Discussing Emerging Forms of Leadership in Higher Education with the editors of Dismantling Institutional Whiteness

Purdue University Press talked to M. Cristina Alcalde and Mangala Subramaniam, editors of Dismantling Institutional Whiteness: Emerging Forms of Leadership in Higher Education about this new collaborative work.

Q: Could you give a brief description of your book? What is the goal of your book? What motivated you to write it?

In Dismantling Institutional Whiteness: Emerging Forms of Leadership in Higher Education, we foreground the experiences of women of color in leadership roles in higher education. More specifically, we emphasize the experience of working within the parameters of predominantly white institutions (PWIs) for women of color.

Chapters, and the book as a whole, provide research, first-person narratives, and strategies for tackling change for those in leadership positions in spaces that remain predominantly white.

The book also provides administrators of all backgrounds, and those considering a career in administration, with insights into what works, what doesn’t, and how to create more inclusive working and learning environments in which women of color can excel and apply their expertise for the benefit of all.

Whether you identify as a woman of color, or as an ally, this book is for you.

As women of color leaders and scholars ourselves, we know that the experiences of women of color leaders are both misunderstood and valuable and wanted to use this opportunity to identify patterns across various types of institutions, including R1 universities and liberal arts colleges, that work against change. We also wanted to identify strategies for addressing these challenges.

Q: What are a few things that are being studied for the first time in this book?

We are certainly not the first to bring attention to embedded forms of racism and bias in academia, and we draw on and point to the work of other scholars and leaders in the book. We do, however, think the focus specifically on and by women of color in leadership roles on their/our experiences of working in and seeking to dismantle structures of whiteness in higher ed is unique.

More broadly, the voices of women of color and their work on diversity as leaders have rarely been discussed in scholarly work and in scholarship on the history of higher education and we seek to change that, for those of us currently in leadership roles and for future generations.

We directly address both the professional costs and the consequences that all too often remain invisible in considerations and discussions of leadership for women of color.

Rather than simply group all women of color together, contributors examine how even across similarities and intersecting identities, we must make visible and address the biases and behaviors that Black women, Latinx women, and Asian women experience specifically if we are to successfully address these.

We find, over and over again, that position and location in terms of gender identity, class, racial and ethnic background, migration status, and different abilities are the basis of the experiences of women of color across layers of leadership. These intersecting identities shape career trajectories, the leadership positions women of color are expected or allowed to inhabit, and the roles they fulfill, which are frequently stereotyped in gendered and racialized ways.

Q: This book is the first in the new Navigating Careers in Higher Education series. Can you tell us a bit about the series and the inspiration behind it?

As Mangala grew into her administrative role, she recognized the gap between policy and practice and even the limited or lack of consideration of knowledge in developing policies on various aspects of higher education. Connecting these dots as well as bringing varying experiences to the center of discussions in higher education, she recognized, was needed and important. She had thought about the focus of the book series well before she approached Justin Race, the Director of PUP. She was not sure how her idea would be received but found Justin to be very receptive and thoughtful about what she planned to accomplish in the series. It was an exciting beginning! Mangala then approached Cristina to serve as a co-editor and we put together an editorial board.

“Whether you identify as a woman of color, or as an ally, this book is for you.”

Q: Is there anything that shocked or surprised you while working on this project?

It has been both comforting and sad that across a variety of institutions, the obstacles and challenges remain so similar and familiar. We remain convinced that we must both make visible and address the forms of bias–covert and overt–that so many leaders and potential leaders confront daily.

Women of color faculty and administrators, as the chapters illustrate, continue to be called upon as essential caregivers at the same time as our emotional labor is dismissed as an unwritten part of our leadership roles and embodiment of diversity, and any refusal to provide this additional labor, on top of our expertise, is viewed as defiant or worse.

Q: What advice do you have for faculty candidates of color?

In a broad sense, we would suggest that faculty candidates of color be aware of the context they are entering because there are similarities and differences in institutional contexts. This helps both to have valuable data and to identify patterns so that individuals do not feel so alone, or that they are the only ones experiencing something that is more widespread, and so they know how to approach challenges when these arise. For the most part, we would suggest that faculty of color seek out mentors – multiple mentors (across gender and race) and ask about support programs and initiatives at the institutions they are considering—are there affinity groups? Leadership programs? Speaker series? Professional development opportunities?

Q: Do you think experiences and expectations differ for faculty candidates/faculty members of color based on gender? If so, can you tell us a little bit about how and why? Do you think the differences can or should be addressed? How?

We would look at this specifically from the lens of ‘difference’ that is tied to power and privilege. Institutions of higher education vary in how they approach, understand, and respond to differences based on gender, race, ethnicity, body ability, sexual orientation, among others, and which intersectionally shape experiences. This manifests in the varying expectations of faculty members of color and more so if one were to consider the intersections of gender and race. At the leadership level, this is evident in the interactional experiences of women of color in exercising authority, seeking quality work, or completing work in a timely manner. Stereotypes of women of color leaders are often evoked to ‘push back’ on their abilities and stymie accomplishments. These challenges can be daunting at times and can lead to departures of women of color leaders. The book’s contributors discuss some of these aspects of leadership that women of color encounter and navigate.

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