Courageous Gardening: Equity-Minded Leadership in Higher Education

Can our environment, our institutions, be a landscape in which every living being thrives? Can we create the best possible soil to nourish all, to allow the potential within each of us to flourish? We believe the answer is yes. Courageous Gardening: Equity-Minded Leadership in Higher Education

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Read the Foreword to the Book


by Susan C. Turell, Ph.D. and Maria Thompson, Ph.D.

In Courageous Gardening: Equity-Minded Leadership in Higher Education, Susan C. Turell and Maria Thompson invite you to become a master gardener of your campus or departmental landscape — and provide a practical workbook for doing so. There are no easy tips and tricks here; instead, this workbook guides you building and sharpening the tool you will need in any situation: an equity mindset. The readings, case studies, and self-reflection questions offered in this workbook will help you to develop your ability to identify inequities and power dynamics related to privilege more quickly, and then find equitable and inclusive solutions, no matter the current state of your institution or unit.



“Turell and Thompson have captured the essence of how to engage and enact transformational change focusing on equity and inclusion. Their garden metaphor encourages both self and institutional reflection, essential components to authentic systemic transformation.”
– Sue Rankin, President, Rankin Climate
“In this compelling and well conceptualized workbook, Dr. Turell and Dr. Thompson aptly use the metaphor of gardening, relating principles and skills utilized by a master gardener to guide the reader through a parallel process of self-exploration, intersectional realities, and the overall complex and nuanced landscape of DEI in higher education. For those looking for a practical roadmap on how to make meaningful and sustainable systemic change in the DEI space at their institutions, Courageous Gardening Equity-Minded Leadership in Higher Education is a must read.”
– Carlos N. Medina, Vice President, Senior Consultant, and Practice Lead for Diversity and Inclusion, Academic Search
“Courageous Gardening is a masterpiece because it thoughtfully and methodically explains what it means to be an equity-minded leader and because it provides case studies and activities so that the reader is actively engaged in the process of understanding how to, what to, and why. The workbook facilitates application and provides the reader with an opportunity to critically examine their own landscape and work to create cultivating change or a new landscape. This is required reading, especially chapters 5 and 10—which once read, you will find yourself referring back to again and again. Highly recommend: 5 stars.”
– Usheevii King, Assistant Vice Provost, Faculty Engagement and Development, New York University


About the Authors

Susan C. Turell, Ph.D.
In higher education for 30 years, Susan brings a passion to her work for supporting people and designing and implementing effective processes, all striving toward an equity-minded perspective. Her goal is to synthesize best practices and approaches to help shift 21st century higher education toward becoming equitable and inclusive.

Prior to serving in higher education administration, Susan taught with an equity-minded pedagogy for 16 years in women’s studies and psychology. She has been actively committed to anti-racism systemic change in the academy for over a decade. Decades of reflection, training, and application all have laid the foundation for her ongoing commitment to working with others to create institutional-level change toward equity and inclusion, via an anti-racism lens. In addition to coaching, she has worked closely with Academic Impressions and her colleague, Maria Thompson, to develop and provide equity and inclusion-focused programming for historically marginalized job candidates and leadership development for all who wish to grow their ability to be more equitable and inclusive.

She served in leadership as a department chair, associate provost, dean, and provost. Her portfolios have included not only academic colleges and departments, but also areas that overlap with student success. A seasoned administrator who is a teacher at heart, Susan welcomes the opportunity to share her learnings with new and aspiring leaders, particularly those who are historically marginalized and everyone who want to move into positions in which they can influence institutional-level change toward equity. She is committed to helping all to find a good fit, to find positions that will allow them to thrive, encourage their optimism, and support their vision for new possibilities.


Maria Thompson
Maria is a career educator whose work experience spans a variety of institutional categories, including research universities, comprehensive universities, land-grant universities, urban-located, rural-located, HBCUs, and PWIs. She served as president and CEO of Coppin State University (CSU) and was the first woman to be installed as president. Prior to her appointment at CSU, she was provost and vice president for academic affairs at the State University of New York (SUNY) at Oneonta, the first African American in the role. She served as vice president for research and sponsored programs at Tennessee State University (TSU), the first woman to serve as chief research officer at the institution. She served as principal investigator on numerous grants and received millions in federal funding for scientific research, facilities construction, and educational projects from the National Science Foundation, National Institutes of Health, Air Force Office of Scientific Research, Department of Energy, and the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency.

She brings insights gained through first-hand knowledge from breaking barriers in leadership roles in higher education to her coaching practice. She is an experienced coach who works with clients who aspire to be deans, vice presidents, provosts, and presidents. In addition to coaching, she has worked closely with Academic Impressions and her colleague, Susan Turell, to develop and provide equity and inclusion-focused programming for historically marginalized job candidates and leadership development for all who wish to grow their ability to be more equitable and inclusive.

During her 30-year career, she focused on developing sustainable, institution-wide strategic and tactical plans to attract and retain historically marginalized faculty and students, with an emphasis on creating opportunities for them to participate in research. She led efforts that supported faculty in submitting proposals for external funding, publishing in peer-reviewed journals, and participating in research development activities. Recognizing that traditional student success metrics penalize campuses that serve significant numbers of historically marginalized students, she is an advocate for more equitable student success metrics.

She earned a Bachelor of Science from Tennessee State University, a Master of Science from The Ohio State University, and a doctorate from the University of Tennessee.


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