Women in Leadership panel, from upper left: Dr. Donna J. Nicol; Davida Hopkins-Parham’ Dr. Jane E. Dabel; Dr. La Tanya Skiffer. Composite By Raven Brown.
By Raven Brown, Staff Reporter
Women in leadership positions are more important now than ever. With Kamala Harris running for vice president and Amy Coney Barret being sworn in as the newest Supreme Court justice, we are witnessing women in this country taking on higher positions of power. To highlight the need for these roles in our current social environment, women from the California State University system came together on Oct. 20, via Zoom, to discuss the intersection of gender and leadership.
In the workshop, “Leading from Where You Are and Living the Advice You Give” panelists Dr. Donna J. Nicol, Davida Hopkins-Parham, Dr. Jane E. Dabel and Dr. La Tanya Skiffer were given the opportunity to share their personal experiences about how they stepped into leadership roles and how they utilize their positions to create lasting change.
Hosted by Dr. Laura Talamante, a history professor at California State University, Dominguez Hills, this workshop not only centered on how to become a leader and the power of education, but how these women with vastly different backgrounds and stories got into higher education in the first place, and how they maintain their sanity through the power of saying no.
“Something all of our panelists have in common is that their paths were not planned into higher education,” Talamante said. “Their common thread is the way they are shaping future leaders.”
Dr. Nicol, an assistant professor and department chair of Africana Studies at CSUDH, said she has spent her career committed to influencing women to push the boundaries of what they believe is possible for themselves. Being a fourth-generation college graduate, she knew her highest calling was to get involved with students face-to-face, to pass down the advice she received herself.
“In my family, the women are more educated than the men,” Nicol said. “There’s more doctors, lawyers and Ph.D.’s that are women then there are men, largely because we were influenced by very strong women from early on.”
Hopkins-Parham, who is married to CSUDH President Thomas A. Parham , has a career exceptional in its own right. She started out as a civil rights advocate, stepping into higher education when the opportunity arose. She served as the assistant to the president at CSUDH, and also the director of affirmative action. Although she is now retired, she dedicated 35 years to the CSU system.
“I got into higher education by accident,” Hopkins-Parham explained. “It wasn’t necessarily a planned career change. But once I got in there, I saw what a wonderful environment it was.”
Ascribing to the philosophy of saying “yes” to almost anything, these women not only stayed open to new opportunities but created them for themselves.
Professor of History at California State University, Long Beach and editor of “The History Teacher,” Dr. Dabel advised women in their 20’s to say “yes” to everything and to see where it takes them.
“It is a time in most people’s lives when you can embrace new opportunities and challenges,” Dabel said.
She noted however, that women need to protect their time and their energy. According to Dabel, saying “no” is necessary and putting time limits to how accessible she is throughout the day has helped her serve her students better and keep her on the right track.
Dr. Skiffer, a professor of criminology at CSUDH who joined the military at the age of 17, began her journey into higher education when she was recruited to attend West Point Military Academy, but chose to pursue college instead. She knew that redirecting herself to teach was going to help her influence young people.
“When I’m helping people reach their goals, I feel empowered,” Skiffer said. “But I have to remind myself to take time to rest, take deep breaths and meditate daily, so that I can be more present with my students.”
Nicol introduced the idea of “radical self-care” which resonated with all the panelists.
Nicol coined this term in an article she wrote, “Reclaiming Our Time: Women of Color Faculty and Radical Self-Care in the Academy,” in the peer-reviewed journal, “The Feminist Teacher. “She emphasized that it is not just “self-care” in terms of how much money one spends at the gym or on costly facials, but more about prioritizing yourself and your time in order to be of the greatest use to others by saying no when you need to.
“Radical self-care is this idea that you need to take agency over your own work life and you cannot be a good scholar, teacher or administrator if you are not making decisions that feed your soul,” Nicol said. “You can say no and you should say no! You must be strategic about how you spend your time.”
Women currently make up over 60% of undergraduate and graduate students at CSUDH. Knowing that more women seek education than men is the basis for these women’s teachings and they truly are living the advice they give. Women are just as capable, if not more, at attaining positions of leadership and making lasting change for generations of women to come.