As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Center for Inclusive Excellence (CIE) has been closed to the Framingham State community.
Patricia Birch, director of inclusive excellence initiatives, said she is meeting with students individually, including club presidents and leaders, and trying to help them in whatever ways she can.
“A lot of the student groups are doing a lot of different things, and I said, ‘Well, let me know how I can help you.’ Of course, I would love for them to collaborate with me and do collaborative programming with the CIE,” Birch said, “but it doesn’t always have to be that way.”
Birch said she is sending out a lot of emails to student leaders. “I wish that I could communicate in a different way, i.e. flyers. Now, we don’t have those opportunities to advertise in that way, and I miss that,” she said.
When the CIE receives off campus information, Birch said she always conveys it to the students. “I just sent something to the Career Services Center about a company that is looking for interns. So that they [Career Services] can push it out to students looking for internships,” Birch said.
This year at orientation, Birch said she presented a “narrated PowerPoint” on Zoom so she could engage with those incoming students.
She said because she wasn’t available for spring orientation, having the Zoom recording for students would allow them to know that they could go see her as a contact on campus.
Birch said she has learned one major lesson from the pandemic: ways she can expand the opportunities, programs, and events for other people to be able to access it.
Birch said virtual meetings have cultivated challenges for human engagement.
She said, “I love being in person, engaging, and having conversations. One of the most difficult things is, I can’t read the room in a virtual setting.
“Then, there’s not that opportunity for the speaker to come up to you and say, ‘Hey, tell me more’ because we’re in this Zoom environment,” Birch added.
Because Zoom is so accessible, Birch said she’s found that more people are attending meetings now than they have before.
“When we go back to in person, one of the things I’d like to do is figure out how I can still be broadcasting the meeting,” she said.
There has been a lot of collaboration with other organizations and departments on campus, as well as with the City of Framingham, Birch said.
“I’ve collaborated with Arts and Ideas [series], Henry Whittemore Library, the Counseling Center, and we did a program with Athletics in the fall,” said Birch.
Although the CIE hosts events independently, Birch said she is always in touch with organization leaders to find ways to support their programs.
The CIE will be collaborating this month with iGNITE, a political group for students, for Women’s History Month.
Rachel Spivey, president of iGNITE, said, “The CIE has offered to help sponsor our events as they have in the past, which we are looking forward to hopefully planning this semester.
“The CIE helps us by inspiring women to become involved in politics, something that has not always been generally accepted in society as an affinity group. By creating ambition in college-aged women to run for public office, we can hopefully change that narrative so that politics is not ‘just a man’s game’ anymore, because it really isn’t,” Spivey added.
Spivey said that iGNITE has been holding their meetings virtually every two weeks because of “Zoom fatigue.” The group also has been holding events online, such as a tie-dye T-shirt event, a documentary screening, and a trivia night with prizes.
Ewnie Fedna, co-president of Motivation. Intersectionality. Sisterhood. Solidarity. (M.I.S.S.), said the CIE was their “home” before COVID. M.I.S.S. has always met in the CIE, “even back when the CIE was in the library,” she added.
“We spent a lot of time there as an eBoard and as students of color, because it was a safe environment,” Fedna said. “The community that used the space created it that way,” she said.
“Even in the pandemic, we meet with Patty to chat and stay on the same page about what our organization is up to. Patty has been there to give advice on how to run events that we want during the social distancing era. Having people support us like that helps us stay on the radar and be successful,” Fedna added.
Mia Ihegie, president of Justice, Unity, Inclusion, Community, and Equity (J.U.I.C.E), said “The CIE was a huge help when it came to the start and organization of J.U.I.C.E. They make sure that we are aware of any club events that could possibly benefit our club.
“They are constantly spreading the word about our club on social media, which helps with the increase of membership in our club,” she added.
Ihegie said, “The CIE is a great resource and safe place for FSU students. Shoutout to Patricia Birch and Dr. Constanza Cabello for giving us a clear meaning of what it means to be an affinity group.”
Ariel Dean, vice president of Brother-2-Brother (B2B), said “the physical space of the CIE, in addition to the staff who run the CIE, has provided the members of B2B with a home away from home – a safe space for the members of our club to socialize and support one another.”
During Black History Month, the CIE collaborated with many student organizations and outside speakers to put on educational events for students and staff.
The CIE has collaborated with the Chris Walsh Center, Henry Whittemore Library, the Framingham Public Library, and American Sign Language Club, as well as Voices of Color speaker Dr. Eddie Moore.
The CIE also holds True Racial Healing Transformation Circles – a peer-led discussion group where there is opportunity to talk about social justice and the ways that individuals are impacted in the world.
“That [True Racial Healing Transformation Circles] is part of the American Association of Colleges and Universities, so we are using their curriculum that they provided to us. I’ve had some students trained in it who are ready to engage with their peers,” Birch said.
Birch said she is “hoping” to have one or two of those sessions before the end of the academic year.
“Another thing I am doing is that we are going to have a book club. I’m trying to figure out where to fit the book club in, but I know it’s going to happen. We are collaborating with some professors who are doing a critical race theory class, and I’m going to teach the students how to facilitate discussions,” she added.
Birch said advertising has been different this year. The CIE has used email, Instagram, and word of mouth.
“Things happen so often I’m always sending out emails and posting things on Instagram so people hear from me.
“Other departments are sending out emails. Students are sharing it [event information] and re-sharing it again with their clubs and other students they’re in contact with. And for some of our bigger programs, we are using Eventbrite to advertise,” Birch said.
Birch added her collaboration across campus has increased as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The collaboration is another thing that has come out of this that is positive. I am trying to pick out the positive things and reframe what is happening to us to see a more positive year,” she said.
Birch said because of the pandemic, the CIE has started sponsoring events over the summer.
“We kept having different types of programs. I think it’s because of things that were happening within our society. But, also, there were students that were still engaged that I was able to continue having relationships with because some students were still on campus,” Birch said.
She added, “While it wasn’t a formal collaboration, I still feel like it was a collaboration with Residence Life.” Birch said she is trying to cultivate relationships as they go forward through the rest of the academic year.
“If the students have any ideas and want to collaborate with programming about anything going on in the world that they would like to address or have more conversations on, come talk to me,” Birch added.