By Nadira Wicaksana
By Donald Halsing
Framingham State has been awarded a Higher Education Excellence in Diversity (HEED) award this year, according to a Sept. 18 University press release.
This is the fifth time FSU has been given this recognition since 2014, awarded by the oldest and largest diversity magazine and website, “Insight into Diversity.” FSU is among 93 schools across the nation to receive the award.
Additionally, this year, FSU is the only public institution in Massachusetts on the list of recipients.
According to the Insight into Diversity website, the HEED award “measures an institution’s level of achievement and intensity of commitment in regard to broadening diversity and inclusion on campus through initiatives, programs, and outreach; student recruitment, retention, and completion,” as well as “hiring practices for faculty and staff.”
It also states, “Applications are comprehensive, covering all aspects of campus diversity and inclusion. One of the goals of the application process is to help institutions of higher education assess their diversity efforts in order to build on their success and improve where necessary.”
FSU hired Constanza Cabello, vice president of diversity, inclusion, and community engagement, and Patricia Birch, director of inclusive excellence initiatives, this past summer. Cabello is the first person to hold this position at the vice presidential level, which was renamed after Millie Gonzalez served as FSU’s interim chief officer of diversity, inclusion, and community engagement from 2017-2019.
When asked about the award, Cabello said, “It’s really exciting any time we can be recognized nationally for the work we’re doing around diversity and inclusion.
“There’s some impressive organizations on here,” she said, “so it’s nice to be in their company.” The list includes Ohio State, Princeton, and Texas A&M, according to Cabello.
She said the award is exciting because it “is really a recognition of the hard work of many people on our campus who really are committed to issues of diversity, inclusion, and equity.
Cabello added the award signals the University’s commitment to the necessary work to maintain diversity.
“So as prospective students or employees look into our institution,” she said, “I think it’s a signal to folks that we do have some really impressive work happening on this campus.”
With respect to clubs and organizations on campus, Cabello said the award is an “affirmation” of their values, especially toward “creating a sense of belonging.
“When I think about diversity,” she said, “I think about a lot of different identity groups.” Cabello explained, speaking of “students of color, or veterans, or students with disabilities.”
Cabello said the award is a “really positive indicator of our values as an institution … not only the work that’s happening, but the work that we need to do.”
She added, “The reality is social justice work will never be done.”
“It’s an affirmation for where we’re at currently,” Cabello said, “but definitely, for me, continues to challenge us in a way to remain committed to these issues and topics so we can be the best institution possible.”
She spoke about the diversifying “demographics of our geographic area” and the importance of responding to changes in the composition of the community as a regional public university.
“I also think about the intersection of identities,” Cabello said. “What does it mean to be a student of color and a student with a disability, or, a student of color who identifies as part of the LGBTQ+ community?
“I think the award is, for me, an indication that we’re on the right track – but it doesn’t relieve us of any of the continued work that needs to happen to support diverse populations on campus,” she said.
When asked about FSU’s record of hate crimes on campus in the past few years, Cabello said, “Hate incidents on campus are so unfortunate, and sadly growing across the nation.
“What’s really important is how we respond in those moments as a community,” she said. “How do we encounter acts of hate on our campus and support one another and take it as an opportunity to not only provide an educational space, but also challenge each other to be better?
“While I do think it negatively impacts our ability to be recognized for this work,” Cabello added, “I think it also provides an opportunity to step up to the plate and show that we are committed to these issues.”
Cabello said she believes there are opportunities to increase prevention and education efforts and work closely with students.
“While I do think that the administration holds a special responsibility in terms of leadership,” she added, “I think we also need to engage the larger community in a response.”
On the topic of future programs, Cabello said, “I think it’s a little pre-emptive for me to say, ‘Here are all the plans I want to have,’ because I still think I need to do a lot of listening.
“There’s some pieces that are critical of not just thinking about how we diversify the campus, but how we create a culture of inclusion,” she added.
Cabello’s stressed, “How do we ensure that people feel a sense of belonging?”
When discussing preventative measures, Cabello said the Bias Education Response Team now includes a “prevention and education subgroup.
Cabello said she hopes she can “change minds and hearts” to prevent future racial bias incidents.
FSU President F. Javier Cevallos said, “The University is honored to once again be recognized with a HEED award for our efforts around diversity, equity, and inclusion. These are core values we hold as a University, which is why we work hard to promote a climate on campus where everyone feels welcome, respected, and valued.”
He added the University still has progress to make, but with the addition of two new staff members dedicated to diversity efforts, he expressed his optimism for the coming year.
Cevallos said, “We also recognize that we are not perfect in these areas and must continually strive to do better. I could not be more pleased to have Dr. Cabello on board to lead our efforts around diversity, inclusion, and community engagement. She is a leading voice in her field nationally and brings a wealth of knowledge to the University as well as a strong ability to connect with students on a personal level.
“I’m also excited to have Patty Birch here as our director of inclusive excellence initiatives. Patty has already made a positive impact on the Center for Inclusive Excellence in her short time here and I know she has a lot of excellent programming and training planned for this academic year.”
Cevallos added, “Overall, I think the University is well-positioned to be a leader in the state in diversity, equity, and inclusion moving forward.”