A Move Toward Greater Diversity in Deanships

When Valerie Kinloch was named dean of the School of Education at the University of Pittsburgh, in July 2017, she did not know she was the first black female dean at the university. A former vice provost at Pitt who wanted to interview her brought it to her attention. "At first I was floored" by the news, she says, "and then that quickly became something that motivated me."

Kinloch can now see how the university took 230 years to hire its first black woman as dean. Colleges in the United States, she says, "generally make assumptions about people who should have certain positions. And oftentimes, we don’t necessarily think that those people who are most qualified are black women." She still sees a need for more-open conversations about racism, even as progress is being made in leadership. Since she was hired, Kinloch has gone from being the only black female dean at the university to being one of two, after Audrey J. Murrell was named acting dean of the Honors College.

Kinloch received her undergraduate degree from Johnson C. Smith University, a historically black institution in North Carolina, where she was immersed in an environment that encouraged her to think deeply about racial identities and blackness. She learned what it means to be part of a community and how one individual’s success can bring success to a community. She left the university "feeling as if I could do anything in the world that I wanted to do, even in the absence of adequate resources."

It’s not just about who gets a seat at the table, she says, but "people who feel that they can’t be a part of conversations because they don’t belong in those narratives, in those meetings, in those stories. When in fact, they do."  

In research she did on race and literacy education while on the faculty at Ohio State University, Kinloch confronted the disparity between who makes decisions and who feels the impact of those decisions in education. “Our differences should not get in the way of our core commitments to improving educational conditions for all people, especially those who need us the most,” says Kinloch.

Kinloch succeeded a dean who had been in the post for more than 15 years. People were wary, she says, not necessarily of her but of change.

Within her first year as dean, Kinloch developed a new strategic plan for the School of Education. She has also started classroom and office renovations and a reorganization of departments. “The first phase of our renovations has proven that we need to figure out how to work better with each other and how to not just have better space, but make collaborative use of the space,” says Kinloch.

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