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Chapter 3 Women of Color: Their Path to Leadership Makes for a Better Higher Education for All

Women of Color in Higher Education: Turbulent Past, Promising Future

ISBN: 978-1-78052-180-0, eISBN: 978-1-78052-169-5

Publication date: 18 August 2011


A threefold approach is taken to provide understanding about the experiences that women of color have faced in their entry and upward advancement into administration in higher education institutions. The three overarching frameworks are historical, sociological, and organizational or institutional. The historical approach divides the chapter into three parts: the past (1960–1989), the present (1990–2010), and the future (2010 and beyond). Within these three time periods, major societal forces at work (during the specific time frame) will be used to help explain the extent and type of access women of color had within society's formal institutions. Since specific focus of the book/volume is on women of color in higher education, the third major tread is to reveal what and how university and colleges did to provide greater access and upward mobility for women of color or how such institutional action helped to impede.

Part I: The past shows that since and due to the Civil Rights Movement, women of color were preoccupied with access into higher education as students, faculty, and administrators. The past could rightly be termed the age of Tokenism (1960–1989). During the start, there were too few qualified women of color to be competitive for entry into faculty roles, let alone administrative positions. However, scarcity in numbers does not provide a full picture as to the slow access and low numbers. Instead, society's view was faulty, overly simplistic, and its intervention strategies hurt more than helped the situation. Particularly, the general thinking was that institutions were fair and okay, the problem lay with persons of color; they were disadvantaged in many ways, so they could not compete adequately. However, this one-sided view was biased and placed many unnecessary barriers for women of color and maintained favoritism and control for white males.

Part II: The present (1990–2010) demonstrates that progress by institutions of higher education (IHEs) to include women of color into administration was better but still unnecessarily slow and remained inadequate. While the initial strategies of affirmative action and blaming the victim for their plight were insufficient in the past, dynamics in society changed drastically in the present stage. Primarily, business in the United States, because of world competition, looked inward and out of necessity fundamentally reengineered itself. This one sweeping social dynamic caused traditionally discriminated groups to call for higher education to examine itself. In so doing, institutional racism was exposed and emphasized. No longer were women of color having to fit the white male mode for acceptance, and the customary “rites of passage” were questioned and altered, along with other practices. With a larger qualified pool of women of color due to past efforts, and to a larger extent a more level playing field in higher education, women of color enhanced their status. More importantly, the stage is now set for a much brighter future.

Part III: The future promises to be better for all: women of color, higher education, future generation of students, and society. Even though the conditions higher education institutions are facing are more difficult and the negative trends likely to persist, women of color can make great advances provided they capitalize on the events and assume some different roles. Specifically, it is proposed that women of color should actualize their natural leadership styles of participatory and transformational; they act as agents of change; and make a concerted effort to mentor and network younger women of color. Underlining the promise of a better future is that women of color know how to overcome hardships and they are better able to redesign institutions, change outdated practices, and shape the future of IHEs to fit the new paradigms. To date, on a microlevel this is what they have done to be personally successful, surely they can work on the macrolevel to make for stronger and effective IHEs.


Valverde, L.A. (2011), "Chapter 3 Women of Color: Their Path to Leadership Makes for a Better Higher Education for All", Jean-Marie, G. and Lloyd-Jones, B. (Ed.) Women of Color in Higher Education: Turbulent Past, Promising Future (Diversity in Higher Education, Vol. 9), Emerald Group Publishing Limited, Leeds, pp. 49-75.



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