Massachusetts Daily Collegian

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A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Danielle R. Holley gives insight on how higher education institutions can improve diversity and inclusion

UMass ADVANCE hosts their annual distinguished lecture and awards ceremony
Shilpa Sweth
Daily Collegian (2023)

On March 27, the University of Massachusetts’ ADVANCE program hosted their annual distinguished lecture and awards reception in collaboration with the Office of Equity and Inclusion, the Office of the Provost and the College of Humanities and Fine Arts.

Danielle R. Holley, Mount Holyoke College president and professor of politics delivered this year’s lecture, titled “Pursuing Faculty Equity, Inclusion, and Success in Today’s Higher Education Landscape.”

Holley started the talk by sharing her personal story and how it led to her current position as the fourth leader as a Black woman of the original seven sister schools. She provided insight into initiatives higher institutions should implement to further a more diverse and inclusive environment.

According to her, diversity and inclusion starts from junior level faculty positions and with transparency from universities. She explained, “You have to learn to have your own voice and to be able to speak up for yourself.” She said that many things, like tenure, may seem obvious to current faculty, but are not to new faculty they are bringing in.

Mari Castañeda, professor of communications and dean of the Commonwealth Honors College, said, “[It’s] hard to make any kind of changes if people really don’t know what that experience is like.”

Castañeda believes that people need to be more “willing to speak up and colleges need to be more willing to care,” emphasizing Holley’s prior remarks. Likewise, Olivia McCafferty, an architecture graduate student, said Holley’s persistence stuck with her, especially her willingness to not be afraid and to keep the conversation going.

Numerous universities, including UMass, use student evaluations for reviewing faculty. Holley explained though that these evaluations can be influenced by other factors like unconscious biases.

“What we saw was deep inequality in terms of how faculty are assessed in terms of teaching by students and we know that we have to bring an equity lens to reading student evaluations,” she said. She is currently implementing holistic assessment teaching faculty seminars and is in the works of new teaching feedback forms.

Holley explained that the work being done on equity and inclusion should stop being done by those who are primarily in the minority group. “A problem we didn’t create is now on our shoulders to solve,” she said. “I didn’t create sexism, I didn’t create racism, I didn’t create any of the other things, so why am I here teaching you how to solve it?”

During her time at the University of South Carolina, Holley found herself a collaborative cohort through a cluster hire of people of color at junior level faculty positions. Although she doesn’t know if the cluster hire had been on purpose, the group was able to help each other foster a supportive environment and have more successful careers as well.

She emphasized the importance of giving a place for people of similar identities to talk, saying that universities do not need to do anything other than provide a place and a time and “see what happens.”

Elisa Martinez, a post-doctoral research fellow with the UMass ADVANCE program said, “We know there is a problem. You know there is a problem. I know there is a problem. We know that there are solutions, so let’s just get busy and put them in place.”

UMass ADVANCE provides resources for faculty equity and inclusion with a five-year award of $3 million from the National Science Foundation. According to Martinez, “They’ve [UMass ADVANCE] always been champions for equity among faculty and graduate students and staff.”

Starting in fields of STEM, UMass ADVANCE has further extended to all areas in the University, especially through their faculty peer mentor positions that are in every UMass college.

The awards reception honors faculty members in each of these colleges. According to Martinez, the faculty were nominated by their peers to be said as “someone who they couldn’t have made it through [the program] without.”

Winners were awarded for various reasons. Alexandra Pope, professor of astronomy and Five College astronomy department chair, won the award for revising the graduate journal club to focus on social responsibility. Similarly, Torrey Trust, professor of learning technology, received the accolade for highlighting the best practices of remote teaching starting March 13, 2020.

Awards were given to groups of collaborators as well, like Bandwidth (Chamber music ensemble) and Black Women United.

Mia Blue can be reached at [email protected]

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