Thomas Beckwith, Santa Fe College
Jen Berry, Indiana University Bloomington
Carlota Deseda-Coon, Syracuse University
Winnie Tang, University of California-Santa Cruz
Brown (2004) explains the significance of diversity issues and how they moved to the forefront in higher education. While diversity is a broad topic that expands across many themes and groups, it is important to discuss these issues (Grissom, 2018). This article shares some of our experiences, our perspectives, and the impact of the NACADA Emerging Leaders Program (ELP). The relevancy of diversity, equity, and inclusion and the existing challenges allowed four Emerging leaders in the 2021–2023 class to come together to write this article.
Thomas: As a leader in academic advising at the institutional level, I have had a unique journey. Before my current leadership position, screening committees at different institutions overlooked me despite being a finalist for respective positions. In addition, several people have told me, “You interview well, but you’re not the right fit.” When these things occur, it leaves you doubting yourself as a person. Furthermore, you are exposed and vulnerable. There is immense pressure to become that one person this exclusive group accepts. It becomes a stressor, especially when you’re a person from a historically marginalized group. Even when you become a member of this exclusive group, there is still trepidation.
Few Black male professionals are in higher education, much less in academic advisor or advising leadership roles (Turner & Grauerholz, 2017). I have held my current position as the Coordinator for the Advisement Center since January 2020. I am the only Black male to hold my position at this institution. It is essential to have representation because it provides a diverse voice and experiences. Also, representation offers hope for the next generation of advisors or advising leaders. However, I believe individuals must unapologetically be authentic—this is sometimes difficult due to bureaucratic constraints and societal views. My involvement in NACADA has given me credibility at the institutional level and among my peers.
NACADA must continue to offer opportunities for historically marginalized groups to become involved. For me, the Emerging Leaders Program (ELP) has been a great opportunity that has allowed me to have insightful conversations and interactions globally. While I worry about the future involvement of certain marginalized groups, I understand the significance of visibility and interpersonal communication.
Jen: Academic advising may not yet be as diverse as we hope. Still, there are certainly advisors from many different identities and diverse perspectives, objectives, and needs, just like the students we serve. And just as we, as agents of our institutions, position ourselves to support our diverse students, it is the hope that our professional organization, NACADA, also positions itself to support us as advising professionals. Thankfully, NACADA intentionally increases the support, representation, and participation of advisors with diverse identities. The association is focused on cultivating the next generation of leaders who have various backgrounds. Additionally, NACADA participated in a self-review to ensure that the association is accommodating but also encouraging an increase in diversity at all levels of leadership.
In creating the Emerging Leaders Program (ELP), in which I am happy to participate, NACADA is showing its commitment to supporting historically marginalized populations within academic advising. For example, ELP has allowed me to grow as a leader in a safe and supportive space. I am learning the “hidden curriculum” of professional organizations as it relates to advising and my professional journey. I am encouraged to represent the growing diverse population within NACADA leadership. I hope this encourages others from diverse backgrounds to feel safe and supported within the organization and, as a result, engage more in some of the available opportunities. Engagement is important to retain diverse advisors who can increase the retention of some of our most vulnerable student populations because they see themselves in their advisor (institutional agent), who sees themselves as mattering within their profession.
Carlota: Traditionally, leadership does not come in various colors, especially in academia. However, as time has changed and people have become more vocal, it seems that the color of academia is becoming just a tad less uniform. In my opinion, many in the profession now acknowledge and recognize new hues, including skin color, background, and less salient differences.
It has been 20 years since I became a professional in higher education. Every step of the ascent in leadership has been difficult. Nevertheless, sometimes in my professional journey, I was reminded that I must prove to others that I was selected for opportunities based on my merits due to hard work, perseverance, and dedication and not because of the need for diversity in leadership.
Over time, I have learned to be unapologetic and my authentic self. I realize I only need to prove to myself that I can achieve the goals I’ve set by putting my mind, heart, and values of fairness and care ahead of titles, skin color, backgrounds and abilities, and to give everyone the opportunity to be themselves and positively impact processes, procedures, colleagues, and most importantly, students. The great thing about academic advising is that it impacts all student populations across an institution and provides me the opportunity to foster a sense of belonging for students with similar characteristics and views and those who are different from me.
The Emerging Leaders Program (ELP) has been a breath of fresh air, an opportunity where I have found a community of people fighting for equity and inclusion in various ways. In this program, differences are celebrated, goals are supported, and we push each other to do better to become the leaders we want to see. ELP is a program that allows all emerging leaders to be themselves, receive the support they need, and learn about the organization.
Winnie: When I think about the importance of representation in leadership roles in academic advising, I think of my students. Diversity in leadership from underrepresented populations makes an important statement about who is accepted in the academic advising profession. My students need to see me in a leadership role, because I want them to think of higher education as a space that belongs to them and demonstrate a culture of care, resulting in the sense of belonging.
With NACADA as a premier global professional association for academic advising, I think it is essential that its leaders come from diverse backgrounds because this speaks to who belongs in the space of academic advising. An intentional choice I have made in my professional career has been to remain in a primary role as an academic advisor. This decision allowed me to seek out opportunities in academic advising administration at the institutional level instead of looking for positions in ethnic or cultural resource centers or counseling in student services programs designed to provide services for students from minoritized disadvantaged backgrounds. It has been such a privilege to participate in the Emerging Leaders Program (ELP) because I am simultaneously contributing to the diversification of leadership in NACADA and the field of academic advising. And the support I receive from my mentor and fellow Emerging Leaders has also had trickle-down effects on my professional career. As a result, I feel like I belong in academic advising and higher education administration, and I hope this will positively impact my students’ sense of belonging in higher education.
Santa Fe College
Indiana University Bloomington
University of California-Santa Cruz
Brown, L. I. (2004). Diversity: The challenge for higher education. Race Ethnicity and Education, 7(1), 21–34. https://doi.org/10.1080/1361332042000187289
Grissom, A. R. (2018). Workplace diversity and inclusion. Reference & User Services Quarterly, 57(4), 242–247.
Turner, C., & Grauerholz, L. (2017). Introducing the invisible man: Black male professionals in higher education. Humboldt Journal of Social Relations, 39, 212–227.
Cite this article using APA style as: Beckwith, T., Berry, J., Deseda-Coon, C., & Tang, W. (2022, December). The perspective of emerging leaders: Leadership, representation, and challenges. Academic Advising Today, 45(4). [insert url here]