Successful women shed light on their achievements, accomplishments and their views on women empowerment

Violence and abuse of any kind are antithetical to the empowerment of women. The stigma surrounding domestic violence makes it more difficult for victims and survivors to get the help and resources they need, and the research and social marketing campaign behind our See the Triumph campaign ( is designed to end this stigma by elevating the voices and stories of survivors of past abuse. Based on our research with hundreds of survivors of past abuse, the social media campaign presents a new view of survivors as resourceful, courageous, and investing in helping other women overcome similar challenges. We want to show that recovery from abuse is possible, especially because there are so many messages working against survivors at a societal level.

Moreover, to eradicate future abuse, we need to move our focus toward upstream prevention. The Healthy Relationships Initiative ( that I direct is designed to promote healthy and safe relationships of all kinds so that people can have access to the information and skills needs to promote safe, empowering relationships in all areas of their lives. We use community mobilization, social marketing, and educational programs as our core strategies for empowering people to build healthy relationships in our community.

Underlying all my work, I’m driven by my firm belief that healthy, safe relationships are a fundamental human right. Healthy relationships create a foundation for living a full, empowered life. Therefore, in my work, I’m dedicated to helping people learn how to build healthy relationships. However, for those who have had unhealthy or unsafe relationship experiences, I want them to know that a healthier life—which includes supportive relationships with others—is possible.

 — Christine Murray, Ph.D., Associate Professor in the Department of Counseling and Educational Development at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro

As a Mexican immigrant, my empowerment stems from the stories of resilience passed down by my family members, from the undocumented immigrant student community I work with and for, and from the Latinas/Chicanas in my field, who provide sanctuary, strength, and wisdom as I navigate academia. As a scholar activist, I use my research to fight the injustices inflicted on immigrant communities particularly during these politically turbulent times. I lead with compassion, humanity, and courage to help address inequities and unwelcoming campus climates for minoritized student populations. My empowerment derives from empowering others to become change agents in their own communities. Witnessing the power of undocumented student activists’ community organizing is my main source of motivation. I constantly ask myself, “If these undocumented immigrants are putting their bodies on the line to fight for immigrant rights, as a person with citizenship privilege, what can I do, what can I risk to fight along with and for them”. My research has been recognized nationally through a number of awards and accolades including being named one of the Top 25 Women in Higher Education and Beyond by Diverse Issues in Higher Education and receiving a faculty spotlight recognition from the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics. I am proud of the impact my research has had on not only institutional and legislative policies, but also on advancing equity and justice in higher education for undocumented communities.  I continue to be humbled by the words of undocumented college students who feel affirmed and validated by my research.

— Susana M. Muñoz, Ph.D,. Assistant Professor of Higher Education, Co-Chair, Higher Education Leadership Program, Ethnic Studies Faculty Associate, Colorado State University

To me, Women Empowerment refers to uplifting and mentoring other women, being supported throughout personal and professional endeavors, and modeling excellence for other women.  I am fortunate to have strong female mentors, colleagues, and students who push me to be my best every day. One of my mentors collaborated with me on a research project surrounding the 40th anniversary of Title IX, and I was able to delve into women’s experiences before, during, and after the implementation of this history-changing law.  We published “Perspectives of Title IX Pioneers: Equity, Equality, and Need” in 2015 in the Journal of Intercollegiate Sport.  One of my professional goals is to empower higher education practitioners to conduct research on their students and themselves.  I am constantly motivated to provide practitioners the tools and knowledge to do so without necessarily earning a doctorate.  Practitioners experience their own profession and students better than anyone else, so they should study the phenomena they see every day in their work.  In 2017, I was deeply humbled to be named one of the Top 25 Women in Higher Education and Beyond by Diverse: Issues in Higher Education.  This is one of my greatest honors to be recognized as a woman leader and educator.  It is my hope that this recognition will enable me to set an example for other women and serve as a mentor to my students as they pursue their academic and career goals.  Lately, I have focused on researching the student-athlete services profession.  This profession has a significant number of women, but there are still issues with women in these roles pertaining to work-life balance and advancement.  I conducted a study with a colleague entitled “Burnout Among Student-Athletes Services Professionals” published in the Journal of Higher Education Athletics and Innovation in 2018 that included some issues specific to women relating to their burning out.  I felt motivated to conduct this study to prevent great people with integrity from burning out and leaving the profession, especially the incredible women who I have come to know since getting involved with the N4A: National Association of Academic and Student-Athlete Development Professionals.  Another reason I have been driven to study this profession is that the experts in it believed in and empowered me.  In 2009, I received the N4A’s Professional Promise Award, and I strive to live up to the expectations that this recognition set forth for me.

— Lisa M. Rubin, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, College of Education, Kansas State University

The empowerment of women reflects an intentional effort to validate, embrace, and strengthen the voices of women in their roles. Given longstanding societal efforts to minimize, silence, or disregard our voices, this phrase boldly acknowledges our determination to be heard and appreciated as valuable leaders and contributors to organizations of all types.

Historic, stereotypical thinking and the ever-present double standard also shape such a movement. In many environments, women are perceived to be less competent; our softer attributes of compassion, kindness, and friendliness, which we naturally convey, can be perceived as signs of weakness. Yet, when we must take direct, authoritative action, instead of being perceived as effective, we are often labeled controlling and difficult. A man displaying these very same behaviors, on the other hand, will more likely be rewarded and celebrated for standing up and leading.

We can also sometimes be our own worst enemy, being doubtful, fearing the imposter syndrome, and lacking confidence. The “Lean in” movement started by Sheryl Sandberg reminded us all to sit up at the table and step into leadership in order to realize our ambitions. Sadly, however, many of us still fear the negative consequence of leaning in and not being respected as a peer and effective contributor.

My daily challenge is to be mindful of varying interpretations of female leadership and empowerment, while remaining authentic. I operate with my commitment to openness, honesty and kindness for others. I begin from a posture of humble optimism, confident and determined to serve the organization I have been entrusted to lead. I am also a strong proponent of giving back to the community with service through civic and nonprofit organizations.

It may help others to know that by following my leadership vision and trusting my ethical compass, I have had the good fortune to be recognized with awards and citations nationwide. Their most important value is that they stand as validating beacons of possibility to others who are beginning their journeys.

— Angela L. Walker Franklin, Ph.D., President and CEO, Des Moines University

To be empowered is to push oneself to do the hard work—the work that others doubt is doable—and, even better, to find that the work one did actually made a difference in the society as a whole. History is full of women’s extraordinary efforts to learn the seemingly unlearnable and to achieve the seemingly unachievable. Rarely, however, have women’s many remarkable accomplishments been noted, let alone celebrated, by the body public.  I am very honored to say that my work as a historian and writer, and specifically my 13-year effort to rescue the story of the Attica Prison Uprising of 1971—a story that had been actively covered up for decades—not only empowered me because my at-times daunting odyssey to recover this story ultimately had resulted in a book, but also because this effort was, ultimately, recognized by so many others. Not only has this book resonated with the incarcerated, as well as those who work inside of this nation’s prisons, but it also has made a real mark on myriad others who have little connection to the criminal justice system, but who now see the imperative of its overhaul. What is more, this book was indeed recognized by my peers and by the public more broadly via the many awards it received, including the Bancroft Prize in American History and the Pulitzer Prize. These honors were so deeply appreciated because they signaled that the efforts of at this one woman, me, had not just been empowering in their own right but they had been recognized by others and, in turn, had empowered others to act to make a more just society.

— Heather Ann Thompson, Professor of History, Department of Afro-American and African Studies, The Residential College, The Department of History, The University of Michigan

 When I reflect on women’s empowerment and how I am contributing to that, I start with my strong sense of self. You are your biggest source of empowerment and while you give it to yourself, you can also take it away. Whenever I hear any inner voice trying to creep in with anything that disempowers me – fear, thinking I cannot do something – I recognize it as something that does not serve me and I push through to be in action. Never say “no” to yourself before even trying. There will be plenty of people to say that to you.

Being grounded with a strong sense of self-worth then expands to creating communities of empowered women. When I say this, I think of all women – transgender, female identifying, undocumented, sex workers, farmworkers, CEOs, professors and so many other women that are often marginalized yet creating their own brave spaces of power. We cannot be what we cannot see thus women’s empowerment has to include all of us or none of us stands to be empowered.

My life began with the epitome of a woman’s empowerment – my mother. She raised me as a single mother and finished college with me as a two year old because she wanted to be a role model for her daughter. She always taught me that people could take away many things in life, but not your education so she struggled and often went without for herself to ensure that I had access to the best. Knowing that I stand on the shoulder of female giants remains a major motivational factor to keep rising and bring everyone I can with me because if I am making it, we all are. In every space and place that I navigate, I highly regard how many young women see themselves in me and know that I am a visible representation of what they can achieve. As a woman of color in spaces where I am often the first or the only, this is a motivating factor to ensure that it is not the same for other women.

Because of this, I volunteer and help young women through various organizations to help them achieve their dreams. One thing, I always emphasize to them is to take advantage of every opportunity and if there is not one, create it. Every day is a chance to change your life so take it and make it for the better. Surround yourself with people who inspire you to be a better you and help you achieve that. Success is contagious. For every person that may say “no” to you, there is another opportunity so do not let that stop you, let it be the fuel to inspire you to do more and knock on other doors.

— Dania Matos, Deputy Chief Diversity Officer, Office of Diversity and Inclusion, William & Mary

Growing up in South Texas where nearly 90 percent of the population was Latino, there was no shortage of examples of Mexican-American role models. We saw judges, teachers, doctors, lawyers, and professors that looked like us every day. However, there were few women in these professions. My mother, a low-income Latina, was the constant disruption to the gender divide that seemed so prominent in my community. She came to the US as a child and was the first in her family to attend and graduate from high school, college, and graduate school becoming a proud educator. The definition of empowerment translated to me was fighting through your circumstances to bring power to your potential, your place in history in this nation, and to your community. There was no reason I shouldn’t be able to achieve more, including earning a doctorate, and that I was not to forget those less fortunate that did not have a coach or a guide in the schooling journey.

I am now an Associate Dean and tenured professor in a school of education situated in the nation’s largest private university in New York City. I serve on selective national review committees deciding what constitutes the nation’s best and most rigorous ideas on educational research, have served as a national expert in federal, state and local circles, including the White House in 2015, have had my research cited in U.S. Supreme Court briefs, and have been identified as one of the top influential education policy scholars.

Other generous women and men have also guided the road to this success especially key Latina mentors in college and in the journals I read setting an example and making me believe I could be a researcher whose research mattered. Ironically, I also saw empowerment come through with my father who argued with me on my choices to do what girls didn’t do in our family – study abroad, move far away from family for a job, delay motherhood and marriage or not engage in it at all.  I learned to sharpen my arguments and rationale to which he usually relented and finally said, “M’ija [my daughter], I trust your choices. Go be happy.”

My contributions to research through my publications, the leadership roles I have accepted, and the students I have been fortunate enough to mentor and send off into the world to start their own legacies are some of the most prominent metrics of success that can be visibly accounted for on my curriculum vitae.  However, I still remain one of very few Latinas in these roles. To that end, there is still much more work to do on the road to increasing equity and reducing inequality in educational attainment and leadership in the US.  The need to empower women, especially those from underserved communities, continues and we should all take responsibility for this in whatever way we can.

— Stella M. Flores, Associate Dean for Faculty Development and Diversity, NYU Steinhardt; Associate Professor of Higher Education; Director of Access and Equity, Steinhardt Institute for Higher Education Policy Steinhardt School of Culture, Education and Human Development New York University

In my academic career, I have held a number of leadership positions including: the directorship of African & African American Studies for fifteen years at the University of Oklahoma; being a member of the Board of Directors of the National Council for Black Studies (NCBS); being a member of the Executive Board of the Southwest Center for Human Relations in Education, home of the National Conference on Race and Ethnicity (NCORE); and serving on numerous Boards of Directors for community organizations in Oklahoma and elsewhere.  I have been a faculty member of the Annual Summer School on Black Europe, Center of Study and Investigation for Global Dialogues, Amsterdam, Netherlands and am a Fellow of the Molefi Kete Asante Institute, Philadelphia, PA.  Most recently I was selected by the publication Diverse: Issues in Higher Education as one of 25 outstanding women in higher education in 2018. Being in the academy has also afforded me the opportunity to research and publish extensively in the areas of Black Studies and on race and competency in social work practice and education.  Currently I am writing a book, Black Lives in Scotland: Telling Our Stories, and I am also working on the second edition of my textbook, African American Studies, for Edinburgh University Press.

Central always to my work are the important matters of race and diversity and social justice, and the notion of putting education into practice to make a better world.  I have always prioritized teaching, service activities, and researching and writing about things that matter in the real world.

Also at the heart of much of what I do are the students and faculty members with whom I work.  My deep connections with many have developed into mentoring relationships where I have been able to assist them in finding and honing their strengths and skills of intellect, goodness and advocacy.  Hopefully I function as a strong role model, engaged on many levels in the field of higher education, within various communities, and even globally.

I am motivated by being engaged in higher education activities that challenge the academy to become more fair, inclusive and intellectually honest, and to make the world a better place.  I am motivated too by the relationships that are developed along the way.  As a teacher, mentor, colleague, I experience great joy as I see those whom I have encouraged reach their full potential and become empowered, empowering agents themselves.

— Jeanette R. Davidson PhD ACSW, Professor, University of Oklahoma, Clara Luper Department of African & African American Studies

 I see my role as a higher education leader in the community college sector as an opportunity to advance “women empowerment,” especially for women of color and for those who are economically disadvantaged.  The definition of empowerment resonates with me—“the process of becoming stronger and more confident, especially in controlling one’s life and claiming one’s rights”—in a number of ways.

My work in and with community colleges spanning more than 30 years has shown me clearly that the strongest way to achieve “women empowerment” is through education. Community colleges, in particular, are places where women at any age can gain knowledge, skills, and confidence that leads to managing their own life. I have seen it happen hundreds of times—women who are first in their family to go to college, or are economically disadvantaged, or single mothers, or forced to re-enter the workforce in a new field—earn a college credential to better themselves and come out of the experience stronger, more focused, and more confident. Our work at Achieving the Dream, a national nonprofit leading a movement to ensure student success for colleges that champion educational equity, helps community colleges build their capacity for helping more students complete their education and move on to a successful career or further education. More than half of all community college students are women.

It is the transformational power of education that feeds “women empowerment.”

For my own journey, I am fortunate to have a number of mentors who helped me develop my own “empowerment.” The first are my parents. They showed me through their own actions how the power of education can literally change a person’s—and a family’s—life. There was Dr. Al O’Connell, former president of Harford Community College, who, when I was 25 years old, pulled me aside after a meeting to tell me that I could be a college president one day. Another is Dr. Phyllis Della Vecchia, president of Camden County College, who helped me see that good leaders are students first. I strive, every day, to be a student first, to continually feed my growth as a leader and as a woman.

And my journey continues. When I became President and CEO of Achieving the Dream, I brought with me the lessons I learned from students and from colleagues in prior positions as President of Montgomery County Community College, and in various leadership roles at community colleges in New Jersey and Maryland. I work hard for students, particularly those who are traditionally underserved by colleges and universities, and am proud of the recognition my work has received, specifically, Diverse: Issues in Higher Education’s 2018 Leading Women, and American Association for Women in Community College’s 2017 Woman of the Year.

— Karen A. Stout, President and CEO, Achieving the Dream

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