Mellon Grant

The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation has awarded Trinity College a grant of $114,000 to support the planning of a convening of women of color (WOC) leaders in higher education and other sectors. The funding will be used over approximately 16 months, culminating in a meeting of WOC leaders expected to take place in January 2021.

Inspired by the Mellon Foundation meeting for Women of Color Presidents in Higher Education in 2017, Trinity President Joanne Berger-Sweeney; Johnnetta Cole, president emerita of Spelman and Bennett Colleges; and Mariko Silver, former president of Bennington College and current president and CEO of the Henry Luce Foundation, became convinced that to connect and create more leadership opportunities for WOC in higher education, it is important to reach beyond higher education for lessons learned and for inspiration. Berger-Sweeney is serving as the principal investigator for the project.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, female students of color received 32.9 percent of undergraduate degrees awarded in 2015–16, but only 5 percent of all college and university presidents and chancellors are women of color. The grant will be used to collect and analyze existing research about the representation of WOC leaders in various industries and study why there is a disproportionately low representation of WOC in academic leadership, while developing ideas to identify and encourage WOC leaders who will create change in academia.

The project aims to meet an unmet need, as no existing organizations provide a network to connect WOC in top-level positions across sectors. While a handful focus on training, mentoring, and preparing WOC for leadership positions, these organizations often focus on empowering WOC in a specific sector. The work produced by this grant has the potential to generate opportunities to develop a unique, cross-disciplinary mentoring network for the future. Other potential benefits of the project include the creation of a list of best practices for mentoring WOC leaders and the forging of connections between WOC in academia, who are teaching talented students, and WOC in other sectors, who are able to offer jobs to those students upon graduation.

The convening participants will include approximately 50 WOC who are presidents in higher education and leaders in other sectors, including government, nonprofit, arts and culture, and media.