Rutgers University Women of Color Scholars Initiative
Overview. Rutgers University is one of the most historically, geographically and organizationally complex universities in the U.S.A. The original Rutgers College was a private, colonial college founded in 1766 (as Queens College). It was designated the State University of New Jersey by acts of the New Jersey Legislature in 1945 and 1956. The current Rutgers University also encompasses Douglass Residential College, founded as a public coordinate college for women in 1918 as the New Jersey College for women and The School of Environmental and Biological Sciences (formerly the New Jersey College for Agriculture and Cook College), founded as a land grant school in 1864. The Newark campus (formerly the University of Newark), founded in 1936, merged into the Rutgers system in 1946. The Camden campus (formerly the College of South Jersey and the South Jersey Law School) was added in 1950. Rutgers University is centrally administered from New Brunswick; however, chancellors at the Newark and Camden campuses hold significant autonomy. There is no chancellor on the New Brunswick campus where the Executive Vice President serves this role. The University offers more than 100 distinct bachelor, 100 master, and 80 doctoral and professional degree programs across 175 academic departments, 29 degree-granting schools and colleges, 16 of which offer graduate programs of study. Across the three campuses, Rutgers has approximately 57,000 students and 2,800 faculty. The New Brunswick campus is by far the largest unit at Rutgers and is home to 14 different schools and colleges and more than 38,000 students.
Rutgers is a member of the Association of American Universities (AAU), an organization that comprises North America’s 61 leading research universities. The AAU ranks Rutgers among the top 50 universities in the United States. It is also one of the most diverse. Since 1997, the first year that US News & World Report began ranking colleges on the diversity of their student bodies, US News has rated Rutgers-Newark the most diverse national university in the United States. At the student level, compared to its 34 public AAU peers, Rutgers is sixth in total minority enrollment: approximately 47 % are white, 20% are Asian, 11% Latino and 10 % African American. In terms of degrees awarded, it ranks first in the number of master’s degrees and second in the number of bachelor’s degrees earned by African Americans. For Latinos, it is eleventh in enrollment and eleventh in the number of baccalaureate degrees earned. At the faculty level, compared to its 34 public AAU peers, Rutgers University ranks fourth for full time female faculty, fifteenth for full time minority faculty and fourteenth for full time African American faculty.
Diversity Inc. ranks Rutgers University among the nation’s top five higher education institutions for commitment to diversity. This commitment, however, is observed in the student population but not among faculty members. In fact, an internal report conducted by Rutgers professor of political science, Mary Hawkesworth, demonstrated that the Rutgers faculty has become less diverse over the last 25 years. Specifically, the total numbers and percentages of all African-American and Latino faculty members steadily declined between 1976 and 2004. Out of the total full-time Rutgers faculty, African Americans constituted 6.8% (175) in 1976, 5% (128)
in 1992, and 4% (97) in 2004. A similar trend was seen for Latinos, who constituted 2.1% of the faculty in 1976, and 2% in 2004. In 2009, Rutgers employed only 50 Latinos, down from 63 in 1999. The numbers of women of color are even smaller, especially in the sciences. For the current academic year (2011-2012), a total of 15 African American women and 11 Latina women (respectively 6 and 4 % of the female faculty) are tenured/tenure tracked in STEM disciplines.
Rutgers SciWomen and NSF ADVANCE. In 2006, Rutgers University established the Office for the Promotion of Women in Science, Engineering, and Mathematics (“SciWomen”). Two years after its creation, SciWomen was awarded an ADVANCE Institutional Transformation grant from the National Science Foundation (RU FAIR ADVANCE). A major goal of the ADVANCE grant at Rutgers University has been to increase the number of women on the science, engineering, and mathematics faculty, with a special emphasis on women of color.
One mechanism used by the Rutgers ADVANCE program is the award of “mini grants.” In 2010, building on the Black Women Academics in the Ivory Tower conference previously held at Rutgers on March 5 and 6, 2009, Drs. Robyn Rodriguez (Sociology) and Zaire Dinzey-Flores Flores (Sociology & Latino and Hispanic and Caribbean Studies) applied for a mini-grant. They proposed a project specifically to serve women of color faculty at the University. Their initial vision was “to enhance the experience of women of color in academia and open institutional spaces supportive of women of color [by] … carv[ing] out a lasting intellectual space for women of color at Rutgers.”
RU FAIR ADVANCE awarded the mini grant and subsequently has supported a Women of Color Scholars Initiative (WoCSI) that employs various strategies including professional development training, mentoring workshops, social gatherings, and discussion-based meetings to help build a sense of community among women of color faculty, to reduce institutional seclusion and increase the retention of these faculty members. Since the RU FAIR ADVANCE grant began, there has been a 54% increase in the number of female faculty of color and a 19% increase in male faculty of color in STEM fields.
Rutgers Women of Color Scholars Initiative (WoCSI). Since its inception in 2010, the WoCSI initiative has been supported by funds from NSF ADVANCE and by staff from the SciWomen office, including director Natalie Batmanian and graduate assistant Crystal Bedley. The Initiative also has received guidance from Professor of Sociology Patricia Roos. The Rutgers Institute for Research on Women has provided administrative personnel, as well as securing space for events and assisting in the early coordination of programming to attract as many participants as possible. Finally, this past year, for the first time, the university’s central administration through the Office of the Vice President for Academic Affairs has contributed funds to support programming.
In the initial year, WoCSI provided a research forum for women of color to showcase research; workshops including speakers and facilitators to guide discussions on topics such as institutional and disciplinary networking, identity at the academy, mentoring, promotion and tenure, etc.; and a focus group session to examine the experiences of women of color at Rutgers. An important outcome of the activities for this initial year was to create a resource center on the Rutgers’ Sakai site (an Internet repository and social media resource platform), where the group has been able to share insights in a comfortable, secure setting.
In the second year of the Initiative (2010-2011), Dr. Niki Dickerson von Lockette (Labor Studies and Employment Relations) directed the program. During this year, Dr. Dickerson von Lockette organized a series of professional development (including time management, academic writing and effective teaching) and writing circle sessions.
The report of the third year NSF ADVANCE site visit report specifically identified WoCSI as one of the stronger retention programs at Rutgers. In response, the executive committee of the ADVANCE grant significantly ramped up funding for the Women of Color Scholars Initiative, guaranteeing $35,000 per year for academic years 2011-12 and 2012-13. Drs. Rocío Magaña (Anthropology) and Yolanda Martínez-San Miguel (Institute of Research on Women) developed a new leadership model whereby a junior, non-tenured faculty member leads the group, identifies areas of need in consultation with other junior faculty members and graduate students, and coordinates the actual programming. The senior faculty member facilitates the institutional arrangements and fundraising activities.
Examples of recent WoCSI programs:
Women of Color Fall Meet & Greet
Newly recruited and established faculty members meet at a social event coordinated by the Office of Academic Engagement and Programming.
Welcome Back Planning & Assessment Dinner
Rutgers faculty members and graduate students discuss goals and expectations for the year and began building networks for women of color.
“Writing, Procrastination, and Resistance: How to Identify Your Funk and Move Through It,” a Kerry Ann Rockquemore Workshop. A networking workshop to assist in research and writing. Participants paired with a writing partner, a writing accountability group, and/or online writing community. One important outcome of this workshop was that several junior faculty members began hosting writing hours during which they supported each other in their respective projects.
The Rutgers Faculty of Color & University Scholars for Excellence in Diversity (RUFoCUSED) Hour.
This monthly, off-campus event is a series of supportive social gatherings to promote community formation as well as creating positive networking and collaborating opportunities among women of color.
A University Press Editors Roundtable
This roundtable focused on academic publishing and publishing strategies with representatives from Cornell University Press, Duke University Press, Johns Hopkins University Press, and Rutgers University Press.
Book Prospectus Workshop
WoCSI faculty reviewed current writing projects with one another and worked on their manuscripts with an editing consultant.
Dean’s Panel on Attrition and Retention of Faculty of Color
This event was a panel comprising deans and administration representatives who clarified procedures about tenure and promotion. Importantly, several concrete recommendations were made by faculty to promote the retention of faculty of color. While recruitment is good, retention is key to increasing the number of women of color on the faculty.
Recommendations included the following:
• Appoint a dean of diversity to liaison between faculty and administrators.
• Create some kind of structure to make departments accountable for the lack of diversity among their faculty.
• Establish a mentoring program for both junior and senior faculty of color
• Support diversity cluster hiring. Continue diversity cluster hires to create a critical mass.
• Understand that the hiring of faculty of color in joint appointments (as often happens) renders these individuals especially vulnerable to competing academic pressures.
• Create a policy of matching diversity lines.
• Review alternative routes to tenure and promotion based on service and make them available to faculty who would want to consider that route.
Evaluation and assessment. Over the past year, Ms. Bedley (under the guidance of WoCSI co-founder Dr. Robyn Rodriguez) has been interviewing WoCSI participants to explore the extent to which a sense of belonging can serve to mitigate barriers to retention and promotion. The findings from these interviews are preliminary, but suggest that while faculty overall have positive experiences at the University, they still encounter forms of antagonism and alienation. The majority of interviewees who had participated in the WoCSI reported that the Initiative had a positive impact on their careers by reducing feelings of isolation. Junior women of color faculty members also expressed a need for more and better mentorship from senior colleagues who are attuned to the unique challenges faced by women of color faculty in academia, which include professional isolation and experiences of “micro-aggressions” from others ranging from students to higher level administrators. For women of color, it is important to have a “safe space” where individuals feel that they don’t have to “perform all the time.”
Summary. The current goals of the Rutgers WoCS Initiative are as follows:
1. Highlight the contributions that women of color and scholars of underrepresented backgrounds make to the university communities, their scholarly disciplines, and society;
2. Build a campus-wide network that supports the scholarship of women of color and promotes their research, career development, and satisfaction;
3. Advocate on behalf of women of color faculty by working collectively and resourcefully for progressive institutional change towards equitable, inclusive environments that thrive through diversity; and
4. Foster institutional conditions in which women of color faculty may thrive as scholars and as individuals, and thus contribute to their success, promotion, and retention at Rutgers.
We hope that this description of Rutgers University’s Women of Color Scholars Initiative may provide a useful model. Programs with similar goals and programs could be developed to fit the culture and circumstances of other large research universities.