Finding Power Through Purpose with Dr. Katherine Mansfield

At the College of Education, Dr. Katherine Mansfield is a Professor and the Mike Moses Endowed Chair in Educational Leadership. In this role, she mentors and supports others, providing travel scholarships for pre-tenured professors and graduate students to attend and present at major conferences. She is also committed to supporting professional development opportunities for educational leaders in the region as well as bringing in speakers to enrich the work of faculty and students in the College of Education and UNT at large.

In Dr. Mansfield’s childhood, her memories of going to the local library sparked a desire for higher education. While in the public school system, she imagined a future where she could inspire a generation of students to reach for the stars.

Mansfield's endeavors have given her a sense of purpose, allowing her to walk unashamedly in her calling as a teacher. Through it all, she has transmuted her experiences into power, forging a path of dedication to students.

“Teaching is my purpose in life. It’s one of the reasons I’m on this Earth. It’s one of the things that gives me the most joy. When I grew up, I was told I wouldn’t amount to anything, I wasn’t college material, I was never going to be anything according to the school counselor,” Mansfield said. “I thought to myself, ‘You know, I’m going to become a teacher. I can’t save the world, but in my own little patch of the world, I’m going do my best to be the teacher that I never had, and to see all children and adults as learners, as gifted, as brilliant.”

Before her career began, Mansfield stood as a first-generation college graduate. She lived the quintessential college life, eating Ramen noodles and working several jobs to make ends meet. Her classes and extracurriculars pulled her in every which way, but her mother helped ground her, centering her in the middle of drastic changes.

“I’m a first-gen. It was so hard, financially and otherwise. My mom didn’t know how to help me, but she would fold up five-dollar bills and mail them to me from Nevada to Missouri. She gave what she could give,” Mansfield said.

Aside from supporting Mansfield’s educational endeavors, her mother, Diane, consistently encouraged her to have upright morals and to fly above the limitations placed upon her. Her mother always uplifted her, but in Mansfield’s later years, she would soon come to realize the disparaging trauma and prejudice that women of color experience in their lives.

“One day, in second grade, we were studying the solar system and the teacher had folks raise their hand if they wanted to be an astronaut when they grow up. My hand went straight up. She said, ‘Katherine, I’m sorry, you can’t be an astronaut,’” Mansfield said. “That was my first introduction to this idea that you can want something, you can work really hard, but it can’t be yours because of some sort of ‘ism. Sexism, racism, classism. So many students in my courses have been Black women, and they have experienced far worse in their lives and in their schooling experiences. That really molded me over time to be sensitive to that.”

As Mansfield furthered her educational endeavors, her career began to advance, taking her into more critical, progressive spaces. Amongst all her accolades, she has built a bridge of grace between her and her students at the College of Education.

“When I became a professor, I looked at students not just as a number that’s sitting in a seat. I saw them more as people,” Mansfield said. “They need some grace to get through their programs. So, I try to look at people with grace.”

With her passion for women and gender studies, she’s met a variety of powerful women who’ve helped inspire her pursuits as an educator. Her community of women has helped shepherd her in the right direction. However, throughout her academic career, she became awakened to the gender and racist discrimination in the industry.

“I had a lot of work to do. Here’s the deal, I have a great mom, who did all she could to instill in us to be truthful and look at people with kind eyes. But I didn't see my whiteness. Going to women's and gender studies helped me so much because some of my professors were women of color- some of them from the Global South,” Mansfield said. “They had a lot of different intersections with identity: religion, language, all that stuff. I really held tight to the fact that I grew up poor, but I needed to realize that the color of my skin opened up doors that wouldn't be open to a woman of color, for example. That was kinda painful. But I was committed to it, and still committed to it. I know that there's always something for me to learn.”

“I really had to have the scales scrubbed from my eyes. Women and gender studies is really unique because it’s not just talking about women's rights,” Mansfield said. “That's old white feminism. It was really important for me to take into consideration that the nested contexts of our lives and the intersections that we have in our identities come into play in different ways. We all have moments of oppression. I did have oppression, but I did have privilege, too.”

Mansfield’s innate sense of purpose has allowed her to stay in alignment with her destiny in the midst of everything she’s experienced and witnessed. Before arriving at the College of Education, she was referred to UNT by her colleagues. With a leap of faith, she was guided to the College of Education on UNT’s campus.

“I’ve become more open to understanding and appreciating faith. I have a strong sense that I want to come alongside women and women of color in particular, as far as progressing in their career because the higher they get in the education system, the more influence they’re going to have,” Mansfield said. “I hope to not only help students become more educated, but wiser, and more open to looking at the world in those nested contexts.”