Gatepost Interview: Millie González, chief officer of diversity, inclusion and community engagement

(Photo by Bailey Morrison.)

What is your academic background and job history?

I have a B.A. in … comparative literature. I went to Hamilton College. I have an M.B.A. from Simmons College and also an M.L.S. from Simmons as well. … When I was studying for my M.L.S., I had the privilege of working at a whole bunch of different libraries, so I worked at Harvard. … I’ve worked in every type of library. I worked in Framingham Public Library. … I’ve been here for more than 10 years. … Way before I worked in retail. I worked actually in cosmetics. That’s where I learned all my customer service skills. When I was studying at Simmons, I worked at different places – for example, doing competitive intelligence for a software company. Doing a lot of different research for a pharmaceutical company. Finally, when I received my M.L.S, I worked as a reference librarian at the [Simmons] library.

Why did you establish the Whittemore Library’s Diversity Advisory Committee (LDAC)?

From the very beginning, since I started, I always have been involved in diversity and inclusion. … One of the things I thought was interesting is that everything we do with diversity and inclusion has to be intentional. So, you can’t assume things that we’re doing, though we have the best intentions overall, are serving all populations. So initially how LDAC started, I formed a small group and said, “OK, let’s do some research. How does diversity and inclusion play out within the library? Are we serving all of our students? Do we have policies in place that look at all the resources we offer?” We did a bunch of research and put it in a report and gave it to the director – Bonnie [Mitchell]. Subsequently, we found we had a bunch of research on different populations, how to reach out and how to help and support students on campus, so we decided to focus on one population at a time. At that time, we focused on students with disabilities. We looked around and we found that we didn’t have enough equipment, so at that point, we wrote a grant in conjunction with CASA. We wanted to come up with a solution. So, for example: the idea of giving students who have disabilities and empowering them to, at any time, get the support they needed. So, if CASA was closed … they can empower themselves and have those same resources available at the library. I investigated grant options. Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners had a grant, and we were able to get a really good set of equipment, and we had a table set up with assistive technology and software. What was nice about the grant is it had a portion to bring in a consultant to train the librarians and then also had money left over so we could do a couple different types of trainings for librarians. … We had a very basic cultural competence [seminar] on how to help students with disabilities, which most of the library staff took. We had another grant where we had studied how to communicate better with the deaf population, so that was wonderful.

Can you talk about your two grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) and American Library Association?

I never think about money per se. I think about need. The American Library Association is wonderful because in its DNA social justice is one of their core values. They had different grants I was able to take advantage of. They worked and partnered with the NEH. … For example, the “Latinos Americans” event was a grant. What was great about that is we used the resources they were providing, so we were able to show films or series. We were able to get Jennifer De Leon here on campus. … She’s an adjunct professor here now. … We had a session in the library. … She was talking about what it meant for her to come to college – she’s first gen. We were all crying – she’s wonderful. … The “Muslims in America” grant – there are a couple of things I’m extremely proud of in my career … this grant is one of them. It gave us the opportunities to have conversations on campus. The grant itself paid for $5,000 of different books. It also paid for us to go to a mosque and for us to bring members of the mosque to campus. I’d love to do that again.

What was your reaction to the rollback of DACA?

I’m personally saddened and offended by the national conversation about how certain populations of immigrants are demonized – categorized as rapists and just horrible people and criminals. I think that conversation has to stop. It’s unacceptable. Specifically related to those with DACA status – I think that is a program that works. It is a wonderful program. The stories that I have been privy to hearing – the students on campus that self-disclosed and shared – they’re heartwarming. They’re heartbreaking. They wonder about their parents, their relatives, they wonder about their status. Anything I can do, relating to helping those students, making resources available to them – I am there.

What is a moment in your undergraduate career that you remember vividly?

I’m from New York City. I’m a first-generation student and didn’t really have the support to pick out different colleges. If anything, I was discouraged by those at school, even though I was a great student, about different colleges. I decided to do my own research and somehow, I landed at Hamilton College. It’s a great college, but it is so different from what I was exposed to in New York City. At that time, I’m a young kid. Heavy eyeliner. Dark red lipstick. I remember my friend – head to toe L.L. Bean – she’s looking at me and we were talking about the Talking Heads. I didn’t know who they were and she went on and on about how she couldn’t believe I didn’t know who they were. At one point, I realized I was, quote unquote, the other. I realized, I’m looking at her and she had the weird boots on and so I felt, “Why am I the other?” That was the very first time I felt I was the other. I rejected that feeling, of course. She still, to this day, is one of my good friends. It was nothing about her. … My favorite academic memory was in a comparative literature seminar. … I turned to my best friend and said, “Oh my god, I’m one big question.” Everything that was happening just blew our minds.

What advice would you give to FSU students?

Be empathetic. That is a very important trait to have and in this case, to have with our DACA students. The next piece is to be curious. Sometimes, being curious will lead you to do different things, to learn different things.  … The other thing is to seek help and give help.  … The most important life lesson I’ve learned was to really find out what really matters to you.

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