Psychology, Professional


Spring 5-16-2023

Degree Name

Doctor of Psychology (Psy.D.)

Type of Paper/Work



Bryana French

Second Advisor

Salina Renninger

Third Advisor

Carmen Cruz


University and college counseling (UCC) centers are well-known for providing leadership development opportunities, strong training programs, and a commitment to diversity and multiculturalism (Clauss-Ehlers & Parham, 2014). However, this commitment to leadership development does not seem to be reflected in leadership roles. According to the AUCCCD Annual Report, 75.8% of UCC directors are White (Gorman et al., 2022) and little is known about why leadership positions are being less occupied by Women of Color. By interviewing directors of university and college counseling centers that identify as Women of Color, there is an opportunity to learn the experiences of navigating multiple, intersecting, and competing identities, roles, and responsibilities as Women of Color, psychologists, and leaders.

The purpose of the present study aimed to explore the individual and shared experiences of Women of Color leaders in UCC. A phenomenological approach was used to uncover the significance and experiences of Women of Color in leadership roles (Marshall & Rossman, 2016). In-depth interviews offered an opportunity for participants to share their stories and discuss how racial and gender identities, as well as the intersection of sexism and racism, have influenced their leadership development. Questions were separated into two interviews: the first interview scheduled for one hour focusing on the participant's leadership development and past experiences, and the second interview also scheduled for one hour focusing on their present or recent experience in a leadership role. Additional sources of data included archival data and field notes.

There were six total participants interviewed for this study. All participants identified as cisgender women. The mean age at the time of the interview was 46.3 years. The racial and ethnic demography was relatively heterogeneous for the sample size, with three participants identifying as Black, one as Asian American, one as Pacific Islander, and one as Latina. Two of the six participants also identified as multiracial/mixed. Years of leadership experience ranged from 1 year to >15 years, with a mean of 6.1. Most participants held a leadership position as Training Director (50%), with the second most common position being Clinical Director (33.3%). One participant held a leadership position as Center Director (16.7%).

Upon completion of data analysis, three primary themes emerged from the data: supportive experiences, systemic oppression as barriers to leadership opportunities, and sustainability. The first theme of supportive experiences explored opportunities that supported participants’ leadership development and was categorized into three subthemes: mentorship, community, and diversification of training. The second theme of systemic oppression as barriers to leadership opportunities was categorized into three subthemes: experiences of racism and sexism, institutional challenges, and self-doubt. The third and final theme of sustainability highlighted leadership growth and was categorized into three subthemes: setting boundaries, meaning and purpose, and learning to lead. There were several noteworthy findings, namely the significance of mentorship, community, representation, and authenticity in becoming a leader. The findings illustrate the phenomenon of Women of Color leaders in university and college counseling and tell an important narrative that, despite facing many hurdles, Women of Color leaders are exemplifying a new approach to leadership, and leading with courage, integrity, and verity.

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.