Thirteen New England colleges and universities have signed on to NEBHE’s new North Star Collective (NSC), a multi-institutional collaborative to boost Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) early-career faculty at New England colleges and universities.
Meanwhile, NEBHE was awarded a $20,000 grant from the Hildreth Stewart Charitable Foundation to support the development and implementation of a key part of the program: the NSC Faculty Fellowship.
Built on reparative justice framework
Built on a Reparative Justice Framework, NEBHE developed the NSC to restore, nourish and uplift BIPOC faculty in the region and support leaders as they transform institutions around racial equity.
Earlier this year, NEBHE appointed two professors, Kamille Gentles-Peart of Roger Williams University and Tatiana Cruz of Simmons University, to serve in the regional organization’s newly created roles of Faculty Diversity Fellows. Gentles-Peart and Cruz have been developing a regional strategy to expand faculty equity, including holding relevant convenings and conducting research and policy work related to racial equity among faculty.
The NSC begins with 13 founding members: Bridgewater State University, Clark University, Endicott College, Eastern Connecticut University, Framingham State University, Goodwin College, Rhode Island College, Roger Williams University, Salem State University, Simmons University, the University of Bridgeport, UMass Boston and the University of Southern Maine.
Additional institutions will have the opportunity to join the NSC with these founding members in the 2022-23 academic year.
Many organizations have launched diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) initiatives to address the under-representation of BIPOC voices and other inequities surfaced by the recent racial reckoning. “Unlike popular DEI efforts, reparative justice centers the needs of BIPOC faculty, prioritizes the repair and prevention of harm done to them in the academy, and supports their restoration, healing and upliftment,” said Cruz.
Why we need the North Star Collective
Though research suggests BIPOC faculty members contribute positively to an inclusive climate and higher persistence for students of color, a troubling mismatch continues. Currently, more than one-third of America’s college students are people of color. But only about 5% of college faculty are African American, about 3% are Hispanic and about 1% are Native American.
Colleges and universities embody racial hierarchies that systematically oppress and disadvantage BIPOC faculty. At predominantly white institutions, BIPOC faculty experience regular harm, including everyday racial microaggressions, tokenism, discriminatory teaching evaluations and lower rates of tenure and promotion.
BIPOC faculty are more likely to hold junior faculty positions and less likely to be tenured than their white faculty colleagues. They often have difficulty finding mentorship and building community. The racial trauma they face in academia can negatively impact their health and overall wellbeing.
The name of the NEBHE collective pays homage to the fact that enslaved Africans and African Americans used the North Star in the night sky to guide them to freedom.
A faculty fellowship
The NSC’s pilot year will include the North Star Collective Faculty Fellowship. The goal of the NSC Faculty Fellowship is to provide a nourishing community of care, peer mentorship and professional development for BIPOC early-career faculty in the humanities and social sciences.
The Faculty Fellowship will support BIPOC faculty in their writing and publishing endeavors and overall wellbeing, which are essential to advancement, tenure and promotion.
The initiative will help Faculty Fellows set and reach personal and professional goals, prioritizing and elevating scholarship, and increasing writing productivity and accountability. The fellowship will also provide a support network to help BIPOC faculty navigate the challenges they face in their academic careers.
NEBHE and its partners intend to award approximately 20 Faculty Fellowships for the inaugural cohort in the 2021-22 academic year. The Faculty Fellows will receive s $1,500 grant for research, publication and professional development. They will take part in an intensive three-day mentored writing retreat in January 2022. From there, they will meet biweekly with peer fellows in virtual writing accountability groups and join monthly interactive virtual workshops on issues such as mentoring and tenure. A capstone symposium in May 2022 will allow them to share their Fellowship-supported work.
“The North Star Collective Faculty Fellowship is created by BIPOC faculty for BIPOC faculty, to support their professional development,” explained Gentles-Peart. “It is focused specifically on supporting fellows’ writing and publishing endeavors and overall wellbeing, which are both essential to advancement, tenure and promotion.”
NSC partner institutions will provide yearly contributions of $5,000 to support the work of their BIPOC faculty members and participation by senior leaders in NSC workshops, roundtables and speaker events. Given the uncertainty of Covid, much of this pilot year will be held virtually, while NEBHE and partners re-evaluate the possibility of in-person gatherings for 2022.
“Expanding racial equity among faculty is a necessary condition for achieving equitable attainment outcomes for students of color, truly inclusive institutions and highest-quality learning for all,” said NEBHE President and CEO Michael K. Thomas. “The NSC will leverage NEBHE’s collaborative network of partners and higher education leaders in all six states, across public and independent sectors and at both two- and four-year institutions.”
John O. Harney is executive editor of The New England Journal of Higher Education.