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Empowering marginalized faculty in academia

Illustration of diverse faculty from book cover
Book offers valuable insights and fresh perspectives for early career faculty

In academia, success often seems defined by conventional metrics, leaving little room for the diverse experiences and challenges marginalized and underrepresented faculty face. However, the new book Creating Space for Ourselves as Minoritized and Marginalized Faculty challenges this norm, offering a fresh perspective on the professoriate for early career faculty. Delving beyond typical "how-to" manuals, this volume presents lived experiences through interdisciplinary methods such as creative artistic expression, testimonials and personal narratives, providing invaluable insights into surviving, thriving, and succeeding in academia.

Tricia Shalka, associate professor of educational leadership at the University of Rochester’s Warner School of Education, co-edited this groundbreaking book. In an enlightening Q&A, she shares profound insights into navigating academia as an underrepresented scholar and offers advice to marginalized faculty just starting their academic journey.


What inspired you to edit this book?
This book was born from a collective desire among my co-editors and me, from our experiences navigating academia as early career scholars on the tenure track. We initially met because we received emerging scholars awards in one of our professional associations, and over the years we found solace and support within our emerging scholars cohort, discussing the challenges we faced as early career faculty. These conversations planted the seeds for creating a book we wished we had when starting our careers. This book goes beyond the typical career success guides, offering a deeply thoughtful collection of essays that humanize the academy and offer a glimpse into the realities of being a professor with a marginalized identity or identities.

What do you hope readers will take away from the book?
First and foremost, I hope readers feel a sense of recognition and validation through this book. Marginalized faculty encounter numerous challenges in academia, often knowing that these institutions and organizations were never built with us in mind. Through the amazing essays in this book, I hope marginalized faculty can see pathways in which those challenges may not disappear, but we can keep nudging at those systems and doing this work in ways that feel authentic. 

What advice would you give to minoritized and marginalized faculty just starting in academia?
Find your people and seek out supportive communities. Academia can be isolating, especially for those from marginalized backgrounds. A key theme throughout this book is the importance of nurturing relationships with people who build you up alongside embracing your authentic self in academia. We receive several messages about what we’re “supposed to” be doing as faculty and what this job is “supposed to” look like, but there are many ways to do this work. I encourage early career faculty to find people and messages that help them to challenge some of those norms that don’t fit and to imagine new ways of doing this work to fit how they want to feel and be in their professional journey. 

What inspired you to write your chapter on wholeness in academia? 
My struggles within my faculty career inspired me to explore the concept of wholeness. I’ve experienced places where I could be my authentic self and places where I couldn’t. It’s been important to me to try to do this work in ways that I can feel both good about the work itself and good personally doing the work. But that’s not an either/or story—it’s much more fluid and complicated so I jumped at the chance to get to explore those ideas a bit more in this book with my co-author, Stephanie Hernandez Rivera. 

What is a challenge for faculty on their journey toward wholeness in academia?  
Many challenges hinder marginalized and minoritized faculty on their journey toward wholeness. The fundamental reality is that institutions were never built with us in mind, leading many faculty to feel they need to maneuver and perform in these contexts, often at the expense to an authentic self. This can be exhausting. It’s hard to feel whole when you must leave important parts about who you are and your experiences at the door because many of our academic spaces imply that those identities and experiences are not valued or even counter to what it means to be a “good” faculty member. 

Where and how can wholeness be found?
In our chapter, we share that wholeness can be nurtured through relationships and meaningful literature. To the former, there are so many mechanisms in higher education that pull us away from others and pit us against one another. But these nourishing and supportive relationships are life-giving in these otherwise sometimes toxic environments. To the latter, finding affirmation in literature of others walking similar paths can offer solace and validation amidst the challenges of academia. 

How does the dance metaphor you describe in your chapter relate to the concept of wholeness in academia? 
The dance metaphor captures the fluid and nonlinear journey toward wholeness in academia. It acknowledges the dynamic interplay between internal and external pressures, reflecting the ongoing process of navigating authenticity within academic spaces. Feeling whole or being able to be authentic in academia wasn’t a fixed point for my coauthor and me as much as it was something we were reaching for—the dance metaphor was able to hold all of that for us.  We share the idea of moving with to capture our experiences when we felt like we were able to bring our whole selves to this work and maneuvering to capture the many times we felt we were trying to negotiate and navigate our work lives and environments in ways that didn’t feel authentic. 

As an editor, what impact do you hope this book will have in shaping future discussions and practices within academia?
I want early career faculty to curl up and read this book, feeling seen and affirmed. If nothing else, I hope faculty can read this book's phenomenally thoughtful and personal essays and internalize the message that “I am not alone.” I also hope it fosters a deeper understanding among academic leaders and senior faculty of the challenges faced by marginalized and minoritized faculty and prompts meaningful discussions in creating more equitable and supportive higher education environments with a focus on the well-being of all faculty.  


Shalka concludes, “By shedding light on personal and institutional factors often overlooked in mainstream career literature, this book empowers marginalized faculty and educates institutional leaders. Through understanding these often-unspoken dynamics, both faculty and leaders can work toward creating inclusive systems that honor the humanity of all individuals while fostering successful career pathways for those traditionally marginalized in academia.”

Shalka is a faculty member in the higher education program at the Warner School. Discover more about Warner’s master’s and doctoral programs in higher education designed for aspiring and advancing higher education professionals and researchers. These programs specialize in areas including access and equity, student affairs, administration, academic and career counseling and leadership.