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Achieving Racial Equity in Higher Education: The Case for Mentoring Faculty of Color

by Linda C. Tillman - 2018

Racial equity, providing equal opportunities and equal access to all members of an organization, is an important topic in higher education. The imperative for racial equity is particularly important for faculty of color, who often encounter challenges with respect to recruitment and hiring, promotion and tenure, and access to mentoring relationships that can help to facilitate their career success. Racial equity is directly related to several issues in higher education: increasing campus-wide racial diversity, increasing the pipeline of tenured faculty of color, and increasing the retention rates for faculty of color. Higher education administrators are important to the process of facilitating a campus culture that values, promotes, and practices racial equity.

Racial equity, providing equal opportunities and equal access to all members of an organization, is an important topic in higher education. The imperative for racial equity is particularly important for faculty of color, who often encounter challenges with respect to recruitment and hiring, promotion and tenure, and access to mentoring relationships that can be critical to their career success. Racial equity is directly related to several issues in higher education: increasing campus-wide racial diversity, increasing the pipeline of tenured faculty of color, and increasing the retention rates of faculty of color. Higher education administrators are important to the process of facilitating a campus culture that values, promotes, and practices racial equity. This chapter focuses on the use of formal mentoring programs as one strategy to achieve racial equity for faculty of color, and the responsibility of higher education administrators to act as change agents in facilitating the policies, practices, and procedures that lead to equitable opportunity structures. The chapter begins with an overview of the literature on faculty of color, followed by a discussion of the importance of mentoring relationships for this group. Next, a framework for a campus-wide formal mentoring initiative is presented. The chapter concludes with some implications for practice.


There is a paucity of literature that explores the lives and careers of faculty of color prior to the 1960s (Stanley, 2006). Moore and Wagstaff (1974) conducted one of the earliest studies about Blacks1 in white colleges and universities. In this seminal work, the authors noted that it was typical for Black faculty to experience isolation and discrimination, be overloaded with service responsibilities, and express frustration about the absence of specific strategies for increasing the number of Black faculty and administrators on their campuses. Following the work of Moore and Wagstaff came an emergence of work by scholars of color who wrote about challenges faced by faculty of color, and especially African American faculty on white campuses. Sudakarsa (1987) noted that African Americans in predominantly white institutions (PWIs) faced overt and hidden obstacles to their personal and career advancement, and that their experiences with meeting the requirements of the academy were different from their white peers. According to Sudakarsa, several factors negatively impacted career advancement for African American faculty: too many service responsibilities (mentoring and advising African American students, serving on committees), the nontraditional focus of their scholarship, and biases in the publication process. Wilson (1987) and Blackwell (1989) noted that faculty of color often experienced social isolation that directly affected their scholarly productivity. Blackwell noted that African Americans in higher education often experienced a revolving door syndrome; that is, many of them left the academy before earning promotion and tenure, due in part to their experiences of isolation, discrimination, and a lack of support in their colleges and departments. Sudakarsa, Wilson, and Blackwell all argued that once faculty of color were hired, it was the responsibility of their institutions to assist them in maximizing their success. They noted that institutions could facilitate mentoring arrangements between faculty of color and senior faculty who could help them with their research, collaborate with them on publications, and help them to network with other scholars in their field. However, Blackwell cautioned that matching mentors and mentees could be challenging. That is, mentors usually select mentees who are like them in terms of race, social class, gender, and research focusa factor that often leads to the underselection of faculty of color as mentees.

The devaluation of the scholarship of faculty of color is another prominent theme in the literature. Scholars have noted that the research and scholarship of African Americans and other faculty of color is often viewed negatively by white colleagues who do not recognize or respect work that is based on racial and cultural issues (Johnsrud, 1993; Padilla, 1994; Stanley, 2006; Tillman, 2001; Zambrana et al., 2015). Padilla argued that scholars of color who choose to situate their work around issues of race and culture could benefit from mentoring relationships with senior scholars because race- and culture-based research is usually viewed as an appendage to mainstream educational research (p. 26) and lacking rigor. Thus, a mentor could offer faculty of color advice about how to present their work, where to submit their work, and how to prepare for promotion and tenure.

Themes in much of the scholarship on faculty of color since the 1990s are very similar to themes found in earlier scholarship. Scholars note that that faculty of color experience the academy differently than their white peers (Alex-Assensoh, 2017; Bonner, 2004; Brown, McHatton, & Scott, 2017; Dancy & Jean-Marie, 2014; Fries-Britt, Rowan-Kenyon, Perna, Milem, & Howard, 2011; Orelus, 2013; Stanley, 2006; Tillman, 2011; Tuitt, Hanna, Martinez, Salazar, & Griffin, 2009; Turner, González, & Wood, 2008; Zellers, Howard, & Barcic, 2008). That is, faculty of color are more likely to have negative experiences during the recruitment and hiring process, in their relationships with students and colleagues, and during the promotion and tenure process. Faculty of color are also more likely to face barriers to their career advancement (racism, sexism, lack of information and support, absence of mentoring relationships) than their white colleagues (Brown et al., 2017; Zambrana et al., 2015). Literature suggests that faculty of color are more likely to experience tensions in the workplace (Bonner, 2004; Fries-Britt et al., 2011; Gonzalez & Harris, 2014). For example, Bonner (2004) noted some universal themes that apply to Black faculty, and particularly Black faculty at PWIs. These themes include proving oneself over and over, a lack of access to information about grants and publication opportunities, as well as the unwritten rules of promotion and tenure. Similar to Bonner, Stanley (2006) has argued that faculty of color live in two worlds; that is, they exist in a constant tension of being pulled between their ethnic culture and the university culture (p. 704). According to Stanley, for many faculty of color this tension results in higher levels of workplace stress for faculty of color than white facultythey have to work twice as hard as their white peers, and serve as the diversity expert in their department and in the college.

Turner et al. (2008) reviewed the literature on faculty of color from 19882007. The authors found that in addition to being charged with being diversity experts and often being isolated from their colleagues, faculty of color were also concerned about being seen as token hires, an overall lack of campus-wide racial diversity, and the absence of strategies to recruit and retain faculty of color. Turner et al. also found that faculty of color most often experienced barriers to promotion and tenure which included negative student evaluations, devaluation of their research, and unwritten departmental and college requirements and norms. While all of these factors were identified as concerns by faculty of color, it was the lack of access to mentoring relationships, and especially mentoring for promotion and tenure, that was a major concern. Mentoring was viewed by faculty of color as critical to their personal and career success. As Turner (2003) has noted, the absence of mentoring relationships and other forms of support factor prominently in negative tenure decisions for all faculty, and especially faculty of color.

Turner et al. (2008) noted that the literature they reviewed underscores the importance of having departmental and institutional plans that systematically promote progress toward the goal of diversifying the faculty (p. 150). Such plans should include training students, staff, faculty, and administrators about issues faced by faculty of color. According to Turner et al., coordination between the administrative and college/unit level are needed to effectively address issues of racial diversity. The authors noted several recommendations from the literature that should be implemented at the central administration and college/department level. These recommendations include developing strategies to alleviate isolation for faculty of color, providing opportunities for networking and cross-disciplinary collaborations, and reviewing pre- and posttenure review processes.

A comparison of early and more recent literature on faculty of color allows us to not only understand the focus of the research and scholarship but also identify gaps in the literature with respect to faculty of color. Much of the literature before the 1990s focused more on the challenges faced by faculty of color and the need for increased racial diversity in higher education generally. A shift in the literature shows more of a focus not only on challenges faced by faculty of color but also on strategies for increasing racial diversity, increasing the pipeline of tenured faculty of color, and retaining faculty of color. Another strand in more recent scholarship focuses on the importance mentoring for achieving these goals and for enhancing the careers of faculty of color.


Informal and formal mentoring arrangements have been identified as critical to the career success of faculty of color (Brown et al., 2017; Dancy & Jean-Marie, 2014; Fryberg & Martinez, 2014; Ragins & Cotton, 1999; Stanley, 2006; Tillman, 2001, 2011; Turner et al., 2008; Zambrana et al., 2015; Zellers et al., 2008). Ragins and Cotton (1999) argue that while informal mentoring tends to be viewed favorably by mentors and mentees, such relationships can sometimes pose barriers for marginalized groups such as faculty of color. That is, merely pairing a mentor (usually a white male) with a faculty member of color may not always lead to a successful relationship where the mentee benefits from the expertise and reputation of the mentor. Stanley (2006) has argued that a one-size-fits-all model of mentoring is not always the best option for faculty of color. According to Stanley, since faculty of color are underrepresented in the academy, they often have limited access to same-race mentors or white faculty who are willing to engage in cross-race mentoring.

Tillman (2001) found that both informal and formal mentoring relationships were beneficial to African American pretenure faculty in large PWIs, and that mentees could have both types of mentoring relationships simultaneously. Tillman also found that in both types of mentoring relationships mentors engaged in both career functions (assistance with teaching, research and publishing, conference presentations, grant writing) and psychosocial functions (providing emotional support, personal advice, socializing). Two major findings from Tillmans study related to formal versus informal mentoring and the professional and social isolation of African American faculty. Similar to Ragins and Cotton (1999), Tillman found that the assignment of a mentor did not always determine the success of the mentoring relationship and/or enhance the mentees career and personal success. Additionally, the culture of the academy could lead to professional and social isolation and influence the African American faculty members perception of their acceptance in the institution.

Zellers et al. (2008) reviewed the literature on faculty mentoring programs in business and higher education. The authors defined formal mentoring programs as professional development vehicles through which mentees not only receive support but, more important, become connected to other networks of mentors (p. 563). The authors note that being able to connect to networks of mentors is particularly valuable to women, faculty of color and other marginalized groups in helping overcome barriers that have traditionally inhibited them from developing informal mentoring relationships on their own (p. 564). Zellers et al. argue that there is a general ambivalence toward the concept of mentoring at all levels of higher education and that this ambivalence is problematic as it relates to faculty of color. That is, some institutions have been reluctant to consider and implement new approaches to mentoring that could more effectively meet the needs of a diverse faculty who come the academy with different ways of knowing, thinking, and articulating their research. Consequently, many institutions have not developed formal mentoring programs that address the changing dynamics of the academy; rather, they have relied on traditional forms of informal structures to facilitate mentoring arrangements. Similar to other scholars (Brown et al., 2017; Dancy & Jean-Marie, 2014; Stanley, 2006; Tillman, 2011), the authors argue that positive mentoring relationships are important and that faculty who have committed mentors indicate they are more confident about their career trajectory. Zellers et al. found that most of the mentors in many of the informal mentoring arrangements were white males. While this type of cross-race mentoring arrangement can be successful, such arrangements can also present challenges for both the mentor and mentee. The authors note that

some White mentors may be unable to dismiss negative preconceptions or stereotypes and fully invest in the relationships, persons of colors may not be able to set aside feelings of mistrust and be secure in the relationships, and either partner may be uncomfortable discussing racial issues, which may result is less psychosocial support.

(p. 560)

Zellers et al. suggest implementing training that will enhance the cultural competency of senior white male faculty members so that they can better mentor across differences and expedite the professorial promotion of women and minorities (p. 561). Brown et al. (2017) also note that it is imperative that higher education administrators be culturally competent. According to the authors,

a culturally competent stance can influence policies and decisions that can foster an environment that embraces and affirms diverse perspectives, research agendas and ways of knowing that faculty of color bring to an institution. (p. 2)

The authors note that since not all faculty of color have equal access to informal mentoring relations, institutional intervention is needed to address challenges that could prevent successful mentoring relationships. Additionally, the authors emphasize that it is also important to understand in what ways the culture of the organization will influence the process of administering a campus-wide mentoring program. Zellers et al. identified several types of formal mentoring programs that could benefit faculty of color: one-to-one mentoring, peer mentoring, group mentoring, collective mentoring, and mentoring consortia. While each of the identified types of mentoring programs have a different emphasis (faculty of color, women, nursing, medicine, STEM), collectively the programs emphasize a caring framework that should be designed to empower new faculty members rather than to assimilate them into traditional campus systems. Formal mentoring programs were found to be advantageous for several reasons: the choice to select ones mentor, similarity of mentor-mentee professional interests, participation in regularly scheduled meetings, and unit and central level administration support. The authors conclude that more research is needed to understand how formal faculty mentoring programs directly impact faculty and particularly faculty of color, how institutional and departmental programs are organized, and how these programs meet the needs of faculty at various stages of their career.

Zambrana et al. (2015) studied the mentoring experiences of 58 underrepresented minority (URM) faculty at 22 research-extensive institutions. The authors note that faculty of color are underrepresented in the academy compared to the U.S. population and it is in the best interest of the academy to explore the factors that contribute to faculty attrition among URMs and to remediate barriers so that higher education can live up to its calling to providing equal opportunities to all (p. 42). Three major themes in the study were (a) the importance of accumulating social capital in the mentoring relationship; (b) the existence of major barriers linked to undervaluing faculty research; and (c) connecting URM faculty with mentors who understood their struggles at PWIs. The authors argue that their study provides a roadmap for shifting how we engage with URM faculty and strategies and knowledge to assess the effectiveness of mentoring to increase the retention of URM faculty (p. 40).

Zambrana et al. (2015) identified isolation, overt/covert racism, devaluing research, and lack of mentoring relationships as factors that influenced the careers and tenure of URM faculty. According to the authors, URM faculty in their study were subjected to less fair and equitable treatment, were less likely to be engaged in collaborations with tenured faculty, and had less access to same-race mentors. Additionally, the authors found that URM faculty rarely had any mentors and had limited access to the types of social and institutional capital that are needed to successfully advance in the academy. These barriers directly affected the confidence of many of the URM faculty, and some participants in the study spoke of feeling un-anchored; that is, they were left to decipher and negotiate the written and unwritten rules of the academy without any guidance or support.

Zambrana et al. (2015) identified four barriers to effective mentoring based on their findings: (a) benign neglect; (b) feeling uniformed and unsupported; (c) experiencing a patchwork of mentors; and (d) perceptions of limited understanding and limited acceptance of their research agenda (p. 64). For example, URM faculty were most often neglected when they were assigned an unwilling and uninterested mentor as a part of a university mentoring policy. A lack of acceptance of the URM facultys research agenda usually occurred when mentors had little knowledge of, little interest in, and a lack of respect for the URM facultys research.

The authors also identified factors that could lead to what they referred to as ideal mentoring. These factors include respecting the URM facultys research agenda and their commitment to working with students and communities, and providing networking and scholarly opportunities. Zambrana et al. (2015) found that political guidance was also critical to the URM faculty mentee and can help the URM faculty to access social capital. They described it as a unique mentoring toolkit offering early career URM faculty information and strategies so that they can decode power relations, race, and inequities in the academy, and identify strategies to navigate what often are complicated dynamics to get where you need to be (p. 61). The authors conclude that (a) in comparison to their white peers, URM faculty usually must tenure alone; (b) mentoring is often a racialized and gendered practice that needs to be thoughtfully configured to meet the needs of a diverse faculty; and (c) mentoring for URM populations is an issue of equityin order to level the playing field, URM faculty need to be given access to the same guidance and strategies as their colleagues (p. 68).

Literature on the importance of mentoring, types of mentoring programs, and factors impacting mentoring relationships (or lack thereof) for faculty of color clearly indicates that mentoring is an important strategy to enhance the personal and career success of this group. As Zambrana et al. (2015) argue, mentoring for faculty of color is an issue of equity and can be used as a strategy to help faculty of color access the same opportunities that facilitate career success that are available to their white colleagues. Several barriers to the career and personal success of faculty of color are consistently identified in the literature: isolation, racism, devaluation of research, and absence of positive mentoring relationships. The elimination of these as well as other barriers can address the issues of campus-wide racial diversity, a limited pipeline of tenured faculty of color, and retention of faculty of color. Thus, as Zambrana et al. have noted, institutions should consider implementing formal mentoring programs, which can level the playing field for faculty of color. In the next section, a framework for a campus-wide formal mentoring program for pretenure faculty of color is presented.


Mentoring relationships are important for all faculty and should be an integral component of the faculty experience. The framework presented here focuses on mentoring for pretenure faculty of colorindividuals who are more likely to be underrepresented in higher education, less likely to have access to mentors, and less likely to remain in their positions throughout the promotion and tenure period. Effective formal mentoring programs can address several critical issues with respect to faculty of color: increasing campus-wide racial diversity, increasing the pipeline of tenured faculty of color, and increasing the retention of faculty of color. Drawing on Blackwells (1989) work, mentoring is defined as a process by which persons of senior rank, special expertise and achievements and reputation commit to instructing, counseling, guiding, and facilitating the intellectual and career development of their mentees. Formal mentoring programs can be an effective strategy for facilitating a campus culture of racial equity that is evident when all members of an organization are respected, treated equally and equitably, and have equal access to the opportunities needed to achieve career and personal success.

Zellers et al. (2008) note that it is important to consider the context of formal mentoring: that is, what historical and current factors might impact the success or failure of the mentoring initiative. They note that mentoring is highly contextual and subject to a wide range of interpretations. Each mentoring program exists within its own historical and organizational context and is subject to the influence of its own institutional culture (p. 581). Thus, administrators who are responsible for developing and implementing a formal mentoring program should carefully consider the historical, organizational, and cultural context of the campus, as well as the contexts in the schools/colleges on the campus.

According to the literature reviewed here, formal mentoring should be based on a caring framework (Zellers et al., 2008), and an emphasis should be placed on the functions of the mentor. These functions include valuing the ideas and intellect of mentees, supporting mentees and investing in their success, introducing mentees to people who have prestige and power, providing scholarly opportunities, and taking a personal approach to mentoring by respecting mentees. The proposed formal mentoring framework assumes that mentoring should be formalized at the central administration level and executed at the college and department levels. The framework requires that all policies, procedures, and programs be grounded in commitment, structure, and support. That is, at each level, administrators are responsible for ensuring that key actors (deans, department chairs, mentors, coordinators) are committed to implementing the institutional directive, are committed to and will work toward implementing and sustaining an effective mentoring structure, and will provide the necessary supports that will help pretenure faculty of color succeed because of the policies and procedures.


Central administration must be committed to making mentoring a priority for all pretenure faculty of color. Whether the directive is located in the Presidents/Chancellors or Provosts office, those charged with administering the mentoring policy, procedures, and program design must decide what central administration will do to support pretenure faculty of color, how these faculty will be socialized to the academy, and how they will be informed about the requirements for promotion and tenure. The following components are necessary to the implementation of a formal mentoring program at the central administration level.


A planning committee should include senior scholars, midlevel pretenure scholars of color, and new assistant professors of color. As Stanley (2006) has noted, faculty of color are rarely asked to talk about their experiences in the academy. Thus, the perspectives of pretenure faculty of color are important to the process of developing and implementing a formal mentoring program that should have a direct and positive impact on their career and personal success. It is also important to include the perspectives of senior scholars who know the ins and outs of the university and the college, who have excellent reputations as scholars, and who have had experience mentoring other pretenure faculty, and especially pretenure faculty of color. Representatives from central administration and faculty governance are critical to the planning phase as it will be important that all parties understand the intent of the central administration directive and that there is buy-in from the faculty at large as well as the university governing body. Questions for discussion should include:


What is central administrations vision for a formal mentoring program targeted to reach pretenure faculty of color?


What commitments, structures, and supports will be provided by central administration?


How will the formal mentoring program be operationalized at the unit level?


What are the expectations of pretenure faculty of color?


How will mentors and mentees be matched/paired?


How will mentors be trained?

Clearly Stated Goals and Objectives

The central administration directive should clearly articulate the goals, objectives, and expected outcomes of the campus-wide mentoring program for pretenure faculty of color. Goals should be clearly communicated to all units so that deans, department chairs, mentors, and other individuals involved in administering the mentoring program know and understand the important role they play in facilitating racial equity through effective mentoring relationships. Additionally, the central administration directive should include a clear and consistent system of evaluation. It is important that data be used to make decisions about commitment, structure, support, strengths, weaknesses, and the future direction of the mentoring program. Clarity of program goals at the central administration level will be important to the success of the mentoring program at the unit level. Central administration should survey pretenure faculty of color about their experiences in their college, department, and classroom. Survey data can provide additional information about how the mentoring program should be structured at each unit level. Additionally, the central office directive should consider providing incentives to mentors such as monetary stipends, course releases, research support, travel money, or graduate assistants.

Mentor Training

A training component should be a part of the formal mentoring program. It will be important to train cross-race and cross-gender mentors who will mentor pretenure faculty of color. Some mentors will have had experiences informally mentoring faculty of color, some will have had success, and some will have had negative experiences. Thus, it will be important to include time for mentors to reflect on their own perceptions of faculty of color, and to verbalize any concerns they might have about mentoring faculty of color. Mentor training should also include discussions about tensions experienced by pretenure faculty color (discrimination, isolation, devaluing of scholarship, lack of respect from students and staff). Central administration should take care to choose individuals who are experienced trainers as well as other individuals who have proven track records of successful mentoring relationships, and particularly with faculty of color. Lastly, mentors should be provided with a mentor toolkit that includes materials, suggestions, and best practice mentoring strategies. The toolkit can be an important component in helping the mentor to begin and sustain a successful mentoring relationship.


It is important to listen to the perspectives of pretenure faculty of color, deans, and department chairs. The perspectives of pretenure faculty of color are critical to the planning process. Many of them experience the academy differently than white faculty, and their perspectives may differ from those of their white colleagues around a number of professional and personal issues. These experiences may include, but are not limited to: (a) pretenure faculty of color often experience isolation and unwelcoming environments; (b) pretenure faculty of color are more likely to have their scholarship devalued and their credentials questioned; (c) pretenure faculty of color across disciplines are more likely to leave before promotion and tenure review in PWIs; and (d) pretenure faculty of color are least likely to be promoted and tenured in PWIs. One of the objectives of the mentoring directive should be to determine why and under what circumstances pretenure faculty of color experience such barriers. It will be important to collect data on leavers as well as data about pretenure faculty of color who do not earn promotion and tenure. Firsthand accounts from faculty of color, as well as administrators who are involved in promotion and tenure decisions, can help in the design and implementation of mentoring programs that are attentive to these issues.


The mentoring program at the unit level should align with the central administration directive, but should be unique to the mission and vision of the unit. It is important that deans, department chairs, individuals involved in faculty governance, and other individuals who will work directly with the mentoring program understand, facilitate, and implement the central administration directive. Additionally, unit level administrators should be mindful of the unique ways in which colleges/schools on the campus differ (i.e., medicine versus education versus arts and sciences). Pretenure faculty of color should be surveyed about their concerns, needs, and expectations of a college-wide mentoring program. Based on survey results as well as other formal and informal information, deans should develop a plan that is appropriate for the college. One of the most important aspects of the mentoring program will be determining the most appropriate method for forming mentor-mentee pairs. Since faculty of color are usually underrepresented in their colleges and departments, it is likely that cross-race and cross-gender mentoring will be a prominent factor in the mentoring program. Thus, it will be important to identify senior faculty (associate and full) who are willing and who will be committed to participating in a college-wide faculty mentoring program that is targeted toward faculty who may not share the same race, gender, social class, research interests, and cultural norms and values. The expectations of the central administration directive, time commitment, incentives, expected outcomes, and challenges that cross-race and cross-gender mentoring may present should be discussed with senior faculty who will serve as mentors. Additionally, there should be specific language about how the mentoring relationship can be terminated should either or both parties decide that the arrangement is not working.

The Promotion and Tenure Process

The primary intent of the formal mentoring program should be to provide guidance and support to pretenure faculty of color as they work toward promotion and tenure. Unit level administrators should work with mentors and mentees to develop a schedule for reviewing and discussing yearly, third-year, and promotion and tenure reviews, as well as classroom observations. All pretenure faculty of color should know and understand the university and college expectations for promotion and tenure. Failure to clearly articulate expectations for promotion and tenure most often disadvantages faculty of color. A Pretenure Checklist is essential for all pretenure faculty of color and should include the following:

What is the promotion and tenure process?

How many levels of review are required over the pretenure period?

Is there an external review at each level?

Is there a departmental level review and vote?

Is there a college level review and vote?

How many publications are required?

Importance of publications(articles, book chapters, books, other)?

Value of service and how much?

Value of teaching?

Other considerations (grants, presentations, graduate student advising load, number of dissertations supervised to completion)?

At what level is the final promotion and tenure decision made?

Pretenure faculty of color should also be provided with examples of outstanding dossiers, professional statements, and other pertinent documents that will help them to understand and prepare for scheduled reviews and promotion and tenure. Deans and department chairs should also assist pretenure faculty in identifying multiple mentors such as mentoring teams, cross-department mentors, cross-campus mentors, cross-institution mentors, and local or national mentoring programs or consortia. The unit level directive must be accompanied by a commitment to success, appropriate structures that will facilitate success, and support from the deans office.


Initial decisions about a faculty members yearly, third-year and promotion and tenure reviews are usually made at the department level. Thus, it is imperative that mentoring relationships that are located in the department facilitate, enhance, nurture, and support pretenure faculty of color, rather than present barriers to their career success. Department chairs should work to implement the central administration directive and the college-wide mentoring plan. It is also imperative that department chairs work with mentors to identify the mentees strengths and weaknesses, their plans for achieving their career goals, and how such plans will lead them to earn promotion and tenure. Pretenure faculty of color should also be provided with opportunities for personal and professional growth (attending and presenting at conferences, professional development, collaborating with colleagues, competing for grants). Creating and maintaining a supportive environment at the department level is particularly important for pretenure faculty of color who may feel marginalized in their departments and colleges. It is at the department level that pretenure faculty of color should experience career and personal success.


While the framework presented here is applicable to all pretenure faculty, it is in the best interest of institutions to pay particular attention to pretenure faculty of color to ensure that they experience racial equity. Faculty of color should be confident that collectively the department is willing and committed to helping them succeed; that is, the mentoring program should help them to become productive, contributing members of a college where collegial and supportive relationships are the norm, rather than the exception. Much of the literature on mentoring reveals that it is critical to the career and personal success of pretenure faculty. Faculty are more confident about their acceptance in the academy and feel more confident about their teaching and research and scholarship when they have positive mentoring relationships.

Pretenure faculty of color who have committed mentors also learn to perfect their teaching, research, and writing skills. Good teaching allows students to learn and benefit from the faculty members expertise. Additionally, the faculty member can provide guidance to graduate student instructors who wish to become faculty members. Pretenure faculty who have committed mentors also benefit from the mentoring relationship in terms of their research and scholarship. They benefit from the mentors expertise and experiences in designing and conducting research, the process of writing for publication, and applying for grants. Working with a mentor can also present opportunities to collaborate on writing projects and to become knowledgeable about navigating the publication process. Finally, a positive mentoring relationship can lead to opportunities to network with other well-established senior scholars. Networking can benefit pretenure faculty of color in numerous ways including offers to present their work, join a research team, publish groundbreaking research, and engage in service opportunities.

Administrators are a critical component in the success of campus-wide formal mentoring programs. A central administration directive provides an opportunity for higher education administrators to become change agents as they create policies, practices, and programs that advance a vision of an inclusive campus where racial equity is the norm rather than the exception. As change agents higher education administrators can redefine established norms of what mentoring is and who should benefit from mentoring. They can provide new opportunities for faculty of color to access the same opportunities as their white colleagues. Additionally, as change agents higher education administrators have opportunities to change and improve the culture of the academy with respect to racial equity by creating mentoring programs that recognize and address the changing racial dynamics on todays campuses. The proposed framework for a formal mentoring program assumes an institutional directive where top-level administrators make a commitment to ensuring that pretenure faculty of color are not only hired but also nurtured, supported, encouraged, promoted and tenured, and retained. In this framework central office administrators, deans, and department chairs accept the responsibility of becoming change agents and creating and maintaining an environment and a campus climate that values all of its citizens and works to create and sustain a fair and equitable workplace culture.


Mentoring can be used as a key strategy for increasing the diversity of the professoriate, increasing the number of pretenure faculty of color who are promoted and tenured, and decreasing the number of faculty of color who leave the academy. Mentoring can be an effective strategy in facilitating a more equitable landscape of higher education. Racial equity should be an expectation for pretenure faculty of color. Effective mentoring policies, procedures, and programs are one way to ensure that pretenure faculty of color experience success as teachers, researchers, and scholars. Higher education administrators can play a key role in ensuring that mentoring programs are designed to provide maximum opportunities for faculty of color.


1. The terms Black and African American will be used interchangeably in this chapter.


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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 120 Number 14, 2018, p. 1-18
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 22373, Date Accessed: 10/27/2021 6:53:30 PM

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About the Author
  • Linda Tillman
    University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
    E-mail Author
    LINDA C. TILLMAN is Professor Emerita of Educational Leadership, School of Education, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. A former public-school educator with teaching and administrative experience, Dr. Tillman’s research and scholarship is focused on school leadership, the education of African Americans in K–12 education, mentoring in higher education, and culturally appropriate research approaches. Her work has been featured in publications including Educational Administration Quarterly, Educational Researcher, and Review of Educational Research. She is editor in chief of the SAGE Handbook of African American Education. Recent publications include Handbook of research on educational leadership for diversity and equity (2013) (coeditor with J. J. Scheurich), and Culturally relevant leadership in practice: A case study of a Black woman principal in the West (2017). In C. Rogers, K. Lomotey, & A Hilton (Eds.), Innovative approaches to educational leadership: Selected cases (with Sonya D. Horsford).
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