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The impact of advisers of color in the UC

Tara Young, College Adviser, College of Letters & Science | October 28, 2016

At UC Berkeley, the overall population of staff of color has remained flat over the past 10 years. The more senior the position, the less likely a person of color will occupy it. In Sid Reel’s Wisdom Cafe article (http://wisdomcafe.berkeley.edu/2015/11/how-campus-staff-play-a-role-in-advancing-equity-diversity-and-inclusion/), “The 2013 campus climate survey identified that staff members experience a higher level of exclusionary behavior than faculty and students in ways such as being shunned, ignored, intimidated, or being the target of hostile (bullying, harassing) behavior.” 

In addition, according to the UC Berkeley’s Division of Equity and Inclusion, a significant number of staff, particularly managers, are likely to retire in the next 5-10 years. What particularly concerned me was this sentence: “In light of the low numbers of staff of color in middle and senior management levels, the prospects for advancement of staff of color are limited.”  

advisers of color at UCAAC 2016

Advisers of Color Workshop at the UC Academic Advising Conference 2016

Educational institutions nationwide are attempting to address the underrepresentation of faculty of color in relation to their roles addressing campus culture, climate, assumptions and norms. But where are the efforts for advisors of color? Advisers substantially influence student development, and student retention. If we can assume “Academic advisors are crucial in the establishment of a campus climate that creates safe space for our students” (Lantta, 2008), then universities need to understand the impact of advisers of color.  

Earlier this year, I conducted a UC-wide convenience sample survey of advisers of color. I presented the data at the 2016 UC Academic Advising Conference and at UC Berkeley’s Stay Day 2016. Of the 103 who answered the survey, 83 identify as advisers of color.  

Here are some highlights from that survey.

  • Most (95%) had shared stories about being a person of color to support students.
  • Less than a quarter (22%) had supervisory duties.
  • Respondents overwhelmingly (80%) said being an adviser of color helped their advising.  
  • One piece of good news, 74% said they work at an institution that validates their cultural backgrounds, knowledge and identities.
  • But most (56%) did not have a mentor.
  • And, 40% responded that there were a lack of resources for job advancement.

How can the UC system support this group? I find part of the answer in one of the first in-depth studies to focus on minorities who have made it to the top. “Breaking Through: The Making of Minority Executives in Corporate America” (by David Thomas and John Gabarro) examines the crucial connection between corporate culture and the advancement of people of color. Thomas and Gabarro embarked on a six-year study analyzing promotion data and then comparing the career experiences of 54 minority and white executives and managers from three companies. They discovered that the successful African-American, Asian-American and native-born Hispanic executives in their study moved at a significantly slower rate than their white counterparts as they ascended to middle management, moved more quickly from middle to upper management as they passed plateauing fast-starters, and finally marched in step with whites who were heading for the executive suite. The factors that helped these minorities be successful: values, social networks, love of the work and skill building.

In regard to the data above, the pool of potential leadership among advisors of color is greatly reduced —  26% who said they work at an institution that does not validate their cultural backgrounds, knowledge and identities.  Many advising offices have a simple structure with limited opportunity for upward movement.

Yet even with these numbers, most (89%) participants agreed that “Knowing what I know now, I would still choose to advise at this institution.”  What is it that keeps them persisting in higher education?  Moreover, if a diverse workforce is an institutional value, how do we remove impediments to their advancement? Some training is solely for those who are managers at present.

So how do low-rank staff train to enter management without institutional support? Thomas and Gabarro note that mentees are validated to the rest of the organization as quality and credible performers. Yet 44% of advisers of color don’t have a mentor. Given the impending UC retirement issues, how will advisers of color be retained or ascend into higher management with these constraints?

More research is needed.  With that in mind, I am preparing a more in-depth survey that I hope to disseminate in 2017. As I continue to review higher education literature, I am also surprised that students’ opinions about the impact of advisers of color have not been investigated.

Moreover, being advisers of color cannot be fully understood without understanding their intersected identities. How a dark brown Chicano transman from San Francisco versus a pale conservative Latino from outside the U.S. could be perceived, and shape their experience into advising could have differing impact on students. They may differ in their staff experiences in resources and credibility. To leave out the influences of gender, ability, class etc. would be naive and incomplete. Research has yet to define the unique contributions of advisers of color versus those of their counterparts. What do they say, present, or do that is impactful?

We may have some indications from Hua-Yu Sebastian Cherng’s October 7 study from New York University, which found middle school student of all races prefer teacher of color. (http://www.npr.org/sections/ed/2016/10/07/496717541/study-finds-students-of-all-races-prefer-teachers-of-color?utm_source=npr_newsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_content=20161007&utm_campaign=npr_email_a_friend&utm_term=storyshare).

I recently read the UC Undergraduate Experience Survey (UCUES) questions for the last few years.  Students were not asked how advisers of color impact them.  I hope college students are asked at some point soon. 

Comments to “The impact of advisers of color in the UC

  1. Hi Tara! I am an advisor at the University of Colorado in Boulder, and this is something I have been thinking about quite a bit. I just did a quick google search for research/information on advisors of color and came across your article. I would love to learn more about the research study you are conducting surrounding this topic. There are very few advisors of color here at CU. I think it would be interesting to learn more about their path to advising, experience in advising, and how it has shaped their advising strategies.

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