By James Sheridan
This academic year, the administration hired professors Carlos Martinez of the English department and Patricia Sanchez-Connally of the sociology department as the newest additions to the Academic Diversity Fellows Program.
The program, as its name suggests, brings a more diverse faculty to the University. It is a program that, according to Martinez, shows that the University “is thinking consciously about integration and not just expecting it to happen [on its own].”
According to Rita Colucci, chief of staff and general counsel, “Research has shown that your best learning environment is created when you have a diverse learning environment. ... It is going to be a better educational experience for all our students when we have a campus that is diverse.”
Martinez, who began his fellowship this fall, has already started adding classes to the curriculum.
“Literature lends itself so much to teaching different voices and talking about diversity and ethnicity,” said Martinez.
“I think that this country is slowly shifting, and all of these things are changing because of this type of program that is consciously thinking about integration,” Martinez said, “and I think you hear it in what students are talking about.”
Martinez, who is teaching a Latino/Latina literature course this semester, said he is interested in questions of dual personality. “What is happening when you are thinking of yourself as pertaining to two different cultures?” he asked.
But Martinez is looking to give students more than just the opportunity to take a class. “What Vice President for Academic Affairs Linda Vaden-Goad said is, ‘Whatever you can do to bring new perspectives to the students is what we are looking for,’” Martinez said. “It was sort of an open-handed
invitation to get creative with it [the position].” This semester, Martinez plans to bring Élan Stavans, who, he said, is “considered the foremost Latino/Latina American literature scholar in the U.S.,” to speak at the Ecumenical Center on April 9.
Martinez is also organizing a field trip to the Texas Folk Life Festival in San Antonio this June.
“I am going to open it to the university and any student who wants to go,” said Martinez. He added he believes the festival is very different from cultural festivals in this part of the country with which students are most likely familiar.
“When I think of festivals in Boston ... it is very much one group doing their own thing on one street and then a few streets over, you have a completely different group doing their own thing,” said Martinez. He explained that the festival he wishes to take students to is different because the many cultures of San Antonio are “rubbing elbows” in the same location.
Martinez said he was \rst hired in 2005 and that during his time at FSU, the University has “become so much more diverse,” adding he has noticed the difference “especially in the last four years, and that is not a coincidence. I mean, that is what this [Diversity Fellows] program is doing.”
Along with Martinez, the administration has also hired Sanchez-Connally.
Sanchez-Connally explained that she believes the administration is “still working on establishing a real program,” because it is relatively new. “This is only the second time [the program has hired professors].”
However, she added, since it started, the goals of the program have been clear. “The University has a commitment to diversity, and part of that commitment was to hire professors that would bring diversity to Framingham State.”
“I think that it’s important for students to be exposed to anything that is different,” she said, “so, someone in my classroom is having contact with someone who is an immigrant, someone whose first language is not English, a woman of color and a person who came from a working-class family.”
During the interviewing process, Sanchez-Connally said the hiring committee was most interested in her research, which focuses on how youth from areas characterized as “high risk” work in their communities to earn a college degree. “Many of these ‘high achievers’ in the Latino community,” said Sanchez-Connally, “have really high GPAs and finish high school and then have no choice. They can’t go to college because they can’t afford it, and they can’t go to work because they have no papers to work.”
Sometime during the next year, she hopes to design a class which explores how society, race and social status can influence life choices, including educational attainment.
Right now, Sanchez-Connally is working with the students on the Committee for Diversity and Inclusion (CDI) to raise awareness about their peers who are undocumented or don’t have legal citizenship. She is bringing in representatives from the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition (MIRA) to speak on campus about the policies in place to help undocumented students.
She added, “These kids are a part of our society. They are part of our communities. They are role models for other kids. They have a lot of potential, but we cut them short and we don’t give them a chance and I think that is sad.”
Jathlica Blake, a junior fashion major, said she believes raising awareness about undocumented students and the programs in place to help them is important. She said, “We should promote people getting the help they need.”
Rose Kamau, a sophomore chemistry major, said she can empathize with undocumented students as an immigrant herself. She added that her family moved from Kenya to America to give her an opportunity for a better education. “I feel for them. Someone can be really bright, but they need the opportunity.”
Sanchez-Connally said what she found most important about the Academic Diversity Fellows Program is that it gives professors an opportunity to “help create a path for others” toward success using education.
“To have someone you can identify with, even if it is just one little thing, is helpful because it is all about who you know and having resources.”
Cesar Sanchez, a senior biology major, said, “I can understand that it might be easier for a student to approach a professor who has a similar ethnic background,” and the Diversity Fellows program makes that possible. Sanchez added, “Keeping this program going is going to open up some opportunities for people.”
Kristen Coogan, a junior communications arts major, said, “I think that it [the program] does help inspire people. Especially at this school, I have had a lot of female professors, and I love how independent they are. I think that independence is something that I take from them.”
The Academic Diversity Fellowship Program was initially a directive of Former President Timothy Flanagan. Professors were first hired for temporary full-time positions in fall of 2011, according to Sue Dargan, co-chair of the CDI.
The positions are full-time temporary professorships rather than part-time adjunct positions. However, they are temporary because the fellows are only under contract for one year at a time.
According to Vice President Vaden-Goad, when the \rst group of hires reached the end of their contracts, the administration decided that, “if all was going well for everybody,” the fellows would be allowed to double their time at FSU here and stay for two years.
In fact, according to Vaden-Goad, even after the two years were over, the administration decided “after some discussion, very positive discussion,” that fellows who had done an “incredible job” would be able to apply for a tenure-track position at the University.
Currently, professors Kaan Agartan of the sociology department and Ishara Mills-Henry of the biology department, two of the three original diversity fellows, now hold tenure-track positions at the University.
According to Dargan, Agartan has brought a “global perspective” to the sociology department – a perspective that has not only generated two new classes in Sociology (SOCI 357 – Sociological Perspectives on Globalization and CRIM 222 – Global Criminology) but in collaboration with sociology professor Ben Alberti, Agartan has worked to help create a new global studies major.
Agartan said the new major “will help expand the very definition of diversity in the minds of the campus community. ... By offering a type of education that cuts across different disciplines and perspectives to understand complex social issues,” Agartan added, “it is our hope that the major will enable our students to make better sense of diversity problems, which are not simply shaped by local or national dynamics, but also by global forces.”
Dargan said the collaboration between the two professors is “a great example” of what the Academic Diversity Fellows Program is doing, adding, “It shows how diversity efforts benefit everyone.”
In addition to the academic opportunities Agartan has introduced to students, he has also delivered three lectures which were open to the public. The talks included “Globalizing the Classroom,” “Social Justice in the Global Age: New Questions for Research and Pedagogy,” and “‘It is not just about trees’: June Uprisings and the Politics of the Square in Turkey,” the latest of which was given only last semester.
The global studies major is expected to be available in the fall of 2014.
As a professor of biology and chemistry, Mills-Henry said, “My contribution [to diversity] has been more outside the classroom.”
Mills-Henry applied to the Academic Diversity Fellows Program after working with the non-profit organization Technical Education Research Centers (TERC), a curriculum development and research company.
Mills-Henry believes that her experience with TERC allowed her to bring a different perspective to her department at FSU because of the time she spent researching how students learn.
“In graduate school, you don’t really learn about how you learn science, right? No, you just learn the science,” she said. “So doing the post-doctorate really opened my eyes to the ways of learning science. I try to bring some of that into my classroom.”
Mills-Henry also worked with a mentorship program for underrepresented students in the sciences. “I thought maybe I could bring that to the program,” she said, “bring my experience along with what I’ve researched.”
Mills-Henry said that her research into diversity in the sciences showed the task of bringing interested people to science fields is not as difficult as keeping them there. “A lot of people say that underrepresented students are not really interested in the sciences,” she said, “but when you look at the data, it is actually not true.” She added that her research showed that the “drop off” of students in science programs occurred after they start the program and that the decline was even worse at the graduate level.
Mills-Henry explained that her work before coming to FSU also included studying the programs that higher education institutions have been implementing to improve their ability to retain students in the sciences. “There is evidence that shows that efforts to increase inclusion do improve retention,” she said.
“It’s not just ‘touchy-feely,’” she said. “This is actually data that they are actually seeing. It’s a fact.”
Mills-Henry has given talks about her research to administrators and faculty, and hopes her experience and knowledge will be useful.
“If I am of any help to this campus,” said Mills-Henry, “It would be by bringing awareness to this issue.”
The fellows program was developed by the CDI in conjunction with Vaden-Goad, with the initial goal, according to Dargan, of hiring two new diversity fellows a year. Dargan added that the positions were generated for “people who could contribute to the diversity efforts at the University by virtue of their scholarly interest or identities.”
Vaden-Goad said that she believes the fellows program “is something that the faculty has really taken a hold of to help create a very positive program.” She added, “We [the administration] realize that faculty and staff and student diversity are always important issues. ... We want for people to feel included here and for everyone to have a voice, so we try and approach those things in as many ways as we can.”
Sanchez said, “Keeping this program is going to open up opportunities for people.”
Stressing the importance of the program, Agartan said, “I think the diversity fellowship program is a very important element of the efforts to create a more welcoming and diverse environment on campus. I will always pride myself for being a part of it, and will continue to contribute to it in any way I can.
“Bringing people with something special to offer to our campus, providing them a space where they can interact with students, faculty and staff members is an invaluable opportunity to enhance the quality of our faculty, the learning experiences of our students and the diversity of ideas and individuals in the FSU community.”