The Knight News recently sat down with Professors Edisa Weeks and Soribel Genao, the newly selected Provost Diversity Fellows at Queens College (QC). Genao is an associate professor of Educational Leadership in the Department of Educational and Community Programs and Weeks is an associate professor of Dance in the Department of Drama, Theatre and Dance. These two professors, who are women of color, were chosen for the one-year Provost Diversity Fellowship due to their contributions to combating social justice issues.
The fellowship serves as an opportunity to allow faculty to better serve the Queens College community by taking on specific projects. Each year, the Provost selects two tenured faculty members looking to engage in academic leadership are selected for this one-year fellowship. This year’s fellowship theme is centered around diversity, in light of the ongoing social justice movements across the nation such as the Black Lives Matter Movement. Professors Weeks and Genao gave their take on their journeys as women of color and of how QC can better itself, terms of diversity, and what work remains to be done to make QC a more inclusive, safer campus.
As a fellow, Weeks is tasked with looking at the QC institution as a whole, to look at how she can generate more equity, both in terms of students accepting diversity on campus and the resources provided to them. Simultaneously, she caters catering to faculty on campus by creating a community and safe space for Black and Latinx faculty. “You say we’re in the most diverse county in the entire country, so how can faculty staff and administration represent that diversity?”, said Weeks.
Genao followed up by readily addressing the need for diversity in the faculty, something that matters to many of the staff members, especially those of whom are people of color. . “When we are not being represented as faculty to students, [we]lose [our]own inspiration as representation matters, and it’s crucial,” said Genao. Professor Genao then went on to explain her project for the readers. “Primarily, [my research is about] the decolonizing of curriculum and pedagogy on campus”. Genao hopes to re-evaluate the method and practice of teaching to be inclusive of students of all backgrounds and cultures.
She then went into how her research revealed why Black & LatinX students are hesitant coming to QC: From what she’s studied, QC isn’t viewed as a welcoming environment for people of color, especially in cases where a non person of color would teach a course that students are interested in, ora curriculum that isn’t culturally diverse, she recalls as a former student and current in higher education. “When students don’t envision themselves in what we are teaching them, then we are doing a disservice,” said Genao.
Genao and Weeks feel pride in working with the Black Latinx faculty staff association (BLFSA), an organization which creates a welcoming and safe space for Black and Latinx faculty on campus. Genao notes that she was active in leading the charge of demanding change from the QC administration in regards to creating a more diverse and inclusive environment for faculty (and students).
While looking ahead to the future, Professor Weeks hopes that students and faculty will feel supported by the efforts of Professor Genao and herself, and that they are able to succeed in their time here.
Genao explained the reality of being one of the few black women at Queens College, at least in her department, is anything but unified.“There are 3 women of color in my department (Black & LatinX) and we look nothing alike…. our research agendas, our approach to education… yet we’re always mistaken.” She then provided ananecdote of a microagression she faced in the workplace on the basis of her sex: “At a faculty meeting, my name tag was on backwards … and because of my stature and because I am a woman of color, I automatically had to be taking minutes for the meeting.”
Weeks added that she makes no apologies for being a black woman of color, adding “it’s a source of power for me… and I can focus on the microaggressions but [doing so]wears me down.” Weeks remarked, “look at a system and find where the weaknesses are, and you’ll find opportunity”.