Based on my experiences at F&M and UB, I will write a more developed post about how students can create a greater sense of belonging, inclusion, and empowerment through creating initiatives, organizations, events, and other activities that give them an opportunity to lead and develop their own identities and communities on campus. This is even more powerful and meaningful in PWIs.
Through the First Year Seminars at UB, I have learned how to rethink the very things we do in the classroom in order to build trust and create a safe space for learning, inclusion, and support for our students; many of whom are first generation. In this space, I will share some reflections on what I have learned about storytelling and other creative projects that have helped my students develop more confidence to speak up and out, and share their personal experiences, perspectives, and stories through poetry, photo essays, videos, podcasts, low stakes writing assignments, and Canvas discussion boards.
Looking back on my three semesters at UB, I realized that I have learned the most I have ever learned about teaching in this short amount of time, and that the students at UB have given me the most valuable lessons I have ever learned about teaching because of the range of experiences they bring into the classroom and campus. They put into perspective what higher education is really all about—-to give each student the same chance at learning and to think honestly about what we truly mean by access, equity, and inclusion in higher ed. I learned a lot from teaching at a large public university like UCLA and private institutions on the west coast and on the east coast, but at UB, I saw the greatest socio-economic and ethnic diversity of any school; and with many non-traditional students—students who are in ROTC, working parents, returning adults, and younger students balancing work and family responsibilities. I can not speak here of each personal challenge or trauma, but it is because of these students, I have learned again the importance of just listening and holding space for students to share their stories. When you hear what it is that they are actually juggling to finish school, you realize that it’s not about making the student adapt to what you think college is, but that college needs to also adapt and respond to the needs of a very different student body than 20 or 30 years ago.
The first year seminar at UB has also taught me the importance of building in time and space to talk about wellness with students and helping students find resources within themselves and on and off campus as they live, work, and study independently for the first time. Much of what I use in my first year seminar comes from the experiences I had teaching in UCLA’s Freshmen Summer Program as a grad student. We spent a summer working closely with students from underrepresented backgrounds as they transitioned to college and living away from their families for the first time. I understand now, that what FSP was doing was supporting and teaching the whole student with multi-level mentoring, tutoring, advising, and counseling. (More on this topic as time permits).
I am currently writing about this for Presumed Incompetent II: Race, Class, Power, and Resistance of Women in Academia that will come out in 2020 because minority faculty tend to do more service and that service is often in support of minority students, yet our time and care for students are not counted for tenure and promotion. It is not valued for retention and advancement even though it goes to the heart of our role as educators. For some faculty of color, this labor is not “service” but one of the main reasons we dedicated our lives to higher education to begin with, and it can be difficult for us to “just say no” and close our doors—as we are often advised— to minority students, especially in historically white institutions who need additional mentoring. We need to have honest discussions about who is doing much of this labor or service while others are able to avoid it or benefit from the volunteer efforts of untenured minority faculty to support minority students. In many institutions, visiting and contingent faculty provide these essential functions of care to minority students, but then are not retained—thus, the ever revolving door of minority faculty who go in and out of students’ lives. What does it say about academia or your institution when you are willing to allow visiting and contingent faculty, or minority faculty on the tenure track to take on these responsibilities of care, while not valuing their contributions for retention or promotion? Also, if you are a PWI and your assistant professors are all white while your visiting professors are all minorities, it’s time to do some deep reflection on why that is…do you truly have a culture with colleagues that welcome difference in your department?
Even though I am trained as a political scientist, I have also created groups and initiatives in support of students, staff, and faculty of color, and served in leadership roles to promote diversity and inclusion at different types of learning institutions and within my profession. I spend a lot of time thinking about how we can help students from underrepresented groups thrive in college and in their careers, so I hope to share posts here about concrete ways in which we can promote inclusion and empowerment for our students in and out of the classroom. I created this blog so that my voice and experiences, as well as those of other faculty and students of color, could be included in wider debates about the future of higher education. Often, our labor and ideas are not valued and recognized, which is why I want to use this space to honor and celebrate the work of educators who do the daily and invisible work of caring for our students and fellow colleagues. As a woman and woman of color, immigrant, first-gen, and former ESL and Pell grant student, who grew up in Jamaica, Queens, went to high school in the Bronx, and then earned a BA and PhD at UCLA, I navigate and experience academia differently and have found that through writing and sharing our experiences, we can build community and sustain our efforts to realize our individual and collective goals to do our best for our students. There are many blindspots about mentoring, "colorblindness", and merit-based advancement in academia so I would like to address those barriers to advancement for women of color in particular.
I will also post perspectives on politics, especially gender politics, and thoughts on a book project on women, war, and memory.
(I teach a 4/4 teaching load at UB and advise two majors, so please don’t expect too many posts).