When the Voices of Women Students of Color Are Heard

Resisting Erasure in Higher Education Policy and Practice

A common narrative about women students of color in postsecondary education centers on the fact that they typically outperform men of color on measures such as college access, retention, and persistence. As a result, decision-makers might conclude that women of color do not need additional supports from institutions of higher education. Although they do earn associate’s and bachelor’s degrees at higher rates than men of color, equity gaps remain between women of color and their White female peers. This disparity is often overlooked in postsecondary education policy and practice. While there has been national attention over the years amplifying the need to strengthen supports for male students of color, there has not been a similar focus on the unique needs of women of color.

In early 2023, MDRC convened a virtual gathering, Resisting Erasure: Women of Color College Success Research and Practice Roundtable. It brought together 24 students, higher education administrators, faculty scholars, and funders from across the country who were interested in advancing knowledge and best practices in postsecondary education regarding the needs of women of color. The term “erasure” refers to practices that make certain groups of people invisible within a specific context. The experience of women of color being erased from or ignored within postsecondary education was articulated by many of the student, faculty, and administrative staff participants. Therefore, “resisting erasure” speaks to actively engaging in efforts to bring attention to issues affecting women of color.

The goals of the roundtable were to understand more deeply, and hear firsthand about, the disparities, needs, and knowledge gaps regarding women of color; to synthesize knowledge on targeted supports; and to develop a research agenda that could help improve postsecondary education and career outcomes. This brief highlights some of the insights distilled from that roundtable.

Welbeck, Rashida, Marjorie Dorimé-Williams, Makoto Toyoda, and Vivianna Plancarte. 2023. “When the Voices of Women Students of Color Are Heard.” New York: MDRC.