Center for the Study of Women in Society, University of Oregon: Women of Color, Borders, and Power: Mentoring and Leadership

Coordinator: Lynn Fujiwara (2008-09)

Co-coordinators: Lynn Fujiwara and Lamia Karim (2009-2010)

Background of the Center

The Center for the Study of Women in Society (CSWS) is a multidisciplinary research center that generates, supports and disseminates research on gender and on all aspects of women's lives. Since its founding in 1983, CSWS has been an intellectual and organizational hub of research on gender-related issues. A member of the National Council for Research on Women, CSWS has supported projects which seek to increase knowledge about how gender, race, ethnicity, class, sexual identity and culture shape women's lives, including a multi-year study on the impact of welfare reform on women and families in Oregon and another initiative on gender, families and immigration in the Northwest. Faculty of color participate in Research Interest Groups (RIGS) including “The Projects of Queer Studies: Race, Pedagogy, and Social Theory,” “Reading Empires,” and “Gender in the Americas.” These RIGS also have links with communities of color in the U.S. and around the world. While these research initiatives and interests have involved important steps in diversifying CSWS, such as the creation of a community advisory board for the initiative on gender, families, and immigration, CSWS has lacked a unified intellectual and strategic space where the scholarship, research and policy advocacy of women of color at the University of Oregon can be put into sustained conversation and shaped into a significant and central pillar at CSWS.


Building Leadership and Mentorship at CSWS

Leadership training and mentoring of women of color faculty was foregrounded as a priority at the Center in 2008.

  • At an administrative level, the Center introduced an associate director position in 2010. It was filled by an associate professor who is a woman of color. This is a rotating two-year position that will expose women faculty to the administrative work of a research center. 
  • The Women of Color Project, which is housed at the Center, had two women of color faculty who acted as co-coordinators in 2008-09.
  • The Executive Committee (EC), which oversees the budget and event planning for the Center, currently has12 members, four of whom, or one third, are women of color faculty. In 2008-09, EC had 14 members, three of whom were women of color, and one graduate student of color.

The objective of these changes is to create opportunities for all women, including women of color, to acquire leadership skills to be used in the Center and on campus more broadly – and to bring missing perspectives and ideas to the Center.  


Our efforts at diversifying leadership have been noted by senior administration. Although we face difficult economic times at the University of Oregon, the Offices of both the Vice-Provost for Academic Affairs and the Vice-President for Research have supported the Women of Color Project in 2010-2011 with a grant of $8,000 total. This enables us to continue to support the scholarly activities of faculty of color at the University of Oregon.

Initial Project Goals

The goal of our “Diversifying the Leadership” project was two-fold: 

·      to provide a space within CSWS to address the realities and challenges of academic success for women of color junior faculty at the university. 

·      to engage our university’s upper administration with the institutional concerns of equity and marginality.


 Our first immediate issue was the harsh reality that there are so few women of color faculty at the UO. Our vision was to bring the few junior women of color faculty together, who are often the only woman of color in their respective departments, colleges, or research centers, to create a cohesive working group through mentorship and institutional leadership development. Through our funding we offered mini-grants for up to 10 participants to be used for research purposes, such as books, materials, research related travel, conferences, etc.

Historically Underrepresented Groups

In accordance with the Ford Foundation guidelines, we recruited junior faculty from underrepresented groups, including two Black women, two Mexican American women, two women from Latin America (Argentina and Peru), one woman of mixed Black and Latina background, and one woman from Puerto Rico. There are currently no junior Native American women at our campus. These women came from English, Political Science, Romance Languages, the School of Journalism and Communication, Ethnic Studies, the Law School, and one was a research associate at CSWS. Unfortunately this constitutes nearly 100% of our junior women of color faculty from Ford Foundation categories of underrepresented groups at the UO. Since we had two more openings for women of color junior faculty, we invited two women from South Asian backgrounds who have been consistently involved in CSWS projects throughout their time at the university. 


The project began with an all day retreat to establish the year-long set of activities and goals. The dearth of senior women of color faculty at the UO was the most immediate concern because of the impact that has for junior women of color professors newly negotiating their departments and the institution. Furthermore, the UO has been plagued with a revolving door of junior women of color faculty, who often find their experiences alienating, isolating, and unsupported. Thus, the group decided that at the heart of leadership development for women of color junior faculty is academic success – a solid research record and ultimately tenure. However the path to these ends are often plagued by a series of issues: an overburden of service that falls on them as the only ones in their areas who can speak to issues of race and diversity; challenges associated with teaching at a predominantly white university; concern over the value of their work which is often interdisciplinary, or seen as “alternative,” and “experimental;” and the need for more mentorship from the time they arrive through their promotion and tenure evaluation processes. 


To address these issues we established a multi-tiered set of workshops and events. 

Seeking straight and direct mentorship, we developed numerous workshops under the rubric “Academic Success/Academic Survival” with invited senior women of color scholars to talk with us about their own challenges and strategies. The group had a lunch workshop with Chicana and Senior Scholar Professor of Literature Rosaura Sanchez from UCSD. Her experience was critical as she began her position as an ABD visiting assistant professor, went on to get tenure as one of the few faculty of color, and later became head of the Department of Literature at UCSD, as well as a leader in national and international associations. She shared great wisdom in how to deal with tokenism; institutional marginalization based upon race, gender, and class; the over burden of service; and general feelings of marginalization and alienation. 


We were also fortunate to meet with groundbreaking feminist of color, scholar and activist Cherrie Moraga; Chicana feminist filmmaker Lourdes Portillo; and Professor of English Paula Moya (Chicana) from Stanford University. All our conversations dealt intensely with the institutional barriers that need to be challenged in terms of how our work is valued, evaluated, and positioned within our respective departments. 


Given that academic success is inherently tied to an active publication record, we established several workshops to focus solely on research, writing, and publishing. We held a book proposal workshop, where one of our participants presented her book proposal for three well-published senior scholars from the UO who conducted a review of her proposal with the participation of the entire group. This workshop proved extremely helpful to the participants who are all currently working on book projects. We followed up our publication workshop with a writing conversation with a professional editor and writing coach. It was a much-needed space to talk openly about common dilemmas that we face in the writing process.


Focusing more on the institutional level of academic success, we held an extremely helpful Promotion and Tenure workshop with Senior Vice Provost for Academic Affairs Russ Tomlin. He not only provided a general framework and discussion of the tenure process, but also engaged in candid, informative, and supportive conversation addressing the participant’s questions, concerns, and issues.  


Our final event, designed to engage our university’s administrators in conversation with invited faculty was held on May 22, 2009.   Our conversation was titled “Institutional Change/Institutional Diversity” and featured Chancellor Nancy Cantor and Associate Provost Kal Alston of Syracuse University. Working in close collaboration with Senior Vice Provost Russ Tomlin, we organized this event to begin a much needed and important conversation about institutional diversity and institutional change at the UO. Chancellor Cantor has written numerous articles about diversity and higher education. She has also been on the front lines of such contested terrains as the law suits against affirmative action at the University of Michigan and the termination of the Chief Illinewek Native American Mascot of University of Illinois Urbana Champaign. Approximately fifty people from across campus participated in this conversation, including faculty, faculty of color, department heads, associate deans, deans, center directors, and the Senior Vice Provost for Academic Affairs. Dialogue was meaningful and substantive around real issues faculty face on this campus. The participants benefitted from such a candid and honest conversation with administrative leaders and called for additional conversation with all deans, associate deans, and department heads present.

Unexpected Challenges

The project’s focus on Ford Foundation-designated underrepresented racial groups posed challenges unique to our campus’ racial demographics. Reflecting the demographics of the Pacific Northwest, employees of the university are largely white: in 2005, approximately 86% of all employees were white, with 4% undeclared, thus leaving less than 10% people of color. This percentage has not been disaggregated to the best of our knowledge. We are working to ensure more accurate figures about minority recruitment and retention at the university.


With such small representation, our project involved nearly all of the junior faculty women from the designated groups present at the UO when we began. To award all 10 mini-grants, we therefore had to reach out beyond tenure track faculty, and beyond the racial groups designated by the Ford Foundation. Thus, we included a Research Associate adjunct professor and an acting Assistant Professor from the designated groups. While they both benefited from numerous workshops, they often found that their interests diverged from the majority of tenure track faculty. We also included two South Asian women junior faculty members, but were disappointed to not also include two junior Filipinas and several other Asian American women who could also have benefitted from our project.


To accomplish our planned goals, a very unexpected coalition formed between our group and the Senior Vice Provost for Academic Affairs. Early on, the project coordinator met with Senior Vice Provost Russell Tomlin to discuss ways his office could help with our events. Upon hearing the goals, issues, and concerns, he expressed his immediate commitment to the project. He was critical in the Promotion and Tenure Workshop, and stayed an hour and a half longer than the planned two hours to answer all the many questions and concerns the junior faculty women of color presented as they soon face the tenure process. He also collaborated in the culminating conversation featuring Syracuse’s Chancellor Cantor and Associate Provost Alston. Senior Vice Provost Tomlin co-signed and disseminated our invitation to all unit heads, and invited faculty across campus. He also co-facilitated the conversation at the event as a way to encourage the participation of those who may have otherwise been resistant to the topics and questions posed, and he kept the discussion on target regarding issues of diversity and the concerns faced by faculty of color. 

Broader Impact

Our project has had impact on our campus on numerous levels. First, the participants have received and benefited from focused mentorship, which they themselves can bring back and use in their home departments and colleges. Second, the conversation “Institutional Change/Institutional Diversity” resonated among faculty, department heads, and upper administrators. The Senior Vice Provost intends to follow up and continue conversations in much needed spaces. The Assistant Vice Provost for Institutional Equity and Diversity, who also participated in the conversation, stated his desire to continue conversations that would allow more time to hash out some of the ongoing issues faculty of color face in their respective departments. 

Primary Challenges 

Our primary challenge was the compact and intense time-span of the project. Juggling existing high service loads, teaching demands, and the imperative to publish with the meetings, workshops, and mentorship offered by the project became difficult for the participants. While they clearly articulated the benefits of having such intense and focused hands-on mentorship, the project activities began to tax the participant’s research and writing time. As a result, several were unable to make important events due to traveling schedules, conferences, and other competing demands. Those who worked to make nearly all of the events did so with some cost to their research and teaching preparation time. Thus, we were faced with dilemmas about how to institute projects aimed at diversification without taxing the very individuals who constitute “diversity.”

Recommendations to Other Centers

The overburden of service continues to be a primary challenge in all diversity efforts that faculty of color are committed to. Therefore, institutions must offer more institutional support for faculty involved in such a project, for example, a course buy-out that allows the faculty member to focus on particular issues and mentorship development. Creating a particular space within the Center for smaller scale projects can provide opportunities for those with less available time.


Programs that facilitate the development of close ties between senior administrators and junior faculty of color create important relationships. Many of the struggles and much of the alienation women of color experience happen within the departments, and as insecure junior faculty, they need allies outside of their departments to seek advice and guidance. The time our Senior Vice Provost spent with the participants was invaluable, and that alone has made a significant difference in their levels of comfort and confidence as they approach the tenure and promotion process.


Achievements and Further Commitments to Diversity in CSWS

In addition to the commitment of the Senior Vice Provost for Academic Affairs and Vice Provost for Institutional Equity and Diversity to continue the discussions, CSWS has made a commitment to maintain a similar project through next year. The Director, Carol Stabile, secured $10,000 in start-up funds from the Vice President of Research for 2009-2010 to maintain the focused research support and mentorship for women of color junior faculty. The institutionalization of this project as a core entity within the center will provide a sustaining avenue for promoting leadership among women of color both in the Center and in the University. Despite current financial constraints, the Women of Color Project has also secured $8,000 in continued funding for 2010-11.


Achievements in 2009-2010 Academic Year

In its second year (2009-10), the WoC Project built on its previous year’s successes, holding a second book proposal workshop and organizing mentoring events and dinners like the one held in October 2009 with visiting scholar Rebecca Wanzo. However, recognizing the enormous time commitment that was placed on the participants during the first year, in its second year the focus shifted somewhat to ensure that leadership within CSWS would be diversified. In order to do this, CSWS established two coordinator positions, which were filled by associate professors Lynn Fujiwara and Lamia Karim. These new roles allowed Fujiwara and Karim to play a more active role in decision making and programming. In their co-coordination of the WoC project, Fujiwara organized her projects through the rubric “Centering Intersectionality,” which allowed her to focus on the both theoretical and institutional elements of diversity, while Karim’s “Going Global” emphasized the necessity of understanding intersectionality and diversity in a fully international context. 


In order to learn from more established scholars about their institutional experiences building leadership and diversity, the WoC Project invited scholars to campus who had been involved in these efforts on their own campuses. During the winter, Gina Dent (professor, feminist studies and director of the Center for Advanced Feminist Research at the University of California–Santa Cruz) gave a talk on “Transforming Feminisms” that directly addressed how her department was able to build a feminist studies program that centered on intersectionality, building an emphasis on transnational feminisms and integrating race studies with feminist studies. In the spring, professor Kamala Visweswaran from the Department of Anthropology at the University of Texas Austin spoke about the role of feminist scholars in a postcolonial, globalized world. Her talk considered the pitfalls of a human rights discourse that often serves as an alibi for nationalist and imperialist agendas. 


The year ended with two key events. The first event was a celebration of the research of women of color faculty members at the University of Oregon, an event that brought administrators and faculty members together to recognize the significant contributions women of color faculty members make to the research profile of the university, which include numerous books, documentaries, articles, and awards. The Vice President for Research, deans, chairs, and friends and families of faculty attended this afternoon event.


The second was an intensive Writing and Promotion Workshop held at the end of spring term 2010. Including assistant and associate professors, the Writing and Promotion Workshop was open to all women faculty. Eight faculty members participated, three of whom were women of color. The four-day workshop included sessions with peer reviewers from external institutions (among which were Boston College, Cornell University, Indiana University, University of Michigan, University of California–Irvine, Tulane University), offering a rare opportunity for participants to get feedback and build networks with scholars from around the country. In addition, it allowed UO participants to benefit from each other’s editorial abilities, as well as to get to know the research of their cohort of feminist scholars.


In the coming year, the WoC Project will continue to pursue its goals of mentoring and promoting leadership, but the wider intention has always been to center the WoC Project within the institutional structure of CSWS. The work of the WoC Project has already resulted in a series of changes within CSWS. In 2010, Karim joined CSWS in the newly created position of associate director. This two-year position is intended to create leadership opportunities within CSWS that will also help to diversify leadership in the university as a whole. As associate director, Karim will continue the important work of centering intersectionality and bringing a global perspective to CSWS. In addition, two members of the WoC Project—Shari Huhndorf and Cynthia Tolentino—will join the CSWS Executive Committee this fall.            


In addition to the benefits gained through the project, the Diversifying the Leadership project has been a unique opportunity to become more involved with NCRW. Our designated NCRW mentor, Sandra Morgen, helped us establish a close working relationship and understanding of NCRW expectations and intentions. Our project was fortunate to be able to send a representative to both National Conferences (2008 and 2009) as well as two representatives to the regional meeting at UC Davis in May. Until this project, CSWS was mainly engaged with NCRW solely at the level of the Director. The Diversifying the Leadership project has familiarized three women of color (all representatives at conferences) from the University of Oregon who would not have normally had the opportunity to make such connections and develop relationships with other NCRW member centers.


The following are a few testimonial statements made by WoC Members:

The Women of Color Junior Faculty: Borders and Empowerment has been one of the most rewarding professionalization experiences I have had at the University of Oregon. This cohort of women (primarily composed of junior, tenure-track faculty) hails from a diverse range of disciplines and/or departmental homes; as a result, we have been able to share and compare strategies for progression towards tenure.  Our recently tenured leader, Dr. Fujiwara, has expertly helped prepare us for this process.  The workshops that she has organized on our behalf -- such as a book proposal workshop and a Promotion/Tenure Workshop with Senior Vice Provost Russ Tomlin -- have greatly contributed to our cohort's development and professionalization.  In one academic year, we have generated an incredibly rich learning community and I am better prepared for the coming years as a result.”

                                                                        Professor Priscilla Peña Ovalle, English


"For a junior faculty of color working in the legal academy, it was an invaluable experience to rely on the NCRW workshops, roundtables, and strategy sessions about balancing institutional commitments with individual career objectives.  I benefitted from all the sessions that I sat in on, especially because we are all at different points in our career (pre tenure, post 3rd year review, and in my case, coming up this year).  The institutional support through matching grants also gave our initiative heightened visibility, and the professional development grants were welcome additions for acquiring scholarly resources."

                                                            Professor Michelle McKinley, Knight Law School


“In the Winter 2009 term I was given the opportunity to participate in a book proposal workshop through the CSWS/NCRW Women of Color in Leadership Group. The book proposal workshop was organized to give the members of the WOC group knowledge about expectations for book publishing and the tenure review process. The workshop was immensely useful to the development of my own book proposal, as I received feedback from senior faculty on campus (Lynn Stephen, Amalia Gladhart, and Michael Hames-Garcia) and other members of the WOC group. Lynn Fujiwara and Michael Hames-Garcia also followed up with me to develop a time line to submit the book proposals to publishing companies and complete writing the manuscript.”

                                                                        Professor Tania Triana, Romance Languages