I grew up in a rural part of northern Michigan's Upper Peninsula, where the population could only be described as homogenous. In my quest to escape poverty and bias, I became the only person in my family to earn a college degree—and now I've created the Penn Center for Minority Serving Institutions at the University of Pennsylvania as a way of giving opportunities to others. It’s a center to which students, scholars, and Minority Serving Institutions can turn for support, advice, mentoring, and assistance in their careers and leadership roles. In addition to being a full-time professor, I run the Penn Center as a labor of love.
I've been a professor for 18 years and have published 26 books. However, nothing has received as much attention as a recent article I wrote for the Hechinger Report entitled, "The Five Things No One Will Tell You about Why Colleges Don't Hire More Faculty of Color." The article was picked up by the Washington Post, and within a few hours, it was shared more than 300,000 times on social media. I received over 7,000 email responses to it. The piece took on some of the institutional bias that makes it more difficult for doctoral students of color to get jobs within colleges and universities. About 6,000 of the responses—each of which I answered—were from people of color with Ph.D.s who couldn't find jobs. About 500 responses were from people who had done the things I talked about in the piece that made it difficult to find jobs.
I've had to develop a speech based on this piece because I get asked about it so often. I've already given 15 major keynote addresses about the topic of faculty recruiting and diversity. And it will be the basis of an upcoming book.
I started the Penn Center in 2014 for one reason: At that point, I had been a full professor for quite a while. Sitting in my office, I thought, "Okay, here I am with all these books and all these articles I’ve written. I can either sit here and keep them, or I could start a center where I could share all of the knowledge and resources that I have acquired with others." I got a feasibility grant to create a plan to start the center and, instead, I just used the money to start it.
I get questioned constantly about my research related to Minority Serving Institutions (MSIs). I have people ask me why I care about these 650+ institutions. Our center is focused on providing exposure to MSIs throughout the United States through rigorous research and programming. There are still people who don't take my research seriously, but I have found that being published with top book publishers and in highly ranked journals makes a difference.
At some point, I would like to lead a foundation. But right now, I like having the academic freedom to lead the center while continuing to do research and teach.
However, by leading a foundation someday, I think I could address some major problems and have a justice-oriented agenda. I'm not a quiet, demure woman, and I like working on the ground to create positive change.
I’ve saved with TIAA since I was 24 years old, at three universities. The whole idea of investing and ensuring that you’re comfortable when you retire is important to me, after seeing what my mom has gone through. She lives on Social Security and Medicaid, and my little sister and I take care of her. I feel very secure, and that’s a security that my mom does not have.