New Emerging Scholars of Color Program
Breaking the Barriers of Success
By Sheryl E. Taylor
The rally cry for diversity in academia is talked about, but what is being done to truly integrate and level the playing field?
Students and communities desire a truer representation of their nation’s cultural and ethnic landscape among higher education faculty.
The University of Houston-Downtown (UHD) wants to help level the playing field for scholars with its new Emerging Scholars of Color (ESC) program.
The brainchild of a partnership between the Center for Latino Studies and the Center for Critical Race Studies (CRS), led by UHD’s Dr. Bonnie Lucero and Dr. Vida Robertson, respectively. Lucero’s and Robertson’s own experiences in graduate school and in the academic job market contributed to the creation of this much-needed program.
“The Emerging Scholars of Color program is an earnest attempt to institutionally intervene in the inequitable manner in which young scholars of color are systemically deprived of the opportunity to authentically engage with the researchers and students at the heart of their academic pursuits," said Dr. Vida Roberston, director of CRS and associate professor of English and humanities. "Developing scholars interested in interrogating complex issues facing their respective communities must be allowed access to the very communities from which they draw strength.”
Lucero echoes Robertson's viewpoint of the program's necessity.
“Our program responds to countless stories we hear about graduate students and early career scholars who are absolutely brilliant and doing great work, but are struggling to make the transition from graduate school to the professoriate,” said Lucero. “ESC seeks to supplement the first-class academic training available at graduate institutions with hands-on experience and personalized feedback in the practicalities of the academic job market.”
According to Lucero, navigating this transition successfully requires young scholars to learn about the unspoken rules of the academic job market—from hidden messages behind certain interview questions to framing their application materials to highlight their unique strengths to negotiating challenging encounters with would-be colleagues.
“The academic job market can seem daunting for early career scholars,” emphasized Lucero. “With so few tenure-track jobs available, many applicants will receive dozen of rejection letters before landing their first position. While some of these rejections are beyond the applicants’ control, in other instances, the reason could be something so small, fixable and teachable … all of these little things that go into a job process that you think will only be about merit,” added the associate professor of history. “We want to take these groups of scholars and cultivate their talent and really help them figure the best way present themselves in the job market so that their unique talents and skillsets really shine through.”
The competition for a place in the program’s inaugural cohorts generated more than 50 applications from scholars all over the country, including Harvard University, Princeton University, Duke University, Northwestern University, University of California-Los Angeles, University of Michigan and University of Houston. Submitted applications represented a broad range of fields from humanities to mathematics to pharmacy.
UHD will host the selected scholars on campus this fall. Applicants were required to be advanced graduate students in or recent graduates of a terminal degree program in any accredited institution. Independent scholars without formal institutional affiliation also were eligible.
In addition to getting assistance with their job documents, the program scholars will receive feedback on from UHD faculty and students on their teaching demonstrations and research presentations—two of the most common requirements of on-campus interviews for faculty positions at U.S. institutions.
“This program provides an opportunity for them to practice and receive feedback on their performance, develop their strengths and hone their skillset,” Lucero emphasized. But, the program is more than job preparation; it is about allowing the nation’s most promising young scholars to experience the possibilities of teaching at a Hispanic-serving and a Minority-serving institution like UHD, while serving as examples for our students.
“During these visits we want our students to interact with these scholars,” she said. “Our goal is also to connect these individuals to our students and give them access to intellectual and professional role models who look like them, who are doing research on their own communities … who are producing cutting-edge knowledge in key fields like critical race studies and Latino studies.We also sought out topics that our students would find useful and valuable and interesting. And, we asked them to craft their teaching demonstration to apply innovative pedagogical practices specifically designed to augment success of our student population.”
One of the scholars, a native Texan and a Yale University doctoral student, is working on a project that centers on the history of Mexican-American entrepreneurship in Houston’s East End.“This is a perfect topic that validates a link between UHD and the community that can often be difficult to bridge,” Lucero noted. “We are a community institution. It behooves us to cultivate that connection through programs that are academic and intellectual on one hand, but also relatable and accessible. If students aren’t seeing people who look like them teaching classes or seeing their communities represented in the curriculum then they aren’t going to feel included in the educational experience.Higher education studies is not just about methods and theories. It’s about actual communities.”
Lucero describes another inspirational scholar of the program who is doing “amazing” work about racialization and gender relations of power in Muslim communities in the U.S.
During a time when women’s empowerment is firmly planted on the world’s agenda. The program’s inaugural cohorts include four women of color.“The makeup of the current professoriate is not necessarily reflective of all the different talents that are out here. Many fields of academia are still male-dominated often in ways that specifically disadvantage women of color. So, we are hopeful to feature these four amazing women doing cutting-edge, inspirational work.
“At the end of the day, the goal is to increase diversity in academia because we desperately need more people who come from different backgrounds to really represent those voices, respect those experiences and celebrate those perspectives,” Lucero continued. “We are redefining what academia really means.”
The University of Houston-Downtown (UHD) is the second-largest university in Houston and has served the educational needs of the nation’s fourth-largest city since 1974. As one of four distinct public universities in the University of Houston System, UHD is a comprehensive, four-year university led by President Loren J. Blanchard. Annually, UHD educates approximately 14,000 students, boasts more than 66,000 alumni, and offers 45 bachelor’s degrees, 12 master’s degrees, and 19 online programs within four colleges: Marilyn Davies College of Business, College of Humanities and Social Sciences, College of Public Service, and College of Sciences and Technology. UHD has one of the lowest tuition rates in Texas.
U.S. News and World Report ranked UHD among the nation’s Best Online Bachelor’s Programs for Applied Administration and Best Online Master’s Programs in Criminal Justice, as well as a Top Performer in Social Mobility. The Wall Street Journal/College Pulse ranked UHD one of the best colleges in the U.S. for its 2024 rankings, with notable distinctions: No. 1 for diversity (tied) and No. 3 for student experience. The University is designated as a Hispanic-Serving Institution, a Minority-Serving Institution, and a Military Friendly School. For more information on the University of Houston-Downtown, visit uhd.edu.