Anitra Cottledge2019 Rising Alumni

Anitra Cottledge

Anitra Cottledge is the Director of the U of M Women’s Center. During her time as a graduate student in the Department of Organizational Leadership, Policy, and Development, Anitra conducted research on African American women in higher education administration. Today, in her director role, Anitra carries out that passion by advocating for gender equity in ways that impact the campus on a day-to-day basis as well as at an institutional level. Beyond filling a gap in representation as a black woman who is in a leadership role in a women’s center, Anitra has made sure to keep the door open once she stepped through. She founded a women of color student conference, reinvigorated faculty and staff affinity groups, and is a mentor and resource for others.

Current Job

Director, Women's Center, University of Minnesota Twin-Cities

CEHD Degree

Master of Arts Degree, Educational Policy and Administration, 2007

Please list any professional accomplishments you wish to mention.

I co-edited a book, University and College Women’s and Gender Equity Centers: The Changing Landscape, which was published in 2018. I'm proud to add to the body of knowledge about women's and gender equity centers and that the book I co-edited is only the second book-length work about college women's centers that's been written so far.

Volunteer activities

I am currently a member of the advisory board for Leaders of Today and Tomorrow, an organization whose mission is to advance women’s leadership by developing, educating, connecting, and inspiring emerging leaders. In the past, I have also served on the Board of Directors for Ananya Dance Theater and on the University YMCA Community Board.

Awards or honors from collegiate, professional, or volunteer experiences

In 2012, I received the GLBTA Leadership Award from the U of M GLBTA Programs Office and in 2011, I received the Emerging Leader Award from the National Women's Studies Association–Women's Center Committee.

What is your favorite memory from the University of Minnesota?

My favorite memory is passing my master's defense. It was such a moment of incredible accomplishment that I immediately wanted to share with my family and friends.

What professor(s) or course(s) were most influential during your time in CEHD?

Melissa Anderson was both a wonderful advisor, and one of my favorite professors to take classes with. Two of the most influential courses I took with her were "Formal Organizations" and "Leadership and Administration in Higher Education." The concepts and practical knowledge I gained from both courses have served me well in my career. I was also drawn to C. Cryss Brunner's course about women in leadership because of my longtime interest in that topic. Her course also helped to inform the research I ended up conducting for my Plan B paper.

What was the impact and benefit of your educational experience in CEHD?

I am grateful for the opportunity as a graduate student in CEHD to research a topic that I'm passionate about: African American women in higher education administration. The things I learned from my research have been foundational for many of my professional goals and have continued to inform my research interests.

Who has inspired you the most during your career?

There are so many mentors and colleagues and thought leaders that have inspired and continue to inspire me, particularly the indigenous people and people of color I've worked with over the years. From them, I've learned skills and strategies critical to being a successful higher educational professional and practitioner of color. There are too many of them to name, but so many of them have taught me about resilience, leadership, and how to keep learning and evolving in my work.

What skills are important to succeed as an emerging professional today?

I think it's important that emerging professionals cultivate a sense of focus because there are so many things that compete for our attention, and all professionals have to learn how to zero in on what matters and what will have the most impact. I think having a lifelong commitment to learning is critical, and not just from people above you in an organizational hierarchy. It's important to know that learning is multi-directional. Also, because there is always more work waiting for us, we have to learn our limits, and make self-care and community care a priority. Lastly, I think that every professional needs to be prepared to work in a variety of cultural contexts and that working with an equity and justice lens is a strength.

When you have 30 minutes of free time, what do you do?

I like to write—anything from journaling to writing poetry or essays, so in 30 minutes, I might scribble down some ideas or some snippets. In that time frame, I might also text a family member or a friend, or look up a YouTube video that makes me laugh.

How do others describe you?

I think others would describe me as feminist, funny, smart and strategic.

How do you describe yourself?

I describe myself as a compassionate questioner. Compassion is a core value of mine, as is learning and diving deeply into all sorts of topics.

What's a good book you'd recommend to others?

I would recommend Emergent Strategy: Shaping Change, Changing Worlds by Adrienne Maree Brown. It's a book that really turns some of our collective ideas about strategy and change-making on their heads and introduces new and dynamic paradigms.

If you could have coffee with anyone from history, who would it be?

Octavia Butler, African-American science fiction writer, who passed away in 2006. She was the first science fiction writer to receive the MacArthur Fellowship. Even if you're not a science or speculative fiction reader, her books have deeply powerful things to say about cultures and communities. I would just want to talk with her about how she sees the world.

What gets you excited about work?

I'm excited about having the opportunity everyday to work with others to do something that impacts others in a positive and meaningful way, whether that's on a personal, interpersonal or organizational level.

When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?

I wanted to be all of the things when I was a kid. I can remember wanting to be, at different times, a lawyer, a dancer, and an interior designer.

Outside of your job, how do you grow professionally?

Three of my top five strengths are learner, input and intellection, so it's no surprise that I love to learn and collect information about a lot of topics. One of the ways I do this is by reading. I'm a pretty avid fiction and nonfiction reader, and I really believe there's a nugget of something that can help me grow in almost everything.

What is a "fun fact" about you?

I quote random bits of dialogue from the "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" TV show in regular conversation.