FSU receives $62K grant : Multi-day institute to focus on anti-racist policy initiatives

FSU received a $62,250 grant from the Massachusetts Higher Education Innovation Fund (HEIF). The grant will be used this summer to run a multi-day virtual racial equity policy review institute for campus leaders.

According to a University press release, “Participants in the institute will gain a better understanding of systemic racism in higher education and how it manifests on campus.”

Additionally, according to the press release, the institute will allow participants to “be able to define what a racist policy is and how it shows up in student outcomes and create an initial yearlong plan to undertake policy review.” 

Constanza Cabello, vice president for diversity, inclusion, and community engagement, said because of the institute’s virtual format, the University “will be able to open parts of it up to campus and potentially community members as well,” rather than just the 150 campus leaders initially expected. 

According to Cabello, the call for grant applications was “specifically focused on initiatives that centered racial equity work.”

Cabello said the multi-day equity policy institute will build on the work the University is “already doing with the continual departmental conversations on anti-racism.”

She added, “The really exciting part is that department heads will be able to leave the institute with an initial plan for how they’re going to execute this policy review process in the upcoming year.” 

In the press release, FSU President F. Javier Cevallos said, “We are very grateful to the Baker Administration for awarding us funding to coordinate this institute. 

“We are never going to be able to close racial opportunity gaps until we address policies that limit the self-determination of students of color,” Cevallos added. 

He said the grant is a reflection of the commitment the FSU community has to engage in conversations “about anti-racism and how to become a more inclusive and open institution to everyone.” 

According to the University’s website, current anti-racism initiatives include a central training focus in the fall of 2020 for employees, faculty professional development aimed at “unpacking anti-racist pedagogy and giving faculty tools to enact this in their work,” and programs hosted by The Center for Inclusive Excellence on discussions and events that “deepened understanding of race and racism.” 

Additionally, the University’s commitment to being an anti-racist institution includes continual departmental conversations on anti-racism, an Anti-Racist Pedagogy Academy for faculty, and a remote workshop series focused on race. 

According to the press release, a majority of the grant funds will go toward hiring educational experts. 

Cabello said the University is “really looking for somebody who has familiarity with our campus, who may have worked with Framingham State in the past, who knows about our student body and some of the past work we’ve done.”

She added the educational expert hired will be “an expert in racial equity, somebody who knows higher education inside and out, and somebody who’s familiar with our campus.” 

Cabello said the University has an educational expert in mind, but cannot release any names because they are not yet under contract. 

According to the press release, the racial equity institute will build upon the work that began with the 2018 STEM Inclusive Excellence Grant for $1 million awarded by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI). 

Through this five-year grant, “15 STEM faculty participated in the FSU STEM racial equity institute under the leadership of the grant’s primary investigator, Dr. Catherine Dignam,” according to the press release.

Dignam, chair of the chemistry and food science department, said the first year of the grant was spent “building capacity and attempting to educate both faculty leaders and administrators in such a way that we could have a shared vocabulary and a shared mental model when we approached work-related equity, inclusion, and diversity.”

From there, the curriculum for the summer racial equity institute was developed. 

Dignam said, “In year two [2019], we launched the STEM racial equity institute, which is a very intensive experience for some faculty. 

She said faculty spent five weeks during the summer reviewing modules to develop an “anti-racist pedagogy.”

According to Dignam, the University has partnered with the UMass Donahue Institute.

She said, “They provided us with an external evaluator and he led focus groups with our participants and provided us with an overall report to give us some sort of basic information to help us improve the program and get an idea of whether it’s impactful.” 

Dignam said, “President Cevallos made a bold statement that we’re going to be an anti-racism institution. Well, if folks don’t know what systemic racism is – not because they’re bad people, but because it hasn’t affected their lives – it’s really hard to be a good anti-racist institution. 

“So, that’s one of the types of things we try to deal with by studying historical examples of systemic racism, modern examples of systemic racism, thinking about what that influence will have on our perspectives as faculty in the classroom and as prospective students in the classroom,” Dignam added. 

On the HEIF grant, Dignam said, “I am very enthusiastic. It [the grant] is not going to solve all problems, but it’s a piece of the puzzle. 

“I like that the idea is to focus on sharpening our racial equity,” Dignam said. “I think we’re taking other positive steps and we need to keep taking positive steps.”

Cabello said the institute will be assessed to determine whether participants understand systemic racism, what a racist policy is, and if they have a plan to move forward. 

She said, “Right now, what I think is that there’s a real desire for folks who want to do this work well. And so, we need to provide them with the tools to do that.” 

According to Cabello, the rhetoric around COVID-19 has played a role in increased hate crimes and racial trauma. 

“We need to really meet this moment that we’re in – kind of the intersections of what we often call a dual pandemic of ongoing racism and COVID-19,” Cabello said. “So for me, it’s about situating our work within our local context, but also the national context as well.”

Additionally, Cevallos said the pandemic had created the challenge of retention for students of color. 

“The most important issue that we have right now is the disparity in graduation rates of students of color and the overall population,” Cevallos said. “We really have to understand that students come from very different places and have very different experiences. And, we have to be willing to understand that diversity of experience, as well as backgrounds, and put programs in place to make sure everybody can succeed.” 

On institute outcomes, Cevallos said he hopes all campus leaders will participate in the institute and implement what they have learned in different areas within their departments.

He said, “I think it [the institute] is a wonderful way for us to show our commitment to moving forward. It’s just wonderful that the Division of Diversity, Inclusion and Community Engagement is willing to lead that effort.”