Community, Engagement, Belonging and Access; Graduate School; OUR Clemson

Altheia Richardson wins national award for her doctoral dissertation


Assistant Vice President for Strategic Diversity Leadership Altheia Richardson has received the Outstanding Dissertation Award from the National Association of Diversity Officers in Higher Education (NADOHE). The award recognizes a completed dissertation that has contributed substantially to the literature and the field of diversity and inclusion in higher education.

Richardson, whose dissertation was part of her doctoral work in educational leadership in Clemson’s College of Education, said she was surprised and humbled to receive the award.

“It was indeed a great honor to be given this award by my professional association. NADOHE is a national organization committed to diversity, equity and inclusion issues. Knowing that all dissertations submitted were required to center on these types of issues, I knew the competition for the award would be significant,” said Richardson. “Considering all the sacrifices I had to make to earn my doctorate made this recognition all the more meaningful.”

The title of Richardson’s dissertation was The Impact of Interlocking Systems of Oppression on the Leadership and Decision-Making Experiences of Black Women in Executive-Level Leadership Positions at Predominantly White Public Research Institutions in the U.S. The findings and related implications provide a resource for all predominantly white public research institutions in the U.S. on ways they can better recruit and retain Black women at the executive levels of their institutions.

In his nomination letter, Lee Gill, chief diversity officer and special assistant to the president for inclusive excellence, expressed his confidence that Richardson’s research has already contributed to the body of knowledge on Black women administrators at higher education institutions in the U.S.

Altheia Richardson formal photo wearing an orange button-up shirt under a dark jacket.
Altheia Richardson

“I have had the pleasure of working with (now) Dr. Richardson since I was hired as the chief diversity officer for Clemson University in April 2016,” said Gill. “After seven years, while raising two daughters and working full time in a demanding position, Dr. Richardson has finally realized her dream of earning her doctorate.”

Natasha Croom, associate dean of The Graduate School and chair of Richardson’s dissertation committee, said Richardson’s own experience as a longstanding practitioner of equity, diversity and inclusion at Clemson allowed her to relate to the eight Black women she interviewed for the dissertation — all executive-level leaders at predominantly white public research institutions ­—like few others could. Croom described Richardson as “an amazingly talented scholar-practitioner whose contributions have already influenced practice.”

“Her dissertation is an exemplary demonstration of sound research and critical scholarship,” said Croom. “More explicitly, her scholarship related to the leadership experiences of Black women executive-level administrators is critical, builds on previous work in the field and extends this work in theoretically innovative ways.”

“When I accepted the award, I knew I did so on behalf of all the amazing Black women who took the time to share their stories with me for my dissertation,” Richardson said. “I hope that any interest in my dissertation that is sparked by me winning this award will only serve to elevate their voices even more.”

About Altheia Richardson

After graduating from the University of South Carolina and assuming her first professional role at Clemson more than 30 years ago, Richardson has excelled in various roles related to diversity, equity and inclusion. Her career began in Student Affairs. She started and served as director of the first Multicultural Affairs department, now known as the Harvey & Lucinda Gantt Multicultural Center.

Richardson’s current role involves strategic planning for the University focused on inclusive excellence. She benefited from the employee tuition assistance program to pursue both her MBA and her doctorate in educational leadership, which she obtained in the fall of 2021.