By Sarah Senese ’23
The leadership at Colorado College has changed dramatically throughout the years, and now, in the 2021-22 academic year, the college has never had as many female-identifying, Black, Indigenous, People of Color voices as it does now. While this is an enormous success for Colorado College as a small, liberal arts college, the work always continues. As the CC community takes a moment to acknowledge how far it’s come, the BIPOC women in leadership roles know that there’s still a long way to go.
With a unique administrative faculty perspective, Claire Oberon Garcia — professor of English, dean of the faculty, and acting provost — knows that in order for the discrepancies in leadership representation roles to diminish in higher education, “we should speak frankly about the barriers that still exist.”
For Garcia, many of her concerns lie with the challenges BIPOC women face once they’re in these leadership roles, and the treatment, challenges, and biases that follow. From her experience as the dean of faculty and the acting provost, Garcia can see that “effective leadership is contextual, conversational, and collaborative rather than individualistic and hierarchical. Effective leaders need to make themselves vulnerable in ways that some may interpret as not being ‘strong’ or ‘decisive’.” From this, Garcia becomes concerned with the biases that exist in higher education and the general work force when BIPOC women assume roles of leadership — qualifications. Garcia knows that when these women stray from what others conventionally see as “strong” and “decisive,” it instills doubt about their skills or authority. If you do things differently, do you really know what you’re doing? Garcia says she has noticed that when BIPOC women in these leadership roles aren’t given the confidence, trust, and benefit of the doubt that white individuals in similar roles are given, questions arise about whether a BIPOC person is truly qualified.
Garcia’s scholarship in Black studies and DEI issues has allowed her to see the problems that exist from an informed administrative perspective. With her current work initiating changes to implement the college’s antiracism commitment to enable all members of the school’s community to be heard and thrive — things do seem, in some ways, to be looking up.
“I used to feel that headhunters who called me about leadership opportunities were just interested in putting together a compositionally diverse pool,” she says, “but now, I see more and more BIPOC women actually being hired into leadership positions from a diversity of professional and experiential backgrounds.” Garcia says she’s beginning to feel that higher educational institutions are looking for more than just faces on a pamphlet, or numbers in a statistic. Instead, these institutions are looking for those who are excited to enact change and challenge the current ways of thinking, and are beginning to broaden what is considered relevant experience for leadership roles, encouraging more BIPOC women to fill these spaces.
As things look up for higher education and Colorado College in the lens of BIPOC women assuming significantly more leadership roles, it’s important for the college and its antiracism commitment to hear what these women know must happen for this change to continue — with longevity — toward a more equitable future. Colorado College has come a long way and there’s pride to be had in the current leadership representation, but the work certainly continues.
Note: An extended version of this story will appear in the Spring 2022 Bulletin magazine.