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The Urgency to Address Asian/American Leadership Diversity in Educator Preparation Programs

Article 1 of Exploring Leadership Diversity in Educator Preparation Programs: An Asian/American Perspective


The “Exploring Leadership Diversity in Educator Preparation Programs: An Asian/American Perspective” series is a multi-article study that aims to share the discoveries of a yearlong study that Nicholas D. Hartlep, Ph.D., and Rachel Endo, Ph.D., undertook during the 2023–2024 academic year. Their qualitative study explored the experiences of current and former Asian/American Education Preparation Program (EPP) leaders via surveys and interviews. The first two articles of this series will set the stage for continuation.

In this article, the authors introduce themselves and their leadership perspectives as Asian/Americans. This thought leadership series is being sponsored by AACTE and focuses on Asian/American Leaders of educator preparation programs (EPPs).

Nicholas: Young and Impatient for Change

My professional journey began with me being a public school student in the Midwest, combined with being raised by white adoptive parents; I was acutely aware of colorblind racism. As a Korean American male transracial adoptee, the context and communities in which I was raised, socialized, and educated, have always been White. This reality of always inhabiting spaces of overwhelming levels of Whiteness continued with me in terms of my profession, PK-12 teaching, and now teacher education.

Although Whiteness has been the milieu of much of my life, it hasn’t defined me or the choices I have made professionally. What has defined me is my ever desire to defy Whiteness. Instead of remaining in predominantly White educational spaces, I chose to work in solidarity within diverse, multicultural, and heterogeneous spaces. As a male elementary school teacher, most of my colleagues were White women, which made me question taken-for-granted assumptions that were steeped in middle-class, ableist, and Eurocentric epistemologies and behaviors. One contributing factor for why I wanted to leave the elementary classroom to become a teacher educator was because the need for Asian/American representation was so great. Once I became a teacher educator, I quickly noticed that the programs that I worked within desperately needed Asian/American representation, because most of the administrators who were directing and leading these EPPs were White.

Throughout my journey, beginning with being a student in Green Bay, WI, I have always been impatiently waiting for change to happen. Instead, I took it upon myself to be an active agent of the change I felt schools and society needed. As an urban education doctoral student at the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, I served as chair of the Graduate Student Council (GSC) and did work nationally related to justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion. I have continued these efforts as a faculty member in my teaching, research, and service work. But I now see the important role that mentorship plays in creating the next generation of leaders, which is why although I am young, I want to be a role model for Black, Indigenous, and other people of color who want and need role models. It is this reason that I have chosen to be a department chair of an EPP.

Finding a Workplace to do DEI+B Work: My Journey from a PWI → MSI → Abolitionist Liberal Arts College

My path to becoming a formal EPP leader is best understood by drawing on Alice Eagly and Linda Carli’s (2007) conceptualization of leadership labyrinths. When I experienced glass ceilings during my first tenure-track position at a Predominantly White Institution (PWI), I left for a Minority-Serving Institution (MSI), which offered me an opportunity to become a department chair. It was at Metropolitan State University in St. Paul, Minnesota, that I was given the opportunity to lead a department and teacher education program, as well as coordinate a graduate program. It was there that I became acquainted with the leadership and scholarship of Rachel Endo, Ph.D., who worked at Hamline University. With each successive move — PWI to MSI, and now MSI to abolitionist liberal arts college (Berea College) — I have gotten closer to where I believe I can do the best work in terms of diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging (DEI+B).

Berea College is the first co-educational and interracial college in the south. In her book Berea College: An Illustrated History, Shannon H. Wilson (2006) writes, “Berea College was founded by John G. Fee, a Kentucky slaveholder’s son. He became convinced that slavery was a tremendous moral and spiritual evil. Fee preached a ‘gospel of impartial love’ that defined not only the early programs and policies of the college but the emerging village of Berea as well” (p. 1). Wilson goes on to write, “The administration of Berea’s first president, Edward Henry Fairchild (1869–89), gave institutional form to Fee’s dream of an interracial, coeducational school. The first collegiate class (of five members) was admitted in Fairchild’s inaugural year, joining students in the Primary, Intermediate, Preparatory, Normal, and Ladies’ Departments. Fairchild asserted that Berea was a school for both sexes, citing advantages that enhanced women’s learning and social culture in general. Berea would welcome ‘all races of men, without distinction,’ Fairchild observed, adding that Berea assumed that African Americans were to have the same civil and political rights as whites. He boldly claimed, ‘Freedom and education do not tend to evil.’ Berea was a school for the poor, and Fairchild encouraged anyone who was willing to work for an education to ‘come on’” (p. 2). As the lead author of this AACTE-sponsored study, I sought to find a co-author who was critically minded, and who like me, was currently a leader of an EPP. When I reflected on who that person could be, I recalled Rachel and her work at Hamline University, in St. Paul, MN. It is my hope that this multi-part series of articles provoke thinking differently about responding to the crisis in diversity we see in EPP leadership. We know better, so we need to do better. I hope Rachel and my writing helps us achieve such an outcome.

Rachel: The Uneven Path from Disaffected Youth to Aspirational Role Model

There are several possibilities and problems of being an Asian/American body in exclusively or predominantly White spaces. I was born, educated, and raised in a predominantly White community in Nebraska. I had only White teachers and did not learn diverse perspectives as a PK–12 student. As a secondary student, I was labeled by several White teachers as disruptive and unteachable, and consequently, tracked into remedial education. My peers, (mostly young men of color) and I, were constantly discouraged by several of our White teachers from even considering college as a postsecondary option.

While I lacked the language at the time to understand that our experiences were not isolated but rather emblematic of what we now know as race-based disparate outcomes, I was deeply disaffected by how my peers and I were being treated. Out of this cohort of approximately 40 students, about one-quarter of us graduated from high school/obtained GEDs and I am the only one known to earn a college degree. As a senior in high school who barely earned enough credit to graduate at all, I decided at that time that I would enter the field of education to become a bicultural role model and inspiration to young children of color.

A Different Type of Dean

I am a first-generation college student who started my postsecondary pursuits at a community college before transferring to a four-year public university. I started my career teaching young children at a racially diverse preschool as the first and only educator of color. Over my career at several different colleges and universities across state lines, I was usually the first and only Asian/American or racialized American among the faculty and leadership. Now in my seventh year as founding dean of the School of Education at the University of Washington Tacoma, where I was hired as the first woman of color to serve at the decanal level in the history of the campus, I am proud to share that the majority of faculty, staff, and students in my unit are BIPOC, and several hail from other minoritized backgrounds. However, as an Asian/American woman in these spaces, I frequently experience erasure and gendered racism across demographic lines, reminding me that the underrepresentation of Asian/Americans in EPPs signals a potential mismatch in how various stakeholders in these spaces, at best, devalue Asian/Americans and misunderstand who we are.


Eagly, A. H., & Carli, L. L. (2007). Through the labyrinth: The truth about how women become leaders. Harvard Business School Press.

Wilson, S. H. (2006). Berea College: An illustrated history. University Press of Kentucky.

Hartlep and Endo.


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