By Dan Fuentes
Framingham State joined a partnership with 12 other New England colleges and universities and the New England Board of Higher Education (NEBHE) to promote racial equity among faculty.
These 13 institutions have signed NEBHE’s new North Star Collective (NSC), a multi-institutional collaborative to boost Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) early-career faculty at New England colleges and universities.
According to a NEBHE press release, “More than one-third of America’s college students are people of color. But only about 5% of college faculty are African American, about 3% are Hispanic, and about 1% are Native American.”
NEBHE appointed two professors – Kamille Gentles-Peart of Roger Williams University and Tatiana Cruz of Simmons University – to serve in the regional organization’s newly created roles of Faculty Diversity Fellows.
Gentles-Peart and Cruz worked together at NEBHE to create the NSC.
In an interview, Gentles-Peart said, “We created the program that we want to be in. We are excited about it because we are faculty of color.
“It was created by BIPOC people for BIPOC people,” Gentles-Peart added.
The NEBHE press release states, “Though research suggests BIPOC faculty members contribute positively to an inclusive climate and higher persistence for students of color, a troubling mismatch continues.
“Colleges and universities embody racial hierarchies that systematically oppress and disadvantage BIPOC faculty,” according to the press release.
Gentles-Peart said, “We have experienced – or we are parts of communities that have experienced – the kinds of marginalization that happen to BIPOC people in academia.
“At the institutional level, we are promoting a kind of transformation, and then also in a restorative way. We promote spaces of healing and just support BIPOC people,” she added.
According to NEBHE, colleges and universities embody racial hierarchies that systematically oppress and disadvantage BIPOC faculty.
At predominantly white institutions, BIPOC faculty experience regular harm, including everyday racial microaggressions, tokenism, discriminatory teaching evaluations and lower rates of tenure and promotion, according to NEBHE.
President F. Javier Cevallos said, “Here [at Framingham State] we have had a group of faculty of color, an affinity group of faculty and sta. meet on a regular basis to support each other.
He said, “The first thing is that we have to recognize that faculty of color in particular need support like anybody else, and we have support structures for faculty in place.”
According to Cevallos, approximately 36% of students at FSU are students of color. “Faculty of color is a lot less, obviously,” said Cevallos. “We were around 18% before the pandemic last year, and I don’t know how it has affected that.”
BIPOC faculty are more likely to hold junior faculty positions and less likely to be tenured than their white faculty colleagues, according to NEBHE.
The NEBHE report also found BIPOC faculty often have difficulty finding mentors and building community. The racial trauma they face in academia can negatively impact their health and overall well-being.
Gentles-Peart said, “We are very committed to creating programs and initiatives that center
on BIPOC people, their experiences, and not only acknowledge the harm that they have experienced, but also put things in place to repair that harm, and support healing.”
She added there is some work that needs to be done within white communities, in white spaces around equity and inclusion.
She said, “There’s often a focus on white people, and what white people need to do this work, and not a lot of focus on the BIPOC people who are actually living in the spaces and are being harmed.
“We’re thinking about things like restoration and healing, which is based on the politics of creating spaces for BIPOC people where they can feel supported when they don’t have to do the performances that are necessary for them to survive within white spaces,” she added.
The name of the NEBHE collective pays homage to the fact that enslaved Africans and African
Americans used the North Star in the night sky to guide them to freedom.
Cruz said they don’t want to just build a space of refuge for faculty of color and then send them to hostile environments in their own institutions.
She added, “We’re doing a lot of support work for these institutions, and institutions themselves have been doing work.”
Framingham State is joined by Bridgewater, Clark, Endicott, Eastern Connecticut, Goodwin University, Rhode Island College, Roger Williams, Salem State, Simmons, the University of Bridgeport, UMass Boston, and the University of Southern Maine as founding members of the NSC.
Cruz said, “We’ve seen institutions doing work, acknowledging the harms that have been done historically, and even in the contemporary moment, to BIPOC people.”
NEBHE was also awarded a $20,000 grant from the Hildreth Stewart Charitable Foundation to support the development and implementation of a key part of the program: the NSC Faculty Fellowship.
The Faculty Fellowship will support BIPOC faculty in their writing and publishing endeavors and overall well-being, which are essential to advancement, tenure and promotion.
The goal of the NSC Faculty Fellowship is to provide a nourishing community of care, peer mentorship, and professional development for BIPOC early-career faculty in the humanities and social sciences.
NEBHE and its partners intend to award approximately 24 faculty fellowships for the inaugural cohort in the 2021-22 academic year.
Gentles-Peart said, “We got almost 60 applications from across our 13 member institutions. We have committed to taking two fellows from each institution, so we were expecting our cap to be around 24.”
NSC partner institutions will provide yearly contributions of $5,000 to NEBHE’s NSC. The faculty fellows will receive a $1,500 grant for research, publication, and professional development.
They will take part in an intensive three-day mentored writing retreat in January 2022. From there, they will meet biweekly with peer fellows in virtual writing accountability groups and join monthly interactive virtual workshops on issues such as mentoring and tenure. A capstone symposium in May 2022 will allow them to share their fellowship-supported work.
Reema Zeineldin, associate vice president, said the selected fellows will be announced during an event on reparative justice on Dec. 1.
Zeineldin is the liaison to the NSC for Framingham State.
Zeineldin said, “I’m happy that they started this. It’s really important, and I know that the President has supported it, which is really great. It’s important for us to support the BIPOC faculty.”
Cruz said, “This is just the beginning of what we believe will be long-term relationships, and we hope that Framingham will see this as just the first step.”