As my network has expanded, I’ve found thatpeople of color are impacted by the imposter phenomenon differently, butregardless, many have developed strategies to assist with coping, thriving, andredirecting their mindsets.
Professionalsof color have historically repurposed barriers into opportunities and theimposter phenomenon has the potential to continue this tradition. While there is still a lot to learn, professionalsof color will continue to reframe the impact of the imposter phenomenon and masterthe ability to use it as a tool to direct their professional growth and movecloser towards becoming a better version of themselves. ConclusionTranscending the imposter phenomenon takes inwardand outward courage. Using strategiesthat are rooted in increasing comprehensive knowledge and taking calculatedrisks provides professionals of color the opportunity to remain anchored totheir core values and beliefs while stretching their potential. In my experience, I recognized that knowledgeacquisition was the best tool to help me overcome personal barriers placed byimposter phenomenon and lingering impacts of my multiracial identity. Furthermore, while some professionals, withinthe division and beyond, focus on becoming specialists, the ability to become ageneralist and understand the inner workings of the institution can address imposterfeelings, increase my confidence, and increase professional value to the organization.
Student affairs professionals of color shouldhave an unquenchable thirst for knowledge about the inner workings of theirinstitution. Too often the desire tolearn and advance remains within functional areas or divisions, but the abilityto understand and articulate how various functions of the institution integrateand advance the mission are invaluable. Professionalsof color should not become victims of self-imposed limitations due totraditional approaches of navigating and advancing within student affairs. The increase of professionals of color instudent affairs, especially administrator roles, is a game changer and, as aresult, new rules may need to be applied. Additionally, professionals of color can create positive change withintheir institutions by maximizing the influence of their positions and thecampus partners. One of the best ways toovercome the imposter phenomenon is to take healthy calculated risks thatincrease self-perceived competency.
Indoing so, professionals model behavior that demonstrates how to create positivechanges and potentially provides courage to others. As professionals of color advance intoadministrator roles there are countless opportunities to initiate change forthe betterment of all people, as well as advance of culture of excellence. As the student affairs industry becomes morediverse and enriched by professionals that are qualified and have opportunitiesto advance, feelings of inadequacy do not disappear. The foundation of the student affairsprofession is grounded in helping people become the best version of themselvesand the imposter phenomenon can prevent individuals from reaching theirpotential. As people of color continueto populate institutions where they’ve been historically underrepresented andmarginalized, they must find ways to make systemic and personal changes thatimpact others regardless of their identity. For me, the strategy to creating these systemic and personal changes wasguided by lessons learned through my multiracial identity: learn the rules andchange the game from within.
Strategies to Overcome Imposter PhenomenonTo navigate these experiences, I relied onlessons I learned as a multiracial child including leveraging my identities tonavigate systems, exercising my ability to move in and out of subgroups, and applyingan unwavering commitment to becoming my best self. I learned early how to assess and evaluatesystems to determine the most efficient way to reach my goal. I developed and refined the ability to readmy environment and calibrate my personal brand to enhance collaborativepartnerships related to duties. Finally,I navigated imposter phenomenon battles internally to ensure that I privatelyovercame barriers that prevented me from moving towards my goals. As a Black and Puerto Rican professionalwhose career begin as a twenty-one-year-old Director and advanced to anAssistant Vice Presidency by twenty-nine, as well as an educational career thatincluded a master’s in business administration and doctorate by twenty-seven, Ihave been challenged and enriched primarily by experiences related to my age, inaddition to those related to my race or gender.
Early in my career I recognized that regardless of my competence,education, and experience, I would always be youngest person in the room, whichoften resulted in an immediate lack of respect, which often felt as a lack of respect. In those moments it was difficult todistinguish what were actual forms of unfair treatment versus negative perceptionsdue to my lack of confidence, but through professional advancement, mentorship,and maturity it has become easier differentiate circumstances and the bestmethods of response. As the community of student affairsprofessionals, especially administrators, have become more diverse, theseexperiences and characteristics directly impact the way in which people leadand create change on campuses. While a certain amountof self-doubt is normal in any position, Hutchins (2015) explained thatindividuals experiencing imposter phenomenon tended to have heightened anxiety associatedwith taking credit for their successes.
Imposter Phenomenon and Administrators ofColorWhen considered collectively, these attritionfactors, characteristics of multiracial individuals, and the psychologicalimpact of the imposter phenomenon can extinguish a student affairsprofessional’s attempt to survive and thrive within a campus community. The subject of attrition within theprofession of student affairs has continued to interest professional andresearchers for decades (Renn & Jessup-Anger, 2008). Lorden (1998) and Tull (2006) found that50-60% of student affairs professionals exit the industry within the first fiveyears. Multiple research studiesidentified job dissatisfaction, work environment issues, declining morale, andnegative transitions from graduate school to professional life as the primaryreasons for departure (Berwick, 1992; Boehman, 2007; Conley, 2001, Rosser,2004; Rosser & Javinar, 2003). Morespecifically, Marshall, Gardner, Hughes, & Lowery (2016) explaineddissatisfaction with role ambiguity, role conflict, stress, job burnout, workload, and perceived opportunities for career advancement as primary concernsfrom former student affairs professionals.
Multiracial individuals are often describedas those who identified with two or more racial heritages (Root, 1992; Root& Kelley, 2003). Root (1992)explained that these individuals experienced a variety of personal challengesrelated to acceptance and belonging, physical appearance, sexuality, andself-esteem. Yet, Sands and Schuh (2004)added that these students do not always need assistance in developing a healthyidentity because of coping mechanisms gained through experiences from theiryouth. Some of these include the abilityto easily navigate in and out of social groups, evaluate systems to maximizebenefits, and grit resulting from perceived or actual isolation from peers(Spicer-Runnels, 2015). Despite changesto the US Census that allowed individuals to self-identify in multiple racialcategories, multiracial individuals, including student affairs professionals, continuedto experience challenges related to identifying themselves at institutions thatcollect this data through a monoracial framework (Spicer-Runnels, 2015).
Renn (2008) found that many institutions racialidentity assessments were unsystematic and often resulted in multiracialstudents being forced to choose one race category or defaulting into a singularcategory, especially when Hispanic was selected as an identifier.Clance and Imes’ (1978) found that highly successfulwomen, who despite their accomplishments and competence, discounted theirintellect and as a result, coined the term imposter phenomenon. They found those with impostor feelings oftenlived in fear of being exposed as a fraud and consequently held themselves toexceptionally high standards regardless of their academic and professionalsuccesses. While imposter phenomenon wasoriginally and extensively studied in high-achieving women and later expandedto other college student samples including graduate and undergraduate students(Clance & Imes, 1978; Gibson-Beverly & Schwartz, 2008), newer studies haveexamined the impact on higher education faculty and professionals (Hutchins,2015).
Furthermore, some research has found that the imposterphenomenon was higher among women than men, other studies have failed toproduce gender differences (Cokley, McClain, Enciso, & Martinez, 2013;Cowman & Ferrari, 2002). Literature ReviewMillennials are often criticized for aspiringto advance too quickly without adequate experience and while this may beaccurate in some cases, there are many young professionals that have advancedto administrative positions and achieved successes, but feel like imposters. This feeling, known as imposter phenomenon(Clance & Imes, 1978), refers to a person’s belief that they are a fraud orphonie. These individuals often fearbeing exposed as inadequate and hold themselves to exceptionally high standards. As a result, the imposter phenomenon has adirect impact on the way they survive and thrive as student affairsprofessionals.
Transcending the Imposter Phenomenon as aMultiracial Professional