AABHE Inspires African American Leadership with a Focus on Retaining Culture

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While many colleges and universities are striving to become more diverse, the American Association of Blacks in Higher Education (AABHE) President Kenneth P. Monteiro, PhD, says that achieving inclusion is more complex than just improving minority numbers. He attributes this challenge to the deeply rooted structure of institutions, which makes it difficult for African Americans to succeed while holding onto their culture.

AABHE formed out of the late American Association for Higher Education’s Black Caucus. Operating as an independent organization since 2006, AABHE focuses on expanding African American leadership in higher education. Its efforts have included initiatives to address the pipeline of black faculty and staff, shedding light on issues faced by these individuals in higher education and recognizing their achievements.

“Oftentimes, the work we do in the black community — no matter the intention — the institution is not set up to reward that, and we need to anticipate this so that we [can] show our colleagues how they can set [themselves] up for success,” Monteiro says. “The institution is not likely to change in our lifetime, or at least our tenure lifetime, but if you become a leader at an institution, you will be able to change the structure.”

Part of AABHE’s mission is to address the underlying problems within the construct of higher education that can make it difficult for institutions to achieve inclusive excellence. AABHE attempts to guide African Americans toward becoming successful leaders within the current system while at the same time holding onto their identity and culture.

“Part of what AABHE does is train African Americans to stay African American and still succeed in the institution,” Monteiro says. “If they are able to do that, then they are able to do what the institution dreams of, and that is [increase] the diversity of the faculty and administration, allowing them to evolve to become who they aspire to be. But it really takes work. It isn’t a dream; it’s not magical.”

To help its members achieve this goal, AABHE hosts an annual Leadership and Mentoring Institute (LMI), a weeklong program that trains faculty members and administrators on how to advance into leadership roles while satisfying the needs of the African American community. LMI teaches members how to bring their African American culture into institutions and provides application reviews, advice on assembling a portfolio, and recommendations on effective ways for achieving tenure.

Monteiro recalls countless times when members reached out to inquire about AABHE expanding the program to include more frequent sessions. He says the program’s success is witnessed by the fact that multiple participants have gone on to receive promotions within their respective institutions; specifically, Monteiro notes two instances when LMI graduates became university presidents.

“We have 100 [members] who have gone through [LMI] in six years, and it’s time to scale it up,” he says. “We know the basic programs are really working for our students.”

While LMI focuses on administrative and faculty tracks, AABHE also offers advanced leadership training for college and university presidents. This session, called the President’s Meeting, is an unstructured forum during which presidents can openly discuss topics around African American leadership and inclusion and ways to advance their careers.

The President’s Meeting takes place once a year, and Monteiro says that attendance at this year’s event was only half African American, with many Latino and Caucasian presidents from across the country present as well. He says that with such a diverse range of attendees came an array of perspectives on the issues faced by the African American community, as well as other minorities, in leadership positions in higher education.

To further accomplish its mission, AABHE is looking into expanding its training to include more frequent online sessions and is in the process of securing university partnerships.●

Macy Salama is an editorial intern with INSIGHT Into Diversity. To learn more about AABHE, visit blacksinhighered.org