The first cohort of students to complete the First Things First pre-orientation program in fall 2016.
As a first-generation college student from Scottsdale, Ariz., Caroline Liu ’18 is always aware of the many “nuanced and small ways in which my life experience differs from my peers.” These differences can be especially visible and discouraging during high-stress moments in the semester.
For example, she said, students often talk about having their parents read over their school work.
“As a first-generation American and low-income student, I don’t have the privilege to discuss any of my academics with my parents, much less have them check over my more theoretical work. They neither have the English language capacity nor the time, between working multiple jobs, for me to even consider them as a resource in that way,” said Liu, who is double majoring in computer science and feminist, gender and sexuality studies. While searching for internships and jobs, Liu is also not able to rely on her parents for assistance with reviewing resumes and cover letters, and providing references and connections to job opportunities.
Pictured second from left, Demetrius Colvin, director of the new Resource Center, speaks with guests at at the center’s open house on Sept. 28. The Resource Center will provide a centralized location on campus that recognizes and celebrates diverse and often underrepresented or misrepresented identities.
On Sept. 28, Wesleyan’s new Resource Center opened its doors at 167 High Street with the intention of providing an “intellectually grounded mission in social justice and a focus on intercultural development and literacy.”
Demetrius J. Colvin, newly hired in the Office of Student Affairs, is the director of the center. Colvin comes to Wesleyan from Macalester College, where he was assistant director of the Lealtad-Suzuki Center for Multicultural Life. He previously worked as coordinator of the Multicultural Resource Center at Amherst College. He earned his BA in international studies from Case Western and also has a M.Ed. in counseling from the University of Maryland College Park.
“I came to Wesleyan because I was inspired by how the students advocated for the creation of the Resource Center and how the staff and faculty came together with the students to develop a thoughtful and integrated plan for the vision of the center,” Colvin said. “I am excited by the opportunity to aid the students, faculty, and staff at Wesleyan with seeking psychosocial connections for personal achievement and success.”
The facility includes a large space for collaboration, presentations, programs, and group gatherings – particularly in addressing issues related to race, class, gender and sexuality on campus. A conference room is available for academic study and mentorship. Other spaces include a library and offices for the director, student interns, and faculty fellow Amy Tang, associate professor of English and American Studies.
The center’s overall objectives are to:
● Provide a centralized location on campus that recognizes and celebrates diverse and often underrepresented or misrepresented identities.
● Create meaningful avenues for both privileged and underprivileged individuals and groups to learn together about privilege and intersectionality and actively contribute to equity on campus.
Wesleyan is making determined efforts to hire individuals from historically underrepresented groups, which have resulted in significant advances lately.
In 2017, 45 percent of staff hired (not including faculty) were of color — a dramatic increase from 26.4 percent the year before and the previous five-year high of 30.6 percent in 2014. Overall, 22.8 percent of staff identify themselves as of color.
Julia Hicks, chief human resources officer, points out that increasing diversity in the workplace has been shown to improve organizational performance. Diversity fosters inclusive cultures where individual differences are respected, teamwork is promoted, and intercultural competence and respect increase.
“We’ve made progress in part by changing our internal approach,” she says. “When hiring, we don’t take the easy way out. We partner with hiring managers to slow down their searches, to think harder about the pool than they might have in the past, to probe more and consider if candidates whose skills aren’t an exact match might be able to transfer those skills successfully to a different environment.”
Teshia Levy-Grant ’00 is the dean for equity and inclusion at Wesleyan.
In this Q&A, we speak with Teshia Levy-Grant, a 2000 Wesleyan alumna and the dean for equity and inclusion.
Q: Teshia, when did you come to Wesleyan and what were hired as?
A: I arrived at Wesleyan about three years ago. I initially started as the director for Upward Bound Math and Science and Pre-College Access programs.
Q: You’re a 2000 alumna. What made you want to return to Wesleyan for your career?
A: I credit Wesleyan for my interest in social justice. It was while I was here as a student that I learned to value and appreciate difference. Prior to coming to Wesleyan, I grew up in a fairly homogenous community. At Wesleyan, my beliefs and thoughts were challenged and these experiences shaped the course of my life. As a first-generation college student with little insight into what a future could look like, I stuck to what I was told I should be and that was a doctor. I struggled through Science courses, which should have been an indication that it wasn’t a right fit, but it was all I knew.
A new task force announced by President Michael Roth will explore the establishment of a multicultural/gender/first-generation resource center as part of Wesleyan’s broader effort to improve equity and inclusion on campus.
The task force will be tri-chaired by Gina Ulysse, professor of anthropology, professor of feminist gender and sexuality studies; Antonio Farias, vice president for equity and inclusion and Title IX officer; and Shardonay Pagett ’18. Their initial recommendations are expected to be published in February with final recommendations by May 1.
“It need hardly be said that making our campus more equitable and inclusive is a communal goal and must be a communal effort,” President Roth wrote in a campus-wide email. “In the course of this work we will be challenged to truly listen to differing viewpoints and to learn from them. In 2016 let’s each and every one of us do what we can—be it personal, political or intellectual—to contribute to equity and inclusion at Wesleyan.”
Wesleyan students, staff and faculty can find updates on the task force’s work and related events, including a community dialogue to be held early spring semester, at equity.wesleyan.edu, and direct input to the task force should be addressed to: email@example.com.
Farias said the task force will operate in a transparent manner to provide a clear statement of issues the university faces as a community and how a center would address them, as well as explore policy and operational changes needed to sustain the effort. The group also will consider the broader issue of “cultivating belonging.”
“To ‘cultivate belonging’ is about tending to something we care about,” Ulysse said. “It is about being an engaged presence in the process of change making. Everyone can play a part but there must be will and very clear intentions. The current moment demands that institutions face history without taking short cuts. To that end, if we want to be effective, we need to dedicate ourselves more than ever to engaging in a process of cultivating belonging. Cultivation is really hard work that is action oriented. It requires community, intention and is ongoing. There is no end to it.”