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Women in Higher Education: 7 Deans Share Insights and Advice

University Leaders Reflect on Women’s History Month
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Dean Sheryl I. Fontaine
Sheryl I. Fontaine

College of Humanities and Social Sciences
Dean Sheryl I. Fontaine

Sheryl Fontaine, professor of English, comparative literature and linguistics, was named dean in 2014 after serving a number of leadership roles within the college, such as interim dean; associate dean of administration; and chair and vice chair of the Department of English, Comparative Literature and Linguistics. As dean, Fontaine has increased support for faculty research and created a stronger identity for the college.

She is dedicated to advancing social justice and educating students to be civically engaged and personally empowered individuals who respond to intellectual and societal challenges. Fontaine has served as director of the Writing Center and the University Learning Center, as well as on various committees since joining the university in 1990. Fontaine earned her Ph.D. from the University of California, San Diego in English and American literature. Her scholarship focuses on professional issues related to research and teaching of college writing.

What is your college doing to advance women as leaders in the fields of humanities and social sciences? 

We provide numerous role models and mentors: women who are leaders in their fields, in their departments, the college and the university. Similarly, many of our student clubs and organizations have women in leadership roles. Every department in the College of Humanities and Social Sciences shares a commitment to advancing social justice and the common good for all, regardless of race, gender or class. Our departments are dedicated to educating students in ways that prepare them, regardless of the career or professions they enter, to be civically responsible individuals who respond to intellectual challenges in voices that inform and inspire others, who act with ethical and academic integrity.

What is one example of an obstacle you personally encountered — and overcame?

Early on, at another institution, in spite of the fact that I had published more articles and books than most of my male colleagues, I had the least authority over what, when or whom I would teach. And I was being paid considerably less. When it became clear that my position was not going to change, I took a deep breath, went on the job market with all the academic credentials that were being ignored and accepted an appointment at Cal State Fullerton. Sometimes, the best response when others are slow to change is to make that change ourselves.

What advice do you have for female students in your college?
Know that you move in and through the world within your identity as a woman; never apologize or make excuses for that identity, but embrace the influence and potential of your subjective, connected and mutable nature.

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