Racial Equity in Higher Education - Cultivating the Gifts and Talents of Faculty of Color

by Chauntee Thrill / May 11, 2017

On Wednesday, May 3rd, Dr. Linda Tillman delivered the last campus lecture of the Dean’s Diversity Lecture Series, titled Racial Equity in Higher Education - Cultivating the Gifts and Talents of Faculty of Color. Dr. Tillman is a Professor Emerita of Educational Leadership in the School of Education at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Her research and scholarship focus on school leadership, the education of all children in K-12 education, and culturally appropriate approaches to investigations.

There has been much conversation centered on racial equity in higher education, and Dr. Tillman’s talk is both timely and relevant to this ongoing discourse on equity, especially in the area of minority faculty. Racial equity, as defined by Tillman, is “equity for everyone, including scholars of color.” She began her talk by sharing that, despite increases in the number of faculty of color, not much has changed over the years. Citing various literature, including that of Turner, Gonzalez, and Wood (2008), Dr. Tillman highlighted that minority faculty continue to experience the same issues today as those that were prevalent in the 1970s. These issues include but are not limited to overt and hidden obstacles, social isolation, and “unwritten” tenure requirements, resulting in increased movement between institutions and/or these faculty leaving academia.

In addressing some of these issues, Dr. Tillman advocated for a more diverse university, one that allows for a “synergy on campus that supports not only the retention of faculty, but also students.” She emphasized the need for administrators, faculty, and students to understand how people of color experience the academy and the emotional impact of these experiences. Understanding these experiences and how people of color negotiate within an educational system that was not designed to support them and embrace the assets they contribute is essential to identifying where change is needed in order to cultivate the gifts and talents of faculty of color. Dr. Tillman encouraged administration to ask faculty of color questions such as “How do you experience the academy?,” “What are your experiences?,” and “How do you think these experiences differ from that of your white peers?”

Turner et al. (2008) highlighted the importance of having departmental and institutional plans that will promote progress towards the goal of diversifying faculty. Expanding on this, Dr. Tillman offered that it’s “not enough just to talk; there needs to be a plan put together” and provided the following key considerations:

  • How do institutions conceptualize racial equity?
  • How do institutions operationalize racial equity?
  • Do institutions believe all faculty have gifts and talents that should be recognized and cultivated?
  • If institutions are committed to cultivating the gifts and talents of all faculty, then how will they normalize racial equity for all faculty, especially faculty of color, so that people view the initiatives as normal where they do their work?

In discussing how to cultivate the gifts and talents of faculty of color, Dr. Tillman focused specifically on three strategies: commitment, structure, and support. She asserted that institutions must be committed to the success of all faculty, especially pre-tenure faculty of color, and offer structured and long-term support. She also emphasized that this must occur at various levels if it is to be successful, including the central administration level, college level, and departmental level. She also discussed the role of mentorship in preparing and supporting pre-tenure faculty, asserting that no aspect of the tenure process should be secret. Dr. Tillman also advocated for the investment of not just administrators, but also other faculty, as agents of change. She concluded her talk with this quote: “If we want racial equity, it’s not easy.”

If you were not able to attend the event, I encourage you to watch Dr. Tillman’s lecture. To further explore issues of equity in higher education, please feel free to review all the lectures presented in the Dean’s Diversity Lecture Series.


  • Turner, C. S., Gonzalez, J. C., & Wood, J. L. (2008). Faculty of color in academe: What 20 years of literature tells us. Journal of Diversity in Higher Education, 1(3), 139-168.