Leading Towards Impact: Diversity and Leadership in Higher Education

Dr. Bingham-Hickman at podium speaking

May 14, 2024

By: Taiese Bingham-Hickman, Ph.D. M.S., MBA, Ph.D., Executive Director, The Leadership Alliance

The nation and its colleges and universities have wrestled with racial injustice and the challenges of diversity for centuries. Cans were kicked down the road from the Constitutional founders to the Civil War to the long-hoped gains of the 1960s civil rights era. There have been twists and turns, steps forward and back. A confounding hurdle since the 1970s and 80s has been the aspiration to increase the number of previously underrepresented, especially people of color, in the ranks of university professors.

Ivy College presidents took up this challenge and in 1992, Brown University led by Vartan Gregorian founded The Leadership Alliance. The Leadership Alliance is a consortium of forty-one leading research and teaching colleges, universities, and private industry dedicated to increasing the participation of underrepresented and underserved students in Ph.D. and M.D.-Ph.D. training programs. The Alliance has mentored over 6,000 undergraduates and more than 1,000 Leadership Alliance summer program alumni, known as Doctoral Scholars, have earned a Ph.D. or M.D.- Ph.D.

The Leadership Alliance is guided by the principle that promoting and advancing underrepresented talent in research produces a significantly equitable and diverse research workforce and society. Catalyzing a culture of academic achievement, belief in expanding diversity in faculty ranks,  and promoting  mentorship, The Leadership Alliance creates change  that promotes and contributes nationally to discourse about diversity, equity, and inclusion in our colleges and universities and the research workforce.

The pursuit of diversity in education is today more critical than ever, The Leadership Alliance is a pillar that transforms academic leadership and more diverse inclusion. The recent Leadership Alliance Presidential Forum, held at the Salamander Hotel and Kennedy Center of the Performing Arts in our nation’s capital marked an anniversary and signaled the demand for continued call to action. The Leadership Alliance Presidential Forum celebrated the achievement of 1,000 doctoral scholars and sparked robust conversations about pathways for diversity in the future of academia.  The Forum showcased a series of engaging panel discussions that featured the continued collective work and journey that lies ahead by bringing together leaders, Presidents, Provosts, scholars and philanthropic and private supporters in higher education.

The forum’s panels were a profound exploration of diversity’s evolving critical importance. Leaders like President Rochelle Ford of Dillard University pressed for understanding of the “new normal” of inclusivity in education. A panel of scholars and leaders focused on the challenges faced in academia today and crafted ideas addressing these complexities. 

Another roundtable, led by President Sian Beilock of Dartmouth College, stressed the path that needs to be undertaken by college and university leaders. They underscored the essential role of the Leadership Alliance and other forces for change to expand the pipeline and programs that  prepare future leaders for the educated and diverse workforce of tomorrow. 

The deliberations of these panels was underscored by the Vice President Kamala Harris’ letter to The Leadership Alliance and capped by an engaging dialogue with civil rights icon Dr. Clarence B. Jones and Brown University President Christina H. Paxson. Added to this rich mix, were performances by college and university artistic groups that celebrated cultural and academic heritage—each note and dialogue a piece in the mosaic of our collective journey.

Performances by the Dillard University Female Ensemble’s majestic voices led by Dr. S Carver Davenport, the thought-provoking play “Amen Corner” by the Dillard University Theater directed by Mr. Cortheal Clark, the expressive movements of the Gallaudet University Dance Company, the rhythmic beats of the Grammy Award-winning Black Lodge Singers, the stirring harmonies of the Morgan State University Choir under the direction of Dr. Eric Conway, and the soulful tunes of the Howard University Jazz Ensemble led by Professor Fred Irby, and the innovative artistry of Renée Elizabeth Neely Tanner wove together a rich tapestry that celebrated the intersection of cultural heritage and academic pursuit with an appreciation and acknowledgement of the importance the arts have in the pursuit of social justice. 

The Presidential Forum was a platform for undergraduate and graduate students, scholars, Presidents, and Provosts from elite universities nationwide to share their reflections and insights, further amplifying the impact of The Leadership Alliance. This gathering was not just an event; it was a testament to The Leadership Alliance’s enduring legacy and role in shaping the future of academia, leadership, and the research workforce.

The Leadership Alliance Presidential Forum displayed The Leadership Alliance as a beacon that guides students and scholars in today’s complex academic environment and offers a blueprint for nurturing underrepresented talent into advanced academic, scholarly, and research inquiry. The Alliance’s  call to action is clear: leaders, philanthropic organizations, private companies, and educational institutions must unite in this journey of expanding mentorship and inspiration. The Leadership Alliance Presidential Forum provided a model and framework for success, embracing the complexities of today’s academic environment and offering a roadmap for progress and how college and university leaders can and must support diversity, equity and inclusion in the future of the academy and in the research workforce.

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