by Dr. Kimberly Smith and Leah Jackson
Drazen Zigic/ Shutterstock
In this interview, the president of the American Association of Blacks in Higher Education (AABHE) discusses strategies for retaining Black faculty and staff and other pressing issues to be addressed by the larger academic community.
Leah Jackson, HigherEdJobs: Part of the mission of AABHE is giving a voice to Black Americans in higher education. What are some of the pressing issues that need to be heard and addressed by the larger academic community?
Kimberly Smith, president, American Association of Blacks in Higher Education: Access and affordability for unrepresented and underserved students; Recruitment and retention of diverse faculty, staff, and students in higher education; Rising student debt; Declining enrollment; Decreased state funding; Post-graduate preparation; and Closing the achievement gap for underrepresented and underserved students
Jackson: One area of focus for AABHE is “spreading best practices for developing Black faculty and staff organizations on campuses.” What do you commonly see missing at colleges and universities? What is your top piece of advice for cultivating this talent?
Smith: Many colleges and universities are not providing leadership development appropriate to meet the needs of a diverse population. Proactive leadership development increases faculty and staff engagement, establishes a pipeline for talent, helps with the recruitment and retention of talented team members, and helps to clearly articulate the skills and abilities that are necessary to move institutions of higher education in a strategic direction. When leadership development exists, it oftentimes does not acknowledge the impact of cultural differences on leadership development. This includes recognition of how the intersectionality of gender and race impacts professional advancement for some members of the higher education community. AABHE tries to address this gap through programs such as the Leadership Mentoring Institute (LMI) and the Rising Leaders Institute (RLI).
Jackson: Black History Month is a time to pay tribute to the many generations of Black Americans who fought for equal rights and opportunity. What are some of the achievements specific to higher education to be celebrated this month?
Smith: Increased attention on student sense of belongingness at both HBCUs and PWIs; Redefining student success in higher education; and Focus on students engaging in High Impact Practices (HIPs)
Jackson: As the president of the AABHE, working with higher education professionals and leaders, what advice do you have for other associations/organizations that aim to cultivate change and opportunity?
Smith: I encourage all students and professionals to actively seek out and establish communities where they feel valued, appreciated, and respected. This requires intentionality and the support of mentors who have successfully navigated their professional journey. They must cultivate their own agency; a sense of control they feel over their professional and personal journey.
Jackson: What do you see the future holding for Black higher education professionals?
Smith: Given recent conversations around diversity and equity work in higher education, institutions can no longer ignore the unique needs of each faculty, staff, and student when thinking about how best to facilitate their growth and development. Research has shown that its more cost-effective to retain employees and students than to invest in increased recruitment.
Jackson: Please share about your role in higher education and with the American Association for Blacks in Higher Education (AABHE) and what led you on this path.
Smith: Currently, I serve as the Associate Vice Provost for Student Success Initiatives at Virginia Tech. In this role, I provide leadership for university-wide initiatives related to enhancing student learning. Specifically, my responsibilities include promoting and supervising a series of integrated programs, pathways and partnerships which provide an educational pipeline that supports emerging scholars in their quest to succeed academically, from the pre-college level through graduate and professional school. In concert with a team of qualified professionals, I assist students in enhancing their learning in core academic subjects, develop the skills needed to be successful students and professionals, and feel more confident about their abilities.
In addition, I serve as the current President of the American Association of Blacks in Higher Education (AABHE). AABHE is an outgrowth of the Black Caucus, which was a component of the former American Association of Higher Education (AAHE). As such, AABHE has a rich history of representing Black Americans in higher education on national and international levels. The Black Caucus created the Summit for Blacks in Higher Education.
Over the years, AABHE has been involved in numerous initiatives such as addressing the pipeline of Black faculty and staff in higher education, bringing issues pertinent to Black faculty and staff to the attention of the larger academic community and recognizing Black American achievements and accomplishments to higher education.
AABHE will continue to be the voice for Black Americans in higher education. While AABHE evolved from the AAHE Black Caucus, the direction has not changed course. AABHE is an individual and institutional member-based organization with sponsorships from colleges and universities throughout the country. The organization is also sponsored by corporations that support the mission and vision of AABHE.
Other professional affiliations include serving as a Board Member for the National Academic Advising Association (NACADA) and as a faculty member for the NACADA Consultant and Speakers Bureau. These experiences provided me the opportunity to serve as a fellow with the Excellence in Academic Advising (EAA) collaborative between NACADA and the Gardner Institute for Excellence in Undergraduate Education to advance student learning, success, persistence, retention, and degree completion through a comprehensive, standards-based assessment process to promote excellence in academic advising.
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