The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation has awarded Trinity College a grant of $114,000 to support the planning of a convening of women of color (WOC) leaders in higher education and other sectors. The funding will be used over approximately 16 months, culminating in a meeting of WOC leaders expected to take place in January 2021.

Inspired by the Mellon Foundation meeting for Women of Color Presidents in Higher Education in 2017, Dr. Joanne Berger-Sweeney, president of Trinity College (pictured); Dr. Johnnetta Cole, president emerita of Spelman and Bennett Colleges: and Dr. Mariko Silver, former president of Bennington College and current president and chief executive officer of the Henry Luce Foundation, became convinced that to connect and create more leadership opportunities for WOC in higher education, it is important to reach beyond higher education for lessons learned and for inspiration. Trinity President Joanne Berger-Sweeney will serve as the principal investigator for this project.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, female students of color received 32.9 percent of undergraduate degrees awarded in 2015-16, but only 5 percent of all college and university presidents and chancellors are women of color. The grant will be used to collect and analyze existing research about the representation of WOC leaders in various industries and study why there is a disproportionately low representation of WOC in academic leadership, while developing ideas to identify and encourage WOC leaders who will create change in academia. The project will examine questions such as: What do WOC bring to leadership? What are the shared challenges and experiences of these WOC leaders? What skills best serve these leaders in addressing the challenges they face?

The project aims to meet a desired and unmet need, as there are currently no organizations that provide a network to connect WOC in top-level positions across sectors. While a handful of organizations focus on training, mentoring, and preparing WOC for leadership positions, these organizations often have a narrow focus on empowering WOC in a specific sector. The work produced by this grant has the potential of generating opportunities to develop a unique, cross-disciplinary mentoring network for the future. Other benefits of the project include the creation of a list of best practices for mentoring WOC leaders and the forging of connections between WOC in academia, who are teaching talented students, and WOC in other sectors, who are able to offer jobs to those students upon graduation.

The convening participants will include approximately 50 WOC who are presidents in higher education and leaders in other sectors. Other sectors to be considered include government, not-for-profit organizations and foundations, arts and culture, media, religious organizations, for-profit organizations, and social service organizations.

The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation “seeks to strengthen, promote, and defend the centrality of the humanities and the arts to human flourishing and to the well-being of diverse, fair, and democratic societies.”