Lessons from Dr. Rusty Barceló, President, Northern New Mexico College

Faculty at WOCAP Conference

WOCAP conference: nationally recognized leader for equity in higher education addresses attendees

On March 18, the Women of Color in the Academy Project hosted Advancing Together: State of Women of Color Faculty at the University of Michigan. With the goal of “promoting an equitable, diverse campus environment,” this one-day conference offered a public forum for faculty and administrators to share their experiences, hear advice about achieving career success, and connect with colleagues from different departments and campuses.

All six panel sessions, designed by and primarily for women of color faculty, covered career advice valuable to all U-M faculty and graduate students: Mentoring for Junior Faculty, Promotion from Associate to Full Professor, Considering Leadership Positions, Balancing Work and Personal Life, Engaging with your Community, and Promising Practices for a Diverse Campus.

Conference attendees came from across the U-M campus, from area universities, and as far away as Chicago. A highlight of their day was the lunchtime keynote address by Dr. Nancy “Rusty” Barceló, President of Northern New Mexico College and nationally recognized leader for equity and diversity in higher education.

We share with you here some key points of Dr. Barcelo's message:Dr Rusty Barcelo


  • Women and people of color have historically stood on the outside and on the margins of academia. They took their stances at the river's edge, shouting over the waters at higher education institutions on the opposite bank, demanding entry and loudly voicing their issues and concerns. Now more minority faculty and–to a much lesser extent–minority administrators have bridged the waters and claimed their places in university classrooms and administrative offices.

    The dilemma these professionals face, however, is how to straddle the river: Maintaining their voices of dissent in the face of ongoing discrimination and injustice and, at the same time, working within the ivied walls for the best interests of everyone they serve. Barceló used her own experiences to illustrate the complexity of this dilemma. Throughout her long career as a student, faculty member and administrator, Barceló has been an outspoken critic of the lack of diversity in higher education. Now as the new President of Northern New Mexico College, Barceló knows that, while continuing to press for transformational change around issues of equity and diversity, she must also represent and address the needs of everyone on her campus.

  • Barceló directly challenged the leaders of colleges and universities to take advantage of the experience and wisdom minority faculty can provide for problems facing higher education. “If you want to know how to run a program on a shoestring budget, just ask us.” “If you want to manage interdisciplinary studies, just ask us.” “If you want to incorporate diverse points of view, just ask us.” Barceló noted that too often “diversity” and “excellence” are posited as opposites, when in fact they are intertwined. She repeatedly challenged this opposition, whether found in recruiting practices, graduate education, or tenure decisions.

  • One of Barceló's concerns (echoed at the afternoon panel Considering Leadership Positions) was the need for succession planning. She indicated that, in her experience, without people of color, women, or LGBT folks in positions of leadership their concerns have a greater tendency to fade away. In the forty years since the Civil Rights Movement, leaders have emerged, but at this point many of those people are close to retirement.

    Challenging women of color faculty in the audience, Barceló pointed out that it's time for some of them to step forward and decide to become those new leaders. She charged them to ask “What am I going to do?” Although she acknowledged that the move from faculty to administration is difficult in some ways, and that the role of diversity champion can feel lonely, Barceló pointed to the fact that, unless these roles are filled, colleges and universities soon won't have the women of color graduate students to be hired into the faculty ranks, nor the faculty available to move into administration. Despite the fact that the role Rusty Barceló has played as an administrator focused on building diversity in academia has been difficult and lonely at times, it is clear from her spirit and enthusiasm that it has also been immensely satisfying.

The Women of Color in the Academy Project (WOCAP) was founded by a group of female faculty of color at the University in 1994 to highlight the contributions women of color make to the university community and to society at large; build a campus-wide network of women of color faculty; advocate on behalf of women of color faculty and
graduate students; and serve as a model for future recruitment and retention programs for women of color faculty at the national and international level.

Contact WOCAP coordinator Ching-Yune C. Sylvester for more information at