The second and final candidate for FSU’s Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer, Joan Iva C. Fawcett, answered questions from students, faculty and administrators during an open forum on Friday, April 28.
Currently, Fawcett serves as director of student government advising and leadership programs and the associate director of the Leadership, Engagement, Advising and Development Center at the University of California, Berkeley.
Additionally, she is an independent equity consultant and social justice facilitator.
She has been working in higher education for 14 years, and said she is looking to “get back to the heart of diversity work.”
She added, “The beauty of Framingham, for me, is that it’s both small … and public. It’s kind of hard to find that in California.”
One audience member asked Fawcett how she got involved with diversity work.
Fawcett said this kind of work has been personal to her.
Born in the Philippines, Fawcett said she and her family came to the United States “looking for the American dream.”
In college, she was invited to participate in a summer bridge program, for which she worked as a writing facilitator.
She taught a course for 15 first-year students, who were primarily first-generation, low-income and students of color.
“I started learning all the stuff around bias and privilege and culture capital, hegemonic power structure and all the sociology stuff that you learn,” she said.
She said she learned the most from her Filipino students. “How do I identify? Where do I fit in? Where do I feel a sense of belonging and where do I not? And seeing how that really impacted their entry into college,” she said.
“Since then, I have always been really attracted to the idea of making sure that those who are historically underrepresented and marginalized feel safe, and that they have equitable programs and resources to ensure their success,” she added.
Another audience member asked what equity-promoting initiatives she has been involved in on college campuses.
When Fawcett started her former position as the director of the Intercultural Center at Saint Mary’s College of California, she said it was “a pretty volatile and transitional time.”
The department was just three years old, and the school’s accreditation board had just issued a notice about issues of diversity, she said.
“One of the first things we did was convene a college committee on inclusive excellence, somewhat similar to the CDI here,” she said.
They also issued a policy called the “Acts of Intolerance Protocol.”
“It was the worst thing we could have possibly called it,” she said. “It sounded very kind of draconian.”
The policy worried many community members, she said, who were concerned about academic freedom.
“What transpired from the ‘Acts of Intolerance Protocol’ was really talking to a lot of faculty. We realized we created this policy but no real mechanism to oversee it,” she said. The department was receiving reports through the policy, but had no way to address them.
In response, Fawcett co-launched the Bias Incident Response Team and conducted a “Stop the Hate” training program for students, faculty and administrators.
“That took a lot of work, because the first couple years really defined what our role was. That we weren’t this reactive, responsive body that was the thought police, but rather, that this was an opportunity for community engagement and to discuss incidents that have occurred and create some dialogue around it,” she said.
Many incidents were microaggressions that would have “gone under the radar otherwise,” she said. “We could see patterns that emerged and where they were taking place.”
Another audience member asked Fawcett how she dealt with the recent controversies at Berkeley, specifically Milo Yiannopoulos’s cancelled visit to campus.
Yiannopoulos is a former columnist for the conservative alt-right news website Breitbart.
Fawcett said school administrators’ inboxes were flooded by upset students and faculty members.
“It was nice because they actually called us out,” she said. “They said, ‘In order to be a registered student organization, we had to go through this training on how to be good allies to each other, so how are you not being a bystander to this incident by letting this speaker come to campus?’”
Fawcett worked with impacted student groups, and created open forums to discuss the incident and navigate the hate speech versus free speech conversation.
The Berkeley College Republicans, the student group which invited Yiannopoulos, were completely in their right to do so as an autonomous student organization, said Fawcett.
Berkeley is a very liberal institution, said Fawcett, and some conservative students felt their voices weren’t being heard.
“Now, whether inviting Milo to campus was the only way to have that conversation is another conversation altogether,” she said. “But we would have hours upon hours of dialogue with them.”
Another audience member said he has noticed a decline in student involvement on campus, and asked how Fawcett has attracted students to diversity events.
Fawcett said it’s important to have partnerships across campus among different departments.
When hosting a program, Fawcett said they would ask professors to participate.
“Then we would have, for sure, attendance. Students in those classes would be required to come, or strongly encouraged to come,” she said.
Additionally, Fawcett said the events held at the beginning of the year would be more geared to “food, fun and fashion” to attract students and build community. As the year progressed, they would “sprinkle in more intentionality” and start shifting toward more serious topics.
An audience member also asked Fawcett about her experience with disabled students, and her take on disability’s place in diversity.
As the assistant director of the Center for Advising and Academic Success at Whittier College, Fawcett said she shared office space with disability services.
“To me, diversity is about the full scope of humanity and all our varying social identities – hidden, invisible, etc.,” she said. “Just like political orientation, sexual orientation, race, gender, etc., it really enriches not just a person’s identity, but the community in general.”