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Concordia hosts Voices of Color event, sharing professors' stories with the college community

Though Concordia College’s Center for Student Success is hosting the upcoming Voices of Color: Professors’ Stories event, everyone in the Fargo-Moorhead college community is invited to attend the dinner and storytelling session, which starts at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 22, at Jones AB.

Speakers will be Dr. Sung Ok (Reina) Park and Dr. Caitlin Johnson of Minnesota State University Moorhead; Dr. Nancy Turrubiates and Dr. Clairmont Clementson of North Dakota State University; and Dr. Thelma Berquó, Dr. Shontarius Aikens, and Prof. Cesar Ramirez of Concordia.

The event is the brainchild of Concordia student Valentina Penaloza Ortega, who had organized a similar event in the past and hoped to provide an opportunity for students of color to hear the experiences of BIPOC or first-generation professors.

“We started developing questions around why there is so little representation of BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and People of Color) faculty in academia. The reasons are very complex, but we especially wanted to bring awareness of the decline of particularly black teachers, principals and professors in spaces K-12 and in college,” explained Sunet Rubalcava, diversity support coordinator and academic counselor at the Center for Student Success, noting that decline began after the Brown vs. the Board of Education decision in the 1950s. “Aside from data, we also wanted to rely on the anecdotal information that could also paint the lived experience of BIPOC professionals in academia.”

“We anchored around the reflections of Dr. Patricia Williams, a black legal scholar and her experiences depicted in her book, ‘The Alchemy of Race and Rights,’” she added.

The speakers at Voices of Color come from a wide variety of backgrounds, both academic and personal.

“I believe it is important for everyone to share their unique experiences in academia, mainly because there is no single path, and most of the time, careers are not linear,” said Berquó, associate professor of physics. “Each one of us had detours, and roadblocks, and we had to use the emotional/intellectual baggage that we accumulated during the years of our trajectory.”

Recent research strongly suggests that having a campus with diverse faculty highly correlates with higher GPA, retention and graduation rates of minority students, Rubalcava said. White students also benefit from learning from diverse faculty, improving in their socio-emotional learning, critical thinking skills, and empathy levels.

“That being said, we wanted to provide a space where students could learn more about the valuable contributions BIPOC scholars have brought to colleges and universities, learn about their lived experience, and engage at topics around impostor syndrome and racial battle fatigue among other important conversation pieces,” she said. “We believe everyone will benefit from hearing the lived experiences and the work of BIPOC scholars. They have a lot to offer to our academic community.”

Anyone interested in academia or industry would benefit from the event, provided they’re open-minded and interested in understanding others’ points of view, Berquó said.

“One can use this opportunity to express ideas, the positive take, and how things could be done differently, in case one had another chance,” she said. “Several times I questioned myself, why I reacted that way, how I could do differently next time, and how I can support my peers, my students, and my community in general. It is a learning process for everybody, and it is good when we listen to others' experiences, it may inspire us because we never know if we will be in a similar situation!”

Hiring and retaining diverse faculty members benefits all students, Rubalcava emphasized.

“We want people to connect, build community and collaborate in the same efforts,” she said.