After last year’s Guiding the Way to Inclusion (GWI) conference, four
admission leaders got together to talk about what it means to be a
woman of color (WOC) in the field.
Stephanie Gonzalez, associate director for diversity recruitment at
Williams College (MA); Suzi Nam, executive director of Lenfest Scholars
Foundation (PA); Ashley Pallie, director of recruitment at Pomona
College (CA); and Beverly Henry Wheeler, regional director of admission
at Hendrix College (AR), discussed how they've been supported by the
profession and the ways in which the field of college admission
counseling can better support women of color.
Gonzalez: One of the topics we touched on at GWI was
the intersectionality of being a woman and a person of color. It can
often be the case that you are the only WOC in an office. I’m lucky to
be in a place now where I’m one of five WOC in the admission office,
including our director. Williams has also built in some structural
support to connect faculty and staff who identify as WOC through a
network. The Williams’ Women of Color Network (WOCN) receives funding
for a few events each semester where we do things as simple as taking
over the local coffee shop and as complex as offering a workshop about
finances. It’s been a great way to meet people outside of our office
that I would not have otherwise found on campus, especially considering
the faculty/staff divide that often exists on college campuses. The WOCN
has been a nice support, especially when I was new to Williams. I think
there are ways that institutions can take steps like these to better to
support WOC, especially as they transition to a new place.
Henry Wheeler: Oftentimes as women of color we
quickly take on everyone's burdens and actually try to be Wonder Woman
instead of taking care of ourselves. It’s okay to give ourselves
permission to move, to not feel guilty. I had to begin to train myself,
if that makes sense, to see what I needed and be ok with making a
change, because nobody else will do this for me.
Nam: What I wish I'd known when I first started my
career is that just because you share certain commonalities with other
people doesn't mean that they think or feel the same way as you or will
support you. I didn't understand the nuance and complexities behind all
our different identities coming into play, especially as we become
leaders within the profession. I also want to echo what Beverly talked
about; it's not selfish to take time to give yourself a day off, even
during a busy time of the year or say no to a project that you really
don't have bandwidth for. It's a professional skill and it's not
selfish, it's strategic.
Pallie: At Pomona, I am the only woman and person of
color on the admission leadership team. Going to a women's college for
undergrad was fulfilling in ways I didn't realize I needed. I learned
who I am and what I need, and that strongly solidified my identity. The
requirements I have for colleagues have shifted and now I have a clear
vision of what I need and will ask for it.
I also think about being the supervisor of color. I think about the
junior staff of color and how they are experiencing our office, our
work, or the world. We’re humans who bring our whole selves to work and,
sometimes, we need a minute to breathe. We have conversations on our
senior team and I bring these things up. My incredible colleagues are
very responsive to this.
Nam: In the beginning, I didn't know how to identify
allies and accomplices who weren’t people of color (POC), but that is
truly an important skill because the reality is many of us will not be
able to work in offices that have a lot of POC or are led by a POC or a
WOC. People don't necessarily have to share your background to be really
understanding, supportive, and educated. So I would challenge all of us
to find not only other POC who can be professional supports, but also
others who may not look like you or have shared experiences, who will go
to bat for you.
Henry Wheeler: I agree with Suzi because I think
that’s the dilemma. I think some individuals don't feel that they need
that connection or feel they've been raised in a different environment.
But I do believe that having the knowledge, even if you don't use it
yet, is very important in this process because I think when you end up
in one of those situations, it's almost too late to go and seek help. I
finally realized I had to find other WOC and mentors—I had to seek them
out. And I remember someone told me that not every person of color is
for you and not every Anglo is against you, but you have to have the
wisdom to know the difference. And it was the wisdom that I needed, the
discernment––how do I discern who is for me and who's against me? How do
I acquire the tools, not only to assist myself but to assist others?
And how do I know when those individuals want to be assisted? Does that
Pallie: GWI is one of the most powerful conferences
for people of color to be in a space where your truth and your voice are
at the forefront. I also have some ride-or-dies. That is really
important. I think about my trajectory and how I make decisions about
the things that I do. It's a lot of POC who come around me and hold me
Gonzalez: Yes! People not on your campus can be a
great resource. This conversation wouldn’t even be happening if it
hadn’t been for GWI. I realize that not everyone can attend GWI, but
there are also great online resources. You can find ways virtually to
expand your network.
Henry Wheeler: So, we even have to check ourselves
and understand we are powerful women. I started saying, “Okay, who else
is out there? Who represents me? And do I have to see that person in
order to be a woman of power and authority?” But it's coming to a point
that we don't have to see it to be it, because right now you may not.
I'm 33 years into my career and I'm tired of looking for that hero. I
want to be my own hero. I do.
So, I want this message of empowerment to really be for real. We're
going to have to fight. I don't know if it's going to ever go away, but
we can fight and we can win, I guess that's what I want for this group.
Pallie: When I think of my career, my greatest
advances have been because of WOC who have mentored me. Recently, I saw
Youlonda Copeland-Morgan from UCLA. She sat me down and was like, “What
is happening in your career? What’s in your future? Where will you be
and what will you be doing by 40?” And I was like, "I was just coming to
say hi." But she projected this list of things I hadn't contemplated.
There are really incredible WOC out there and they really have your back
in beautiful ways.
Nam: So I think one piece of very pragmatic advice I
wish I had heard earlier is that having the freedom—financially—to do
what you want is paramount. Save as much money as you possibly can!
Being from a first-gen/low-income background, I didn’t think I would
have the opportunity to do that, especially on an admission salary. It
was very difficult to do in the beginning, but I definitely encourage
women to make sure that they have enough saved to make moves and changes
when it’s right for them—that’s power.
Gonzalez: Know your worth.
Pallie: And negotiate well.