Tolani Britton, a scholar of higher education policy, has been promoted to associate professor with tenure at the Berkeley School of Education.
The tenure promotion for Britton comes on the heels of being selected for the National Science Foundation prestigious Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) award, which supports early-career faculty who have the potential to serve as academic role models and leaders in research and education.
“I am delighted that Berkeley has recognized Professor Britton’s contributions with tenure,” said Professor Frank C. Worrell, chair of BSE’s faculty. “She is a productive and thoughtful colleague.”
Britton said she is “joyful” about tenure at Berkeley and mindful of the generational nature of the honor as she is the first person in her family to complete a research degree and become a tenured professor.
“It’s meaningful to me,” Britton said. “I am grateful to my life partner, children, extended family, friends, mentors, and colleagues. I am keenly aware that it is a personal accomplishment made possible by my community and divine blessing.”
Britton’s research measures the impact of programs and policies on college access and success for students of color and students from working class families. A recent project explores the experiences of people who are incarcerated or formerly incarcerated in the higher education system. Using quantitative analysis and data from the state of California between 2012 and 2021, Britton is looking at whether the state’s formerly incarcerated people who took community colleges while imprisoned are likely to re-enroll in a post-secondary program, stay in the program to earn a community college certificate or degree, or transfer to a four-year program. (Watch a research-practice webinar Britton led for the 21st Century California School Leadership Academy last fall.)
Britton’s findings are expected to inform policy affecting formerly incarcerated students and all students who strive for higher education in the face of entrenched structural barriers.
A former high school math teacher and school counselor in New York City public schools, Britton said it’s particularly meaningful to become a tenured professor at a public university such as UC Berkeley. She said academia is a place where faculty and students often receive a lot of “no’s” — whether on journal submissions or promotions. She said she will stop and celebrate the “yes’s” instead of simply looking to what’s next.
She emphasized that she’s received both encouragement and critical support from colleagues and students to ask questions that push the field to challenge dominant narratives instead of simply asking safe questions.
“It’s clearly an affirmation of some of the work I am doing and a reminder to keep going, to continue to ask questions that make a difference in the lives of our most marginalized students,” Britton said. “It’s a call to be more brave. To be more bold. To ask questions that inform policies that improve the outcomes of our most historically resilient students.”