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Three Baltimore area schools are trying to diversify higher education. Meet the woman overseeing the process.

Kimberly Moffitt wants to diversify leadership roles in higher education — traditionally an area with few minorities — to include more women and people of color.

Moffitt, interim dean of College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences at the University of Maryland Baltimore County, said her institution, along with Morgan State University and University of Maryland in College Park, received a $3 million grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to pursue the project.

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The three-year grant, to be split among the schools, will pay for 10 associate professors from each institution each year to undergo training, including workshops, summer instructions and mentoring meant to prepare them for leadership roles.

Kimberly Moffitt, the interim dean of College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences at the University of Maryland Baltimore County (UMBC), is using money from a $3 million grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to diversify higher education.
Kimberly Moffitt, the interim dean of College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences at the University of Maryland Baltimore County (UMBC), is using money from a $3 million grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to diversify higher education. (Marlayna Demond/Marlayna Demond for UMBC)

Moffitt, who’s leading the project and has been with UMBC for 15 years, said the top higher education roles generally are president, provost and vice president of research.

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The top post at all three schools is held by a Black man. At Morgan, a historically Black university, the president is David Wilson, and the president of the University of Maryland in College Park is Darryll J. Pines. At UMBC, the president is Freeman Hrabowski, who announced last year that he will retire this June.

But the project, which will develop the next generation of leaders, will focus on associate professors, Moffitt said, since women and people of color in those roles have struggled to become tenured professors — a necessary step to be considered for top roles.

She said the groups will rotate through the campuses to look at what life looks like at UMBC, Morgan State and College Park, and how the structure of each institution looks differs from their institution.

Navigating career paths in higher education can be challenging for women and people of color due to additional burdens beyond the expected workload, such as students of color, who may or may not be in their classes, seeking out their help.

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Research that touches on topics such as race or sexuality can backfire for faculty during the tenure evaluation process. Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones’ research into slavery drew a conservative backlash that reportedly lead to her turning down a position at the University of North Carolina in favor of one at Howard University, a historically Black university in Washington, D.C.

Moffitt said she has been able to navigate academia with the help of her mentors. Before becoming interim dean, she taught in UMBC’s American Studies department, both as an assistant and associate professor and was the director for language, literacy and culture for the doctoral program.

Originally from Greensboro, North Carolina, Moffitt earned a doctorate in mass communication/media studies from Howard University, a master’s degree in mass communication from Boston University and an undergraduate degree in political science from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.

Moffitt, 51, lives in Owings Mills in Baltimore County, and is married to Noah Garrison, a landscape contractor. The couple have two children: Niles and Kaya Garrison.

Growing up, she said, her parents, David Richard and Evon Moffitt, who are both deceased, instilled in her the significance of education. Her mom worked as a kindergarten teacher for 35 years. Her dad served in the Army in Vietnam and told her to get as much education as she could because “that’s one thing that in the world that no one can take from you.”

Sherella Cupid earned a Ph.D. in language, literacy and culture from UMBC and is a mentee of Dr. Moffitt. As a Black woman, Cupid said having Moffitt as a mentor is inspirational. Cupid is currently doing research at Louisiana State University.

“The majority [of people] before, I wouldn’t consider them mentors because [we] didn’t have that relationship of, ‘Let me show you how to be a professor,’” she said.

Shenita Benson, a language, literacy and culture doctoral student at UMBC, echoed Cupid, saying Moffitt is one of the reasons she transferred from North Carolina State University.

There’s a lack of minority faculty in higher education, including Black women, Benson said. She met Moffitt at a conference and knew she’d enjoy working with her at UMBC.

“I knew that [UMBC] was a place that I was going to feel welcome, and work with someone who looks like me,” she said. “It’s certainly impossible to navigate a Ph.D. program without someone who is really invested in students.”

Moffitt is no stranger to leading projects. Seven years ago, she helped launch Baltimore Collegiate School for Boys, a charter school, with the hope of creating a space for boys like her son, Niles, who was among the first group to graduate from the school. Moffitt’s no longer on the school’s board but continues to support it financially.

“Any child that is in the building and says that they are a boy gets to be a boy in the way that they want to be and not feel like the hyper-masculine way of which a number of our children growing up in the city feel like they have to hold on to is the only way for them to be,” she said.

This article is part of our Newsmaker series that profiles notable people in the Baltimore region who are having an impact in our diverse communities. If you’d like to suggest someone who should be profiled, please send their name and a short description of what they are doing to make a difference to: Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Editor Kamau High at khigh@baltsun.com.

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