Research Leadership Initiative for Women of Color, University of Massachusetts Boston

Center for Women in Politics & Public Policy, John W. McCormack Graduate School of Policy Studies, University of Massachusetts Boston



Principle Investigator: Donna Stewartson.


The University of Massachusetts Boston (UMB) is Massachusetts’ only public urban university, with an enrollment nearing 12,500. UMB is classified as a Carnegie Foundation Research II university and is the most diverse public fouryear higher education institution in New England, with 39% of its students being members of racial and ethnic minority groups as determined by the US Department of Education Integrated PostSecondary Education Data System.

Located at UMB’s McCormack Graduate School of Policy Studies, The Center for Women in Politics & Public Policy (CWPPP) works to promote women’s leadership by providing quality education, conducting research that makes a difference in women’s lives, and serving as a resource to women from diverse communities across Massachusetts, New England and the nation. The Center provides cutting edge evaluation research, policy briefs, and fact sheets on issues of concern to women for use by university departments, federal, state and city agencies, and not‐for‐profit organizations.

The Center is made up five women staff members, two of whom are AfricanAmerican and the other three of Caucasian descent. The Center has a relatively diverse advisory board. The Center’s Graduate Program for Women in Politics and Public Policy has consistently achieved diversity in each cohort of students. The Program’s coursework and professional development activities reflect a commitment to understanding the significance of race and ethnicity in all aspects of politics and policymaking. The Center’s research agenda focuses deliberately and extensively on issues that are important to women of diverse communities and addresses the intersectionality of gender, race/ethnicity and social class. For instance, A Seat at the Table? tracked the race and gender of members serving on the boards of directors or as trustees of the “Boston Globe 100” corporations, higher education institutions, cultural centers, as well as key state government boards and commissions in Massachusetts. The Center just completed a national Ford Foundationfunded study of elected Black, Latino, Asian, and American Indian officials entitled, The Gender and Multicultural Leadership Project.

Project Strategies

In undertaking this project,the Research Leadership Initiative for Women of Color, the Center leadership acknowledged the need for increasing the diversity of its researchstaff and the scope of its research in both the short‐ and long‐term, and for contributing to the broader goal of developing a model program for grooming women of color to advance in women’s centers across the country.   The initiative therefore focused on promoting women in both junior and senior level leadership roles within the Center’s Research Department through a Research Fellows Program and several key Center activities coordinated by the Fellows.

The initiative had three main goals:

1. Enhance the research, writing, management, and leadership skills of women selected as Research Fellows in order to prepare them for taking on leadership roles in academic research settings;

2. Contribute to the personal and professional development of women of color at key stages in their research careers by identifying barriers to advancement and using the resources of the Center and University to help women overcome these barriers;

3. Incorporate the Fellows’ perspectives and approaches, shaped by their racial/ethnic identities and backgrounds, into the Center’s research activities.


Research Fellows Program

In order to provide opportunities for women of color, the Center created two Fellowships, one for a Senior Fellow and one for a Junior Fellow. Eligibility for the Fellowships was restricted to women who are Black/African American, Mexican American/Chicana, Native American and/or Puerto Rican women. The Senior Fellow was expected to have completed graduate training and/or be serving as a junior faculty member in the Greater Boston area.   Both Fellows were expected to have particular research interests to be pursued over the year that were congruent with the mission of the Center, although the Junior Fellow might have a less developed area of expertise. This twotiered approach of providing both a junior and senior position would help meet both the long- and short-term goals by including a younger woman who is an aspiring researcher and a more advanced woman who is actively engaged in research but not yet serving in a leadership position. The selected Research Fellows were affiliated with the Center and were expected to be at the Center at least one day each week.


The Fellows were provided a mentor and worked closely with selected female researchers of color at the University. The structured mentorship program was developed by the Research Director of the Center, and evaluation instruments were utilized to track progress over time.

The Research Fellows were themselves to coordinate a mentoring program for undergraduates and graduate students who are women of color by building on established relationships with the institutes at UMB that focus on AfricanAmerican and Latino public policy issues and community development, as well as with the Women’s Studies and Black Studies Departments. These mentoring relationships were to be based on the interests of students and senior staff members at ethnic centers within the University, including the Mauricio Gaston Institute for Latino Community Development and Public Policy, the William Monroe Trotter Institute for the Study of Black Culture, the William Joiner Center for the Study of War and Social Consequences, the Center for Media and Society’s Ethnic Media Project, and the Research Center for Urban Cultural History.

Skills Workshops

The Research Fellows were also to coordinate two workshops, to be held at UMB annually, that aim to develop leadership and research skills of women of color working in the Greater Boston area. The workshops were to focus on the barriers faced by women in academic research settings including perceptions about the value of scholarship produced by women of color, lack of institutional support, dearth of role models and mentors in particular fields, and lack of guidance regarding publishing and grant‐writing.

Public Research Forum

The Center currently holds a research forum twice per year. These forums provide opportunities for female scholars at UMB to showcase their research. Working under the supervision of the Research Director, the Fellows were to help plan one research forum and develop presentations that feature their unique contributions to the field.



Selection of Fellows

A Women-of-Color Committee was formed with members from the UMB community and the ethnic centers to assist with recruitment and strategic implementation of the project. The groups targeted included those from Black/African American, Mexican American/Chicana, Native American and/or Puerto Rican communities.


The application for the Fellowships was disseminated widely to the Center’s database and also to the ethnic centers’ distribution lists. Despite the extensive advertising and outreach conducted, it was unexpectedly challenging to get a broad range of applicants. By working closely with the women-of-color committee, the ethnic centers, others from the UMB and the external community, the Center was able to establish new partnerships with key individuals and strengthen existing coalitions and partnerships.

Finally, the Women-of-Color Committee reached out personally to various contacts, four

applications were received, and two fellows were selected. The two finalists shared areas of research interest, which the committee felt would be positive in ensuring the most productive, collegial and supportive relationships possible. The two Fellows selected were:

Dr. Billie Gastic, a junior professor at the John McCormack School of Policy Studies, was selected as the Senior Research Fellow. Her research topic was “Race, Gender and School Discipline." This project used data from Boston Public Schools to examine the role of students' race/ethnicity and sex in the severity of punishment for schoolbased offenses. This research was the first part of a comparative study that will include an analysis of data from New York City public schools.  

Dr. Charleen Brantley, who received her EdD in 2008 from UMB’s Leadership in Urban Schools program, was chosen as the Junior Fellow. Dr. Brantley’s dissertation topic was “Fourth Grade Writing Models in Three Successful Elementary Schools in Boston Public School System.” Her research project looked at the growth in students' writing skills. She has submitted a proposal to receive funds for a Graves book award.

Project Activities

In June 2008, as the Center prepared to welcome the Fellows, it hosted a policy conference that focused partially on women of color. The conference, Women, Wages and Work , highlighted Lieutenant Governor Evelyn Murphy’s research from her book Getting Even – Why Women Don’t Get Paid Like Men and What to Do About It. Lilly Ledbetter was one of the highlighted speakers. At the conference, the principal investigator on the project, Donna Stewartson, presented her research on wage equity and how women, especially women of color, could join the statewide campaign to promote pay equity. In October 2009, an African American student in the Program for Women in Politics and Public Policy analyzed a follow-up survey on the effectiveness of the conference, focusing especially on how wage disparities affected low income women and women of color. 

During the project year, 2008-2009, the Fellows and the principal investigator met regularly to design workshops, discuss the Fellows’ research goals, and begin to compile the Center’s resource links to help other women of color. As members of the Center’s research staff, the Fellows were able to use the resources of the Center and the university, and had access to the Center’s Research Director as well as the principal investigator. The Fellows’ research was also highlighted on the Center’s website.

In winter 2009, two skills workshops were held. In January, principal investigator Donna Stewartson conducted a skills training on research presentations entitled “Presenting with Pizzazz” for women of color and other women in the Program for Women in Politics and Public Policy. In February, Senior Research Fellow, Dr. Billie Gastic, held a seminar on using data in research presentations.

One activity was not completed by the end of the project year although initial work has taken place, and the project is still on the Center’s agenda. Because of the pressing nature of their own research and academic work, the Fellows did not complete the resource list of women of color faculty members, researchers, and staff at the UMB as well as links to available scholarships, fellowships, and grants for undergraduate and graduate students of color. The Center is looking for opportunities to complete the project and post it on its website. 

While the formal project came to an end in June 2009, the Center for Women in Politics & Public Policy committed to go beyond the grant period into the 200910 Academic year. In April 2010, the Center held a Research Forum for graduate and undergraduate students from UMB and other area institutions led by Fellows Dr. Billie Gastic and Dr. Charleen Brantley and entitled Cultivating Diversity: Women of Color as Research Scholars that addressed questions like how to succeed in graduate school, what is a PhD?, and why should research be one of your career objectives. The Forum featured two undergraduate and one graduate student, and was moderated by Principal Investigator Donna Stewartson. 


Challenges and Lessons Learned

In addition to the unexpected challenge of identifying a strong pool of candidates for the Fellowships, there were several other challenges. As a small organization with a small staff, the Center provided only limited assistance to the principal investigator on this project. With the many required changes to Human Resource’s processes, the PI spent too much time on administrative responsibilities.

It was also difficult, especially at the early stages of the grant period, to engage the Fellows with the Center’s full research staff. While they did meet regularly with the principal investigator, herself a member of the staff, the Fellows began to interact more meaningfully with other staff members only as they began work to prepare the Research Forum.

There were some important lessons learned. Most importantly, in order for other NCRW research centers to increase diversity effectively at their top levels, the commitment to the project must permeate throughout the Center and the University. The Initiative must be seen as having measurable deliverables and making valuable contributions within the Center and to the larger institution.

Project Impact

The project had significant impact on the project’s participants and on the University of Massachusetts Boston as a whole. 

·      Thanks to the creation of the two Fellowships, the Center did increase its women of color on the research staff.

·      The relationships formed through the Women of Color Committee and the new understandings of the challenges and hardships facing women of color in the academy have inspired participants to do more to mentor undergraduates, graduates and PhD students of color. Despite those hardships, there was a strong sense of pride from Committee members, particularly regarding the two Research Fellows’ accomplishments. Committee members stressed the need to encourage other women of color to pursue advanced degrees.

·      Those working with the Fellows learned in a personal way how, even with advanced degrees, women of color still struggle for tenure, and for their research to be validated.

·      The Principal Investigator and the two Research Fellows have been recognized by the UMB community as change agents who can act effectively to increase the number of women of color interested in pursuing research.

o   The Chancellor of the University has sent a letter to the Principal Investigator congratulating her on her efforts to promote diversity on campus.

o   In addition she has been appointed to various University-wide review committees.

·      In collaboration with the Black Faculty and Staff, the Chancellor’s Office has agreed to sponsor the Black and Brown Mentorship program for undergraduate students, and the principal investigator has been an active part of the discussion, sharing ideas from this “Diversifying Leadership for Women of Color” project.