By Steven Bonini
What is your role here at FSU and what does your job entail?
I’m the director of the Center for Inclusive Excellence. Our center is the student-facing branch of the Division of Diversity, Inclusion and Community Engagement. We are really charged with forging the institution’s commitment to diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging. I see us doing that in three broad ways – creating programming related to the identity and heritage awareness months, offering workshops and trainings for students who want to develop and expand their capacities within the movement for social justice, and then advising our identity-based affinity groups.
What is your professional and educational background?
I am relatively new to higher education. This is my third year working in higher ed. My undergraduate degree was in psychology and neuroscience, and then I eventually went and got a master’s in education leadership. I spent about 15 years or so teaching middle school and high school math and science, and then also working with Boston Public School students – offering academic enrichment programs, really thinking about persistence in high school, and then access to college. And it was there that I began to realize that we were doing a lot of work to help students get into college – students of color, first-generation students, low-income students – but I found that a lot of institutions were not always doing the work that was necessary to help the students succeed once they’re on campus. So, that’s really what drove me to explore working on the other side, to be in higher ed and to be in roles where I am directly supporting students that we’ve admitted to the institution. Three years ago, I joined Northeastern University in their Opportunity Scholarship Office, where I was providing academic and scholarship advising to first-generation low-income students of color. And that work also involves a lot of diversity, equity, inclusion work directly with students and with colleagues around the University. And now here I am.
What would you say your goals are as the new director of the CIE?
I would say my biggest goal is to continue to center student voices and narratives in the work that we do here at Framingham State. I think a lot of times institutions of higher education create policies and practices with good intentions in mind, but don’t always take into account what the impact on student experience might be, especially as we think about students who hold marginalized identities and the disparate impacts of policies that have been created within systems of white supremacy and broad racism. So, ‘How do we bring students to the table?’ ‘How do we make sure that we are centering our students in the work that we do?’ I would say that’s one big goal of mine, I think to break that down. A lot of that is, like I mentioned earlier, creating educational opportunities for our students, for our staff and our faculty. And then beyond that – helping folks really begin to examine the work that they do, sort of do a deep dive into, ‘What are our practices?’ ‘What are our policies?’ ‘What have we taken for granted?’ and ‘What are the impacts on students?’ ‘Are there different ways to do the work that we want to do, potentially with better outcomes for our students?’ So, to really hold that lens over the work that we do – that’s some of the goals that I have.
What do you anticipate will be the best part of your job?
That’s easy. It’s getting to know students. I think our students come from lots of really different backgrounds and experiences. They bring incredible strengths and perspectives and values to the table, and nothing excites me more than just getting to sit down with our students, getting to hear their stories, getting to think about their many successes, the goals that they have, and then thinking about how I can, in my own role, using the influence that I have, the experience I have, helping them accomplish the goals that they have.
Do you have any hobbies that you’d like to tell the community about?
I am an avid outdoors person. I spent a lot of time rock climbing, mountain biking, backpacking, and I do that year-round. Folks think in the winter you can’t do any of that stuff, but I do a lot of winter hiking and camping as well. So, the outdoors piece is something that’s really important to me. And that’s something I do with my wife, and we have a new baby who just arrived about seven weeks ago. We’re looking forward to taking her out and sharing our love of the outdoors with her as well. Beyond that, I am a pretty avid photographer and birdwatcher, so a little bit more outdoors stuff that I like to do. I really like to do crossword puzzles, too.
Do you have any advice for campus students?
I do. I would say two pieces of advice that I often share with students. One is to find your community. A lot of times, these universities can feel really big – you can feel really alone. And so, just taking the time to find people who share your interests, your hobbies, your values – taking advantage of our clubs and organizations, our affinity groups, and really putting yourself out there to find those folks. So, that’s one. The other is to ask questions. There is a lot about these places that may be foreign to us. And I say that as somebody who identifies as a first-generation college student as well, you know, that these places may not have been designed with you in mind. And so, ask the questions so that you can get the answers and move closer towards the goals that you have for yourself.