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Behind the Scenes: Our Presence is Resistance: Stories of Black Women in Senior-Level Student Affairs Positions at Predominantly White Institutions

Community Womxn in Student Affairs
September 15, 2021

Behind the Scenes: Our Presence is Resistance: Stories of Black Women in Senior-Level Student Affairs Positions at Predominantly White Institutions

Roshaunda Breeden 

In my first doctoral research course, my professor asked us to think about a population we wanted to explore. Immediately, I thought, “Black women in student affairs.” As I combed the literature, much of the published work included Black women in mid and entry-level positions in our field. After reading five articles, I had a panicked:

“Where are all the Black women in senior-level positions in student affairs?”

I was perplexed because I knew of Black women in these roles, but why were their voices not included in the literature? I found several incredible dissertations, but how would Black women aspire to senior-level positions if left out of scholarly conversations?

So, I set out to explore the narratives of Black women in senior-level positions, particularly at predominantly white institutions.

What happened next was way more than I expected.

In meeting with these seven brilliant Black women, my goal was to soak up their wisdom, affirm their brilliance, and treat them with the care they deserved. In return, they cared for me in the same way. They met with me after hours, and we shared meals, books, podcasts, took selfies, and engaged in detailed campus tours. Listening to them as experts, I believe each Black woman connected with me on a deeper level and more meaningful way. They shared their narratives and artifacts with a level of comfort beyond how they would talk to a stranger. We exchanged stories, laughed, cried, and became vulnerable with one another.

I left each interview feeling more seen and understood than ever before.

While I could not share all the nuggets of wisdom that these Black women provided, I have shared three themes across their stories, including: (a) “We are better than they are because we have to be,” (b) “You don’t need a mentor; you need an advisory board,” and (c) “Where do we go from here?”

I hope that the findings resonate with you, and if you are a Black woman in student affairs, I hope you find joy, love, and support outside of your labor because you deserve it.


Black women have made tremendous progress in higher education. However, despite increases in enrollment and graduation, research regarding Black women’s experiences in senior-level positions in the student affairs field is limited. The purpose of this qualitative study was to explore the experiences of seven Black women in senior-level positions in student affairs at predominantly White institutions (PWIs). Analyzed using a Black feminist thought theoretical framework and narrative inquiry, this study amplified the unique standpoints of Black women in student affairs leadership positions at PWIs. The findings revealed strategies used and barriers faced when navigating racism and sexism for Black women in senior-level administrative positions in student affairs.

Read more at https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/26379112.2021.1948860