] When we moved, I was behind in school, especially in math. They were on a whole different level than I had been in. It was hard to catch up academically. I was an average student until the beginning of high school, when I became a straight-A student. I felt palpably that being a smart girl gave me a kind of respect from male students I wouldn’t have ordinarily had. I was very shy—a total bookworm who could sit in a chair and read for six hours.[Yarbrough was an only child, but her family always had a dog. She read Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women twenty-one times.]
WNN: What are you looking forward to in moving to Atlanta?
Yarbrough: [Laughs.] I’m looking forward to the weather. I’m looking forward to the kind of everyday friendliness you find in the South. There’s a certain friendliness to small, everyday interactions that makes life more pleasant. There are wonderful things here—cultural opportunities, restaurants, the mountains. My partner and I like to do outdoor things, and we’re looking forward to doing them most of the year instead of only a few months. I’m looking forward to being closer to my parents; they’re moving back to Mississippi to retire.
Stacey Jones is a writer and editor in Emory Creative Group, secretary of the Center for Women Advisory Board, and a member of the editorial board of Women’s News & Narratives.
© 2008 EMORY CREATIVE GROUP