Updated: Aug 23
By Emily Rosenberg
Framingham State hosted Tracey Rizzo, a candidate for Dean of Arts & Humanities, in the alumni room for a faculty and staff forum, March 21.
Rizzo serves as the Dean of Arts & Humanities at University of North Carolina Asheville where she is also a history professor. At North Carolina Asheville, Rizzo is a member of several strategic planning and general education review task forces. She also has led diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives in recruitment, retention, and curriculum revision at Asheville.
Rizzo said she wanted to take on the role of Dean of Arts & Humanities at FSU because the idea of being surrounded by so many leaders, especially women, in higher education is “very enticing.” She added her daughter-in-law is studying at Wellesley College, so she is familiar with the surrounding region.
She said, at this time in her life, she knows she does not want to be a provost, but she definitely is looking for a new opportunity.
Rizzo’s research focuses on her interest in first-generation students, poverty, and exploration of intersectional identities in world history.
She said one way she has taught intersectionality is through a first-year seminar on video games. In the seminar, students were asked to identify themselves as characters from the video games “Assassin's Creed” and “Roman Empire Hack n’ Slash.”
Rizzo said her goal in her dean’s office is to allow professors to do their work and scholarship in a way that attracts more students.
“My first-year seminar on video games also has attracted probably zero history majors. That's OK because we're all in the same boat. We want any students even if they're going to go major in computer science. I would love to have them bring these kinds of competencies to game design where they’re thinking about historical accuracy versus historical authenticity.”
During her presentation, Rizzo said history cannot be taught without making it “race-centric,” and neither can sustainability.
She added, developing empathy is a learning outcome that is achieved throughout the humanities.
“I think there's no better skill that a college student, a high school student, or anybody can have than empathy, empathy for their distinctiveness, while also understanding that their identities are contextual, they're intersectional. Our task is to craft these narratives about them, and convey them through media, such as video games,” Rizzo added.
During the question-and-answer session, Maria Bollettino, chair of the history department, asked how to prevent particular majors from being siloed within the college, and rather share resources with various departments so majors would not have to “compete” for resources.
Rizzo said that her answer was not popular, but suggested “gravitating toward meta majors.” She said this is an approach that had to be taken for a variety of reasons with the classics major at her college, which was combined with the languages department.
Alexander Hartwiger, English professor, asked, in relation to the decline in enrollment in arts and humanities, how she would pitch a major in the college as valuable to students as well as communicate this to the admissions office.
Rizzo said treating video games as a serious platform to teach history and the arts has attracted a lot of first-year students - especially men - to her college. She said she is currently advising a senior thesis on video games and led a course on first-person shooter games.
She added what Generation Z is interested in can be fun and being able to transcribe those forms of media into career readiness is what can be appealing to students.
Mirari Elcoro, vice president of the faculty and librarian union, asked Rizzo if she had any experience working in a unionized environment. Rizzo responded that while she does not, she has experience serving as a faculty senator in a shared governance community and believes that while this is different, there are likely “translatable” similarities.
Nicola MacEwen, professor of fashion, design, and retailing, asked about Rizzo's experience working with corporate partners because the major works closely with businesses to obtain internships.
Rizzo responded, saying she once served on a city council board, the Historic Resource Commission, where she was one of the voices in the room preventing historic properties from being torn down by corporations.