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### Enhancing Black Women’s Graduate Success: The Vital Role of Faculty Diversity and Colorful Mentors

for African American women. The presence of mentors in graduate school who resonate with the students can profoundly influence their sense of belonging, perseverance, and achievements in their academic journey. Despite the recognition by some higher education institutions of the necessity to enhance faculty diversity, African American students, notably African American women, encounter challenges in finding faculty mentors who they can connect with on a personal level. Structural barriers in academic environments often compel African American women to conform to societal norms of race and class, leading them to suppress their unique cultural identities and capabilities.

Common themes in the experiences of African American students in higher education include stereotype threat, feelings of isolation, undervaluation, and disrespect, all of which contribute to a sense of alienation in academic spaces. The phenomenon of negative stereotyping typically initiates in elementary school, where African American and Latino students, along with those from low-income backgrounds, face disparities in educational resources and access to advanced courses like AP and STEM. African American women, in particular, encounter distinct challenges due to the intersectionality of their race and gender. Despite earning a significant percentage of associate’s, bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees, they often grapple with being marginalized in predominantly White, male-dominated academic settings.

In a recent research study focusing on the experiences of African American women in doctoral programs, insights from five participants shed light on the factors influencing their academic journey. The study underscores the importance of amplifying the voices of current graduate students to provide leaders with genuine insights into the factors impacting their educational experiences. The participants highlighted the scarcity of female faculty of color as mentors and their feelings of isolation and distrust towards the higher education system.

The lack of relatable mentors and role models exacerbates the sense of alienation felt by many African American women in doctoral programs. The absence of mentors who mirror their identities often leaves them feeling like outsiders in their academic pursuits. It is noteworthy that African American female faculty members encounter similar challenges to their students. Personal experiences and conversations with study participants affirm the pivotal role of advisors and mentors in the success of doctoral students, offering essential guidance and support during challenging times. The participants emphasized that having a Black female advisor or mentor significantly enhanced their academic journey, providing a sense of validation, understanding, and empowerment in their studies. The encouragement and support from Black female faculty members fostered a feeling of belonging and community among the students. However, despite their significance in student success, faculty of color, especially Black women, remain underrepresented in academia. Data from the National Center for Education Statistics reveals a meager representation of Black full-time faculty, with only 6% being Black and merely 4% being Black women in 2021.

Participants candidly shared the ways in which graduate programs and higher education institutions are failing them. Despite the progress made by African American women in academia, instances of racism and sexism persist, creating barriers to their success. The narratives shared by the participants underscore the urgent need to address systemic inequalities and create inclusive environments in higher education. The reluctance of institutions to prioritize diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives further exacerbates the challenges faced by African American women and students of color. The study advocates for dismantling racist practices in higher education and fostering an environment that values and celebrates diversity.

To better support graduate students of color, particularly African American women, state policymakers and higher education leaders are urged to take proactive measures to enhance faculty diversity and ensure a positive academic experience for all students. Three actionable steps are recommended:

  1. Prioritize Representation: Institutions should adopt policies that promote access, persistence, and retention of diverse faculty members to create a supportive environment for students of color. Enhancing faculty diversity not only benefits students but also contributes to the overall success of academic institutions.
  2. Include Faculty Diversity in Strategic Plans: State leaders should integrate faculty diversity initiatives into strategic plans, setting clear goals and collaborating with institutional leaders to institutionalize these efforts effectively.
  3. Increase Funding for Research Opportunities: Investing in recruiting for doctoral programs and prioritizing research opportunities for aspiring academics can facilitate the transition into faculty careers for graduate students of color.

By implementing these actions, institutions can create a more inclusive and supportive environment where African American women and students of color feel empowered, supported, and motivated to pursue and complete their graduate or doctoral degrees successfully.