Critical Conversations: Women in Higher Education

Women of color and white women share experiences and perspectives

Leading women in higher education from across the U.S. participated Oct. 7 in a vrtual panel discussion, “A Dialogue Among Women of Color and White Women in Higher Education.”

The event was the sixth in the Critical Conversations series of panel discussions addressing systemic racism, sponsored by the UMKC Division of Diversity and Inclusion.

UMKC people are taking thoughtful action on campus and in our community to ensure lasting and comprehensive change through Roos Advocate for Community Change, a new campus-wide effort announced in June.

The Critical Conversations are part of that initiative. The goal of each discussion is to enlighten, to educate and to explore the causes and potential cures for racism.

Panelists for the Women in Higher Education session included:

  • Karen Lee Ashcraft, professor, College of Media, Communication, and Information at the University of Colorado Boulder;
  • Karen L. Dace, vice chancellor, Diversity, Equity and Inclusion at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis;
  • Lona Davenport (co-moderator), senior diversity program coordinator, UMKC Division of Diversity and Inclusion;
  • Christine Grant, professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering, former associate dean of faculty advancement, North Carolina State University;
  • Jennifer Laflam, professor and director of Center for Teaching and Learning at American River College;
  • Tamica Lige (co-moderator), program coordinator, UMKC Students Training in Academia, Health, and Research (STAHR);
  • Shani Barrax Moore, director of diversity and inclusion, University of North Texas;
  • Julia Vargas, director, Center for Service Learning, Rockhurst University.

Excerpts from the conversation are below. A recording of the complete event is available at this link.

women in higher education panel


Moore: Some white women “want to do the work (of addressing racism) and also get credit for doing it … It’s not about the credit.”

Vargas: Seeking credit for work done is a very prevalent mindset in higher education overall. “The way the system is set up pits us against each other.”

Ashcraft: the relationship among white women and women of color in academia “has transformative potential, but that potential remains latent. … There is a long history of white women not being trustworthy allies. That’s something we need to interrupt.”

Laflam: “For the first four decades of my life, racial issues were all around me but I believed that they didn’t involve me. I neglected to see myself as a raced person with racist tendencies. … This conversation is an act of love, for me and for everyone involved in it.”

White women need to focus on listening to women of color; “let me share my experience without you minimizing it by comparing it to your own.”


– Shani Barrax Moore

Dace: “One of the reasons this (conversation) is important is that women of color and white women make up the majority in multiple academic arenas. You would think that would lead to more women in leadership, but it has not. … There is a division between white women and women of color on many campuses, a division that women of color know about and most white women do not.”

Moore: To help bring down the barriers between women, white women need to “stop denying your privilege; stop denying your ignorance and willful obliviousness; stop denying the level of frustration that women of color deal with day in and day out.”

Grant: Women need to work at creating true friendships between white women and women of color; “We need to talk about more than just (race).”

Ashcraft: Factors that drive distrust of white women by women of color include “habitual reactions of fear and intimidation, which is gaslighting” and “insisting that your intentions matter more than your impact.”

Moore: White women need to focus on listening to women of color; “let me share my experience without you minimizing it by comparing it to your own.”

Vargas: At important meetings, “notice who isn’t there. If there are no women of color at the table, speak up. … Ask how do we build a bigger, more inclusive table.”

Dace: White women in leadership positions “have to make sure that your replacement does not look like you, and make sure people of color are having the kinds of experiences that make them ready to step in.”

Published: Oct 13, 2020

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