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Framingham State hosts four candidates for vice president of DICE position

By Sophia Harris

News Editor

By Branden La Croix

Asst. News Editor

By Naidelly Coelho

Staff Writer

Courtesy of Eric Nguyen

Eric Nguyen

Eric Nguyen spoke to the community as one of the finalists for the vice president of diversity, inclusion, and community engagement (DICE) position in an open forum for students Sept. 30.

Nguyen earned his bachelor’s in psychology at Amherst College, and continued his studies at Columbia University, where he earned his master’s in Education Leadership. He is an Ed.D. candidate in Organizational Leadership Studies at Northeastern University, according to a community-wide email sent Sept. 27 by President Nancy Niemi.

He has completed multiple trainings and professional developments in the areas of racial equity, diversity, inclusion, and supporting undocumented students. Some trainings he has created and delivered include Racial Equity Policy and Expanding the Equity Lens at Framingham State, according to the email.

Nguyen is currently the director for the Center for Inclusive Excellence (CIE). He collaborates with students and staff to create an inclusive environment, and advises staff and faculty on issues related to diversity, equity, and inclusion in the classroom and student programs, he said.

Nguyen’s goal is to implement “an intersectional approach to build community and opportunities and uplift the voices of individuals who hold historically minoritized identities. Eric is committed to collaborative data driven leadership and systemic change that will help all students, faculty, staff, and administrators in our increasingly diverse community reach their full potential,” according to the email from Niemi.

Nguyen said he was influenced by his childhood, family background, and Vietnamese heritage to pursue the work that he does.

He said growing up and experiencing racism and xenophobia based on his family's identity shaped him to stand against racism and inequality.

Nguyen said this upbringing guides his work because he wants people from underrepresented groups to have a life without the discrimination that he and his family experienced.

In 2021, Eric Nguyen began working as director of the CIE. He said in this role, he develops partnerships between students and employees to create an inclusive environment.

“I realized, probably in high school, I really loved helping other people learn … and now I am in this position where I get to provide those opportunities to other people,” he said.

“I see both the ways in which education lives up to that mission of being the great equalizer, but I also see the ways in which education has not been done to that ideal - that there are so many barriers to accessing education, and then even when folks are able to access those opportunities, the outcomes are still not equitable,” Nguyen said.

He discussed conscious and unconscious bias in his presentation.

“Sometimes, it's something we don't even realize we have, but it influences the way we see the world and other people in the world and how judgments that we make, without even realizing we're making them,” he said.

Nguyen said he wants to incorporate training with employees and students in order to create a deeper understanding of bias.

“Because without understanding ourselves, it's really hard to understand why we might see and interpret the world in a certain way,” he said.

Nguyen said a common example of bias is asking questions such as, “What is the gender of the baby?” He said, questions like this create certain biases and frameworks that cascade into actions.

“If we're not consciously thinking about it, it surfaces and it impacts the ways in which we interact with people,” he said.

“Whether students are identifying as low-income students, students of color, first-generation students, LGBTQ+ communities, it is our responsibility as an institution to ensure that all of our students have access to the same opportunities,” he said.

Nguyen said he wants to use an intersectional approach to build community and uplift voices of those who are not heard.

He emphasized the importance of the anti-racism commitment in his role.

Nguyen said, “We need to make sure that we are constantly just talking about that commitment in lots of different spaces.”

He said working with students will be one of his top priorities to ensure they are heard.

Nguyen said he also wants to work with department chairs to see updates on the progress they are making in anti-racism initiatives.

Last year, Nguyen purchased 15 pieces of student artwork to decorate the CIE.

He said he hopes this becomes a common practice at FSU so the University reflects its students. He said he wants to create a place that is completely for students to be who they want to be.

“I'm honored and humbled to be a finalist for this role,” he said.

Courtesy of Jamie Nolan

Jamie Nolan

Jennifer “Jamie” Nolan spoke to the community as one of the finalists for the vice president of diversity, inclusion, and community engagement (DICE) position in an open forum for faculty and librarians Oct. 3.

Nolan is associate vice chancellor of community, equity, and social justice at Washington State University. She has worked in diversity, equity, community building, inclusion, and social justice for more than 20 years, according to a Sept. 27 community-wide email from President Nancy Niemi.

Nolan earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in American studies at Washington State University. She then went on to complete her doctorate in higher education at the University of Pennsylvania in 2015, according to the email.

Nolan said the work of equity and justice is “integral to the ecosystem of our shared humanity.”

She said she considers these efforts to be “her life's work” and the “work of our time.”

Nolan said some of the people who have influenced her are Novelist James Baldwin, Berkeley Law Professor John Powell, Anti-Racist Scholar Ibram X Kendi, and Poet Audre Lorde.

She said her core operating principles are “attending to the process,” being consultative, collaborative, and comprehensive, and having that result in building coalition and community.

All of the finalists for the vice president of DICE position were asked to answer the question: “How would you respond to an incident on your campus?”

In her answer, she emphasized being proactive and highlighted the importance of conducting a policy review before and after an incident occurs rather than being “reactive” to an incident.

Nolan said, “Oftentimes, we are responsive and reactive in developing a program or space in response to … racism, homophobia,” or other social justice issues.

She said, “Building this sort of practice when dealing with incidents allows us to at least develop the aspects that could be proactive.”

Nolan said although being reactive is important, it is just as important to be proactive before incidents of bias occur.

She said people fail to realize the differences made when considering policy through an equity lens.

Nolan said she was on a committee for a year and a half where they developed an equity impact assessment tool “to be used in both the development of the policy or the review of current policy for its equity.”

Nolan said the assessment consists of six critical questions that examine the equity of a policy.

She said in addition to policy review, she believes there needs to be a focus on reflecting and learning from an incident after it has happened in order to be proactive.

Nolan said when an incident happens it is also important that administrators “debrief” and conversate about what was learned and what could be improved. “I approach all of this work as practice, meaning that whatever I learn from a moment or an incident should be incorporated” in future responses to incidents.

She said this is the strategy she plans to implement if hired for the position.

In her closing statements, Nolan emphasized the importance this work has on every person within the community and how vital this work is to who she is.

“Regardless of position, or identity, we all have a stake in this important work, which I think, at a deeper level, should be about building capacity for empathy, understanding, and connectedness, and then respecting and appreciating the lived experience of others,” she said.

Courtesy of Renee Wells

Renee Wells

Renee Wells spoke to the community as one of the finalists for the vice president of diversity, inclusion, and community engagement (DICE) position in an open forum for faculty and librarians Oct. 6.

Wells earned a bachelor’s in English and a bachelor’s in education from Auburn University, a master’s in English from Miami University, and a master’s in creative writing from Southern Illinois University. She currently works as assistant vice president of Education, Equity and Inclusion at Michigan Technological University.

Wells said she started out “on the faculty side of the fence” before moving on to equity and inclusion work.

She said she was one of the founding members of the “queer and trans faculty affinity group” at the University of Alabama. From there, she said a “subset of us also decided that we would start trying to install institutionalized [diversity, equity, and inclusion] DEI work specifically for queer and trans folks because there wasn't institutional support that existed.”

She said while working to change educational foundations to include DEI, “I realized that my time was better spent creating structural change than teaching people to write poetry.”

Wells said one of her priorities is “building community” - a central aspect to her approach, “which has to be collective, but also has to be done in an environment where we can all be honest and open and vulnerable with each other to move the work forward.”

She added, “It also allows me to get to know what people's lived experiences are, what needs exist, and then to use that to address interpersonal and institutional barriers.”

Central to Wells’ priorities is restorative justice.

Wells relayed an incident from her current institution to provide “context to think about what happens when harm that is caused within a community is done by the institution - by people in positions of power.”

The incident involved a chemistry professor who included a question on an exam asking students to calculate the lethal dose of hydrogen cyanide, the gas used by Nazi Germany during the Holocaust.

She explained the incident was exacerbated when the institution’s satirical newspaper, The Noodle, published an article making light of the incident, which was then reported on by the institution’s regular student paper.

“While as someone who taught writing for years, I appreciate the value of satire, many members of our campus community were very strongly impacted by how the Holocaust was treated in the article,” she said.

Wells explained the multiple “spheres of impact” that affected the community, the first being the students who took the exam, and the “secondary spheres of impact” being the faculty in the department.

In response, she said the first step was to address the students who were impacted by the incident, “many of whom were in fact Jewish students who were experiencing the exam on a whole different level than other students who merely found him ideologically offensive.”

Wells said the restorative justice team went to the class to discuss the incident with students, and provide a space where they could share how the incident affected them as well as anything the students wanted to express “to be heard and affirmed within an environment that recognizes that harm often has layers of impact that people don't necessarily have outlets to really give voice to.”

She said the space was also to help “assess” the needs of impacted students and provide them with support and resources.

She added the team also helped the professor to craft an apology to the community that was appropriate, and “foregrounded the impact and didn’t cause any additional harm,” as well as assisting the institution in drafting a campus-wide email acknowledging the incident.

“Thinking about acknowledging to the campus community that this has happened - acknowledging the impact on the community. That’s a big piece of what this work means,” she said.

Wells said she helped embed restorative justice practices and training into various areas, including the bias response team, residential life training, and the anti-racist pedagogy workshops with faculty.

“It's something that I think would resonate with your community right now, but also really be helpful and can transform the way we think about responding to harm when it happens within our community,” she said.

Courtesy of Jeffrey Coleman

Jeffrey Coleman

Jeffrey Coleman spoke to the community as one of the finalists for the vice president of diversity, inclusion, and community engagement (DICE) position in an open forum for faculty and librarians Oct. 7.

Coleman earned his bachelor’s in public policy from Trinity College, his master’s in counseling with a concentration in student development in higher education, and his doctorate in educational studies with a concentration in cultural studies at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, and worked at Kennesaw State University as the deputy chief diversity officer. He currently works at Intercultural Development Inventory, LLC as a consultant and qualified administrator.

Coleman said he is interested in Framingham State because he sees a “nexus” between the University’s values and his own.

He said he sees “a dedication toward creating a learning experience that’s transformational, student centered, and inclusive,” and “a focus on inspiring a community of learners and motivating them around these particular pillars of curiosity, discovery, innovation, and excellence.”

He added, “When I look at my values, I definitely focus on creating and fostering an inclusive learning and work environment through identity development, cultural competency, sense of belonging, and academic success.”

He said he also focuses on “creating a culture of inclusion where all members of the campus community can achieve excellence,” while working “to eliminate barriers,” and “evaluate our policies, practices, and procedures.”

Coleman said he sees “potential” for FSU to be “a national model for inclusive excellence.”

Referring to racist comments made by a former member of the Board of Trustees during a subcommittee meeting Sept. 14, Coleman said it is important to develop an “institutional response,” adding, “It's also important to note that when we're developing the response, we should not put the responsibility or onus on the victimized community to come up with that response.”

He said one of his first priorities at FSU would be to create a “response team” made up of “key stakeholders” from the University, including a member of DICE, the Center for Inclusive Excellence, the Counseling Center, the Dean of Students Office, the Communications Office, Academic Affairs, and the President’s Office.

He would also implement a process and procedures manual that can be referred to which can provide “a consistent plan” in response to offensive incidents on campus.

He explained the manual would provide information on how to both evaluate and respond to an offensive incident.

Coleman added there should be a degree of transparency to the process. He said, “That's going to reinforce that sense of belonging that we want to provide to the community as a whole, but also the community that's been impacted.”

Also in response to incidents on campus, Coleman said, “It's very important that we provide educational resources to the campus community” as well as “restate and reaffirm” the University’s values through an “institutional statement.”

He said, along with transparency, “I think communication is key. So we want to make sure that we're having consistent and ongoing communication, especially with the group that has been impacted by the incident.”

Given much of the tension currently in the world, Coleman said we are currently in an “inflection moment in time,” adding, “But I would propose that this is our new normal and we are becoming more and more diverse and not less diverse, and so we have to prepare to move forward in a positive way.”


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