Setting the Benchmark for Success: Meet the Only Institution To Earn at Least a B on All Four DOIT Pillars

Over the past year, Diverse: Issues In Higher Education has profiled higher ed institutions that rated well on the four Diverse Organizational Impact and Transformation (DOIT) pillars (I: Institutional Leadership and Commitment, II: Institutional Curricular & Co-Curricular Accountability, III: Institutional Climate and IV: Institutional Representation/Composition) following Coop Di Leu’s analysis.

Coe College, with a student population of approximately 1,400, is the only college or university to earn B or above on all pillars, including A grades for Pillar I, Institutional Leadership and Commitment, and Pillar III, Institutional Climate.

Dr. Paula O’Loughlin, provost, dean of faculty, interim dean of students and Title IX coordinator, joined the administration of Coe in 2016 when the college’s former president, Dr. David McInally, made DEI a cornerstone of the college’s strategic plan. She previously worked at a Native American-serving institution in Minnesota and came to Coe expecting that the commitment to DEI was genuine and would be thorough.

Dr. Paula O’LoughlinDr. Paula O’Loughlin“We were measuring where we were and where we wanted to be in terms of benchmarks from the very beginning,” says O’Loughlin.

Many institutions put DEI in their strategic plans, but it doesn’t happen without consistent conscientious effort, O’Loughlin says. Rather than making a list and looking to check boxes, Coe leadership made DEI a priority in all areas of college operations. This includes budgets, enrollment strategies and faculty and staff recruitment as well as inclusive planning for campus events.

McInally recruited several senior staff people, including O’Loughlin, associate vice president for human resources Kris Bridges and vice president for enrollment Julie Staker, to help figure out how to bring the commitments espoused in the strategic plan to life.

“There was nothing miraculous that I or the others did, but we believed in it and knew how to make the goals happen,” says O’Loughlin. “We made it a priority on every level, from what holidays we would celebrate and why to academic planning, board agendas, etc.”

Communicating Coe’s DEI commitment became part of the organizational culture. Assembling a senior team that was wholeheartedly committed, starting with the president, brought a shift from top to bottom. In 2018 the HR department sponsored Dr. Eddie Moore’s White Privilege Symposium, Navigating Race, Privilege, Identity & Equity (Intersectionality): The Path Forward.

“The faculty and staff were raring to go; they just wanted some commitment from the college overall,” says O’Loughlin. “You can write anything you want in a strategic plan, but what mattered on our campus was showing how real our commitment was and is.

“This has meant showing up at events, sending encouraging individual messages, getting to know BIPOC students, faculty and staff personally, thinking and working to let them know we are here,” she continues. “Our underrepresented faculty, staff and students need to know they have support from the top on campus. We have to show we are truly committed to them as people.”

With regard to Pillar III, faculty and staff have changed the way they approach searches, classes and student services. They have actively engaged in professional development opportunities every academic year, learning about important things such as implicit bias, student experiences and microaggressions.

This, says O’Loughlin, helped drive changes in processes like what counts for faculty service in the tenure process. It also impacted thinking about accessibility. Faculty and staff now connect with BIPOC alumni in the greater Cedar Rapids area to seek advice and information on things like local churches.

“We work closely with organizations in our community whenever we can, and this includes folks from other institutions,” O’Loughlin says. For example, Coe students who want to access diverse fraternities and sororities can do so at the University of Iowa.

Coe College is part of the Associated Colleges of the Midwest, which had a Mellon-funded grant program from 2016–20 that enabled O’Loughlin to recruit faculty for several open positions. She was part of the board of Consortium for Faculty Diversity (CFD) before she came to Coe, and had the college join, even hosting CFD’s annual conference in 2019. CFD is committed to increasing the diversity of students, faculty members and curricular offerings at liberal arts colleges.

Faculty has been added in the African American Studies program, as well as in Multi-Cultural and Asian American Studies and Latinx literature. When the Derek Chauvin verdict was about to be announced, Coe held some teach-ins with faculty to talk about how to support students.

“Some of our strongest student groups are identity groups, and they play a critical role in helping other student leaders think about their responsibilities to be continually inclusive,” says O’Loughlin. “We require all student leaders to do some programming around DEI as part of their student organization leadership orientation. We also make sure our co-curricular programming reflects all of Coe, and not just the students who are leading the organizations.”

Coe College is currently in the middle of a search for a new president. That person will need to embrace DEI because the culture now demands it in a substantive, non-performative way.

The college and its students engage with the local community, who are often invited to campus events. Approximately 11% of the Cedar Rapids population is people of color. A number of students are involved in regional criminal justice reform movements and local politics. Coe always buys several tables at the local African American History Museum of Iowa gala and BIPOC students can attend.

While Coe doesn’t get many students from the East Coast, a diverse range of students come from urban centers in the Midwest and Pacific Northwest. O’Loughlin estimates that about 35% of this year’s entering class identify as BIPOC.

Among initiatives planned for this year is bystander education — giving faculty, staff and students the tools they need to respond when they witness a bias incident. Programming around AAPI, LBGTQ+, Latinx, different abilities and other needs will be broadened. Student DEI ambassadors will also be selected and trained to work with future incoming students on DEI peer education initiatives and community outreach.

“The work is never done, but the commitment doesn’t waver,” says O’Loughlin.

This article originally appeared in the September 16, 2021 edition of Diverse. Read it here.

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Top of the Class for Diverse Organizational Impact and Transformation

Over the past year, Diverse: Issues In Higher Education has profiled higher ed institutions that rated well on the four Diverse Organizational Impact and Transformation (DOIT) pillars (I: Institutional Leadership and Commitment, II: Institutional Curricular & Co-Curricular Accountability, III: Institutional Climate and IV: Institutional Representation/Composition) following Coop Di Leu’s analysis. In this article, we feature five institutions that achieved at least a “B” grade on one of the DOIT pillars.Central Washington University

The most outstanding pillar for Central Washington University (CWU) was Pillar IV, Institutional Representation/Composition. When Dr. Delores Cleary became the full-time vice president for inclusivity and diversity in 2018, she thought it was critical to begin embedding diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) into CWU’s structure.

Dr. Delores ClearyDr. Delores Cleary“The workforce diversity plan is an initiative to create and support a diverse workforce that is reflective of the communities we purport to serve,” says Cleary. “This is a commitment by the university to create a fair, inclusive workforce that promotes belonging.”

The Employees of Color Equity Council (ECEC) was formed in 2019 to widen the knowledge about the experiences of CWU employees. The ECEC is focused on fostering a positive campus climate for employees of color to retain their employment and support their development and career advancement.

“We have worked intentionally to recognize the challenges faced by underrepresented professionals,” says Cleary. There has been a hiring freeze during the pandemic, but initiatives remain in place, including a welcome at the beginning of each academic year to provide networking opportunities for faculty and staff of color.

There is the ECEC mentoring program committee and a research committee to explore former employee experiences.

“The purpose is to gain an understanding of the shared experiences for intentional programming and policies to positively impact the experiences of current and new employees of color,” says Cleary.

Frontier Nursing University

Frontier Nursing University, a graduate institution at which registered nurses pursue advanced degrees in nursing, received an A grade for Pillar III, Institutional Climate. Since beginning her position as chief diversity and inclusion officer in January 2020, Dr. Geraldine Q. Young has focused on forging the most inclusive climate possible for students, faculty and staff.

Dr. Geraldine Q. YoungDr. Geraldine Q. YoungYoung created a comprehensive mentoring program, for which faculty received training. Research from one pairing, “The Perspective of a Mentor and Mentee,” will soon be published. 

“The mentor has shown the mentee how to do a poster presentation (a means of communicating research),” says Young. “They have a poster presentation scheduled together, something the mentee probably would have never gotten to do on her own.”

Frontier received a 2017–21 HRSA (Health Resources and Services Administration) nursing workforce diversity grant and recently obtained a new grant for 2021–25. 

“We’re going to continue some of the activities that we’ve done but also create new and innovative DEI and anti-racism initiatives,” says Young. 

Special interest/affinity groups are being developed. There are anti-racism support policies and a council associated with those policies. In June, Young made two presentations at the American Association of Colleges of Nursing Advancing Nursing Workforce Diversity conference. Information is also disseminated on social media and through the university’s website.

Grand Valley State University

The most outstanding categories for Grand Valley State University were Pillar I, Institutional Leadership and Commitment, and Pillar III, Institutional Climate. The commitment to DEI and anti-racism comes from the top. The university’s president, Dr. Philomena V. Mantella, issued a 15-point plan and created a network of racial equity advisors that includes faculty, staff, students and alumni. 

Dr. Jesse M. BernalDr. Jesse M. BernalDEI programming is overseen by Dr. Jesse M. Bernal, vice president for inclusion and equity and chief of staff to the president, who says understanding campus climate is crucial because positive experiences and perceptions lead to positive outcomes.

Grand Valley is the founding Midwest partner, organizer and convener of REP4 (Rapid Education Prototyping for Change, Learners, Community and Equity), a national alliance of colleges and universities. The REP4 Alliance is a network of regional and national education leaders and industry and technology leaders working together to guide learners along their transformative journeys. They provide expertise, test prototypes, implement ideas and shape the future of REP4.

Texas Woman’s University

Texas Woman’s University (TWU) received B grades in Pillar I, Institutional Leadership and Commitment, and Pillar II, Institutional Curricular & Co-Curricular Accountability. The performance on Pillar II is particularly noteworthy, as that was the lowest scoring pillar for many institutions.

Christopher JohnsonChristopher JohnsonChristopher Johnson, chief of staff, office of the chancellor and president, says administration needs to empower a broad range of people to impact DEI. Dr. Carine M. Feyten, TWU’s chancellor/president, created the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Council with the leaders of various affinity groups and initiatives to share and exchange knowledge and information. In early October, the first-ever university-wide DEI climate survey will be administered. 

“We administered our organizational readiness questionnaire,” says Dr. Jason R. Lambert, associate professor of management and organizational behavior and inaugural chair of the council. “We secured grant money for training. We’re looking at vendors for search committee training and also some leadership training that we want to administer this academic year.”

Deans’ groups and the provost’s group on anti-racism work hard to ensure the curriculum also reflects this commitment to DEI. There have been grants for curriculum development. TWU also received a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities that has funded faculty across several of the university’s colleges for an interdisciplinary and experiential learning initiative to incorporate into courses the history of Quakertown, a Black neighborhood founded by former slaves just south of the TWU campus. 

“An academically diverse group of faculty are trying to bring these stories into their curriculum,” Johnson says. “They started the professional development this summer.”

University of Oklahoma

The strongest pillar for the University of Oklahoma (OU) was Pillar III, Institutional Climate. This fall, the university launched the Gateway to Belonging course, which is designed to provide students a multitude of perspectives. The course was developed using interdisciplinary, scientific studies on basic human needs.

Dr. Belinda Higgs HyppoliteDr. Belinda Higgs Hyppolite“The faculty instructors, supporting staff, program director, campus community, enrolled students and OU leadership surrounding this course seek to promote places of belonging at OU that offer recognition and respect to all its members,” says Gateway to Belonging director Dr. Adrienne Carter-Sowell. “Academic researchers find that individuals who have a secure sense of belonging, compared to those who don’t have it, are more likely to thrive, persist and develop over time beyond expectations.”

The data from a recent institutional climate survey is currently being analyzed, says Dr. Gregg Garn, senior associate provost,  and Dr. Belinda Higgs Hyppolite, vice president of DEI and chief diversity officer. 

“We are working intentionally to attend to the campus climate inside and outside of the classroom,” says Garn. “We are leaning into Pillar IV as we work to increase a sense of belonging and emotional support for all staff, faculty and students.”


This article originally appeared in the September 16, 2021 edition of Diverse. Read it here.

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Seeking Long-Term Solutions to Problems Faced by Differently Abled Individuals

In the beginning of 2020, before the pandemic moved everything online, Nate Tilton was on his way to a classroom labeled as accessible. Except, when Tilton arrived, he realized the accessible spot in the classroom was actually too tight to maneuver his power wheelchair. So, he spent the entirety of the lecture (and the following lectures, until the classrooms were switched) facing the wall.

Tilton has been a master’s student at the University of California at Berkeley since 2018, and, through trial and error, word of mouth and his own exploration, he has come to know the campus well.

Nate Tilton, far left, holds up a low-cost accessible gaming controller made at the lab.Nate Tilton, far left, holds up a low-cost
accessible gaming controller made at the lab.Berkeley is built on a hill, and the angle gets progressively steeper on its north side. Accessing labs on the north side of campus seemed impossible, until a lab manager revealed an unmarked yet accessible pathway. Bathrooms labeled with accessible placards would often turn out to be anything but, as a poorly placed sink would block the entrance of anyone using a power chair.

“That’s why we’re doing this project,” says Tilton, referring to Radical Mapping, an open, crowd-sourced navigation app designed to pass on institutional knowledge to new students with mobility disabilities. 

Tilton brought the idea to the Berkeley Disability Lab, where he works as lab manager. The beta launch for radical mapping is set to debut in the winter or spring for smartphones and desktops, and it will be free for users to access. After all, removing traditional barriers to accessibility is one of the reasons Dr. Karen Nakamura created the lab in 2018.

The Disability Lab is situated on the south side of Berkeley’s campus, where the terrain is flatter and  there’s easy access to public transit. The lab, funded by Robert and Colleen Haas, is equipped with adjustable tables, work benches, tabletops, lighting intensity controls and equipment designed with disabled needs in mind. The lab is a nexus for the disability community, a place where their challenges and needs can meet with the resources Berkeley and Silicon Valley have available, says Nakamura. 

Eliminating barriers to access

“Far too often, there’s a mismatch between community needs and what tech companies will do,” which leaves disabled persons without a real voice in the solutions that are meant to help them, says Nakamura.

“The disability community, including students, [needs] to provide more than just feedback,” she continues. “We need to develop the skills within the community to design things ourselves.”

The Disability Lab is a place where disabled and abled persons can come together and create “technical fluency.” Without that, Nakamura said, “you’re behind the curve.”

Low-cost is a key element to the lab’s work. Every project it tackles can ideally be replicated by the user with inexpensive, easily accessible materials found anywhere around the world.

The list of Disability Lab projects continues to grow. The team has developed an accessible game controller that comes together for under $20, a fraction of the cost of many controllers produced by gaming companies. They have made Arduinos, an open-source hardware and software single-board microcontroller, usable for the blind. They’re working on air purifiers and ventilators to help clear smoke from the air during fire season. They even designed a ramp for an elderly dog with arthritis who could no longer climb stairs. 

The lab has hosted guests from Amazon, Uber and other Silicon Valley experts who have shared technological ideas or presented new challenges to students. But mostly, the work done in the lab is sourced directly from the disabled community itself. It’s a direct push back against universal design and the concept that disabilities need to be fixed.

“Universal design,” says Tilton, “is based on a singular body, typically a white disabled body. It erases people, essentially.”

An individual-centered approach

As an example, Tilton referenced a tool called Firefly, an attachment for wheelchair users that turns their chairs into motorized tricycles. In principle, says Tilton, it’s a great idea. “The problem is that it was designed to be used by a 6-foot-6 white dude with big hands. For me, I’m 5-foot-10, or for female identifying folks, that doesn’t work.”

This is why, says Tilton, the lab aims for Disability Centered Design (DCD).

“DCD centers the design — of whatever you’re doing, in policy, tech or in an institution — it centers marginalized people at the core and allows for the understanding that we are not a universal body, we’re all different, and that’s OK,” says Tilton.

Elizabeth Sherstinsky, an undergraduate senior at Berkeley, started working at the lab in January 2021. Her time in the lab has impacted the way she sees disability.

“There’s definitely medical issues alongside disability that arise from disability, but a medicalized framework says disability needs to be fixed. I don’t agree with that at this point,” she says.

“I see disability more as an identity-based trait of a person, similar to race, ethnicity, gender orientation,” she adds. Previously, Sherstinsky had spent time at the Bay Area Friendship Circle, where able-bodied and disabled teens were paired together for bonding activities.

“At the time,” she said, “I thought I was volunteering. Towards the end, I realized it was a cultural exchange.”

Fostering true community

Sherstinsky doesn’t have a specific title at the Disability Lab. Like so many who spend their time there, she volunteers to work on different projects. Cameron Garrett Johnson, a doctoral student at Berkeley who joined the lab this summer, says projects are tackled through a “super democratic, communal process.”

“We announce the goal first,” he says, “and all put our hands in. It’s why we’ve been able to get stuff done and push things out a lot quicker than I’ve experienced in a bureaucratized structure.”

Johnson met Tilton in a graduate class, where they bonded over similar backgrounds and a fascination with older cars.

“I was just kind of born tinkering with stuff,” Johnson says.

Tilton saw that Johnson’s electrical engineering skills could go a long way to help in the lab, so he encouraged Johnson to join. But that work, he says, is only half of what he does at the lab. “The other half is being part of the community and mentoring undergrads, making a more safe and equitable space for those of us on the margins,” he says.

Disabiltiy Lab Group Different AngleJohnson has invisible disabilities, and he has not always been comfortable talking about his struggles. He has attended Berkeley since he was an undergrad.

“As an undergrad, I’ve always had diagnoses but was never a part of Disabled Students’ Program (DSP),” he says. DSP is the central hub for disability resources and accommodations on Berkeley’s campus. 

“It was stigmatized, so many of us said, ‘OK, never mind, I’ll work twice as hard.’ The burden gets passed on to you because you’re so ashamed,” Johnson says.

But Johnson has met some extraordinary professors and individuals at Berkeley, people who became real mentors on his journey. He says he’s proud of the work he’s been able to do at the Disability Lab.

Johnson isn’t the only one Tilton recruited to join the lab. In fact, bringing students into the fold is something of a signature move for Tilton.

“He helped pull the community together,” said Nakamura, who also credits Tilton for pushing her into “new directions in thinking.”

That out-of-the-box thinking might be connected to Tilton’s unique journey. Tilton is a high school dropout. His experiences in the classroom had been so negative that the task of education became something he dreaded.

“At the time I didn’t realize, I had no idea, I was dyslexic,” he said. “I understand I’m neurodivergent now, but back then I didn’t,” he says. “A lot of times, they just saw a brown kid that was struggling.”

Things got so bad that Tilton recalled a teacher, who was much loved by students, telling him that he didn’t belong there. That was when he dropped out.

In 2005, he joined the California Army National Guard. The Army helped Tilton discover that he was not only capable but also talented. He served four tours, twice in Iraq and twice in Afghanistan, learning leadership skills and creative thinking, all things that have helped him in the lab. But his deployment also left him with PTSD, TBI (traumatic brain injury) as well as neck and back issues. In 2018, the same year he started his master’s degree at Berkeley, he experienced a neurological event that weakened the left side of his body. Since that time, he’s relied on assistance to get around.

“At some point in someone’s life, they may become disabled,” says Tilton. “That’s why we do the work we’re doing [at the lab].”

Outside the lab, Tilton’s research focuses on the care of disabled veterans who live near under-resourced VA hospitals. In particular, he had focused on the unique community of 24,000 veterans living in Guam.Cameron JohnsonCameron Johnson

Christian Leycam also served in the Army. He first met Tilton in an anthropology course in 2019. Leycam could tell right away that Tilton was a veteran. “You just know, right off the bat,” says Leycam.

Leycam had previously been a member of the Center for Accessible Technology at Berkeley. But meeting Tilton made him want to explore creating solutions with disability at the center, so he switched labs.

Leycam has gone on to San Jose State University for his graduate degree, but he still plans on commuting to the lab to volunteer when he has the time.

“I really have to give a shout out to Nate. He’s very involved within the disability lab, but in addition he’s extremely involved in veterans’ rights communities,” said Leycam. “He’s gone out to D.C., spoken in front of Congress. He’s done amazing things, in terms of advocacy. Having him as the leader in our lab with Karen — they provide outstanding leadership.” 

Tilton went to Washington, D.C., to advocate for parents of children with disabilities; Tilton has three children, one of whom is autistic. While there, he met with Rhode Island Representative Jim Langevin, who uses a motorized wheelchair.

“The chair was really neat and could stand up and do all this cool stuff,” said Tilton.

Tilton asked Langevin two questions. The first question was, how much did it cost? Langevin answered: about $100,000. 

“Then I asked, ‘Is it waterproof?’ He said, 'No',” Tilton remembers. “What hope is there for the rest of us when a congressional representative can’t even get a waterproof chair?”

So, Tilton went back to the Disability Lab and started working. He and his lab fellows helped design a cost-effective, waterproofing system for the controllers on motorized chairs. They used foam, plastic, cloth, sewing skills and patience. Eventually, they created a low-cost, easily replicable method of waterproofing the controls on a powerchair.

Whatever project is being worked on, Nakamura and Tilton make sure that everyone, no matter what their ability or disability, can contribute. When Hari Srinivasan first came to the lab, he wondered how he could contribute as a non-speaking autistic with poor fine motor skills.

“I thought maybe I would just be the ideas guy in the group, a role I have taken on in the past,” he wrote. “However, Professor Nakamura quickly found a niche for me that takes advantage of my writing skill set. She essentially tailored a new role for me.”

Tilton credits Nakamura with helping him transition from military life to the life of a veteran. “She’s been a big help in my understanding my role as a disabled person,” he says.

That role involves the creation of a community. “On Twitter, I see a lot of disabled graduates and undergraduates, they’re like, ‘I’m in this lab and it’s inaccessible.’ And I feel for them,” says Tilton.

“In my lab, we take into consideration your disabilities. You need extra time? Don’t worry about it. It’s a place of growth and not a place of stress. You won’t find that often in places of academia.”   

This article originally appeared in the September 16, 2021 edition of Diverse. Read it here.

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RIT Receives $1.5 Million to Grow Its Priority Behavioral Health and Clinical Psychology Internship Program

Dr. Cassandra BerbaryDr. Cassandra BerbaryRochester Institute of Technology has received a $1.5 million grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to expand RIT’s Priority Behavioral Health and Clinical Psychology Internship program.

The funding will increase the accredited program’s focus on delivering mental healthcare for young clients struggling with substance abuse, mental health issues, and trauma due to violence in the community.

Dr. Cassandra Berbary, an assistant professor in RIT’s biomedical sciences department, is lead psychologist on the grant. “There is a shortage of mental health professionals in Monroe County, and there’s a huge need for services,” she said.

The new funding will create six new internship roles at the Priority Behavioral Health and Clinical Psychology Internship, creating its largest cohort to date of 18. They will join a team of medical professionals, psychologists, social workers, chemical dependency, and addiction specialists at RIT and at the Rochester Regional Health. This allows for the integral of physical health with a patient’s mental health concerns.

“Many of our youth with substance use issues also have comorbid mental health issues,” said Berbary. “And that’s where this grant can really help address those co-occurring problems.”

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Combining Education and Anthropology to Reach Students Where They're At

Having studied Spanish, Japanese, Portuguese and French, Dr. Lauren Johnson, assistant dean of the College of Education at the University of North Georgia (UNG), knows how demoralizing it can feel to struggle for one’s words in a new language. And, having taught abroad in Venezuela, Iraq and China, she also knows the alienating feelings that can come with navigating a foreign culture for the first time. 

Early on in her career, she saw the effects those cultural and linguistic barriers had on her first classroom of students and their parents. As a teacher for the Columbia Urban Educators program in New York’s Washington Heights, she often worked with first- or second-generation immigrants who were learning English as a second language.

Dr. Lauren JohnsonDr. Lauren JohnsonMany “didn’t have the language to describe the inequalities that they were experiencing,” says Johnson, who earned her master’s in TESOL (Teaching English as a Second or Other Language). “So that experience set me up to learn a lot more about our education system and what it should be doing.”

She recognized the need for culturally competent teachers who understood the backgrounds of their students. 

“If families, parents and kids don't feel comfortable in school, then they're not going to want to become teachers,” she says. “They're not going to feel like that's something that they can aspire to be in life, so then we maintain a [disproportionately] white teacher demographic. It's important that we consider what that impact has on students who may not feel seen or heard in their own school.”

For a lifelong linguaphile who knew she wanted to be a teacher early on, combining anthropology with education seemed the perfect path for Johnson, who has built her career on making education accessible to minority students, especially immigrant students.

“Anthropology teaches things holistically,” she says. “Rather than focusing on the individual parts, it looks at how we work together. So, when I consider education, I'm considering issues of culture, language, class, ability and disability.”

In other words, she knows that when people enter the classroom, they don’t enter solely as students or educators. They bring their whole selves — their beliefs, their cultures, their languages — with them.

“It's important for our teachers to understand what they're bringing into the classroom,” she says. “And it’s important that they learn to respect and value their students for what they're bringing in as well.”

That’s why Johnson has helped build two pipeline programs with a local school district in Georgia to help encourage more students of color to opt for teaching careers. “RISE,” or Realizing Inspiring and Successful Educators, works with Hall County (GA) Schools, to place Hispanic graduates of UNG’s education program in teaching positions in the district. The Aspiring Teachers Program works in partnership with the Gainesville City School System to recruit minority students into the teaching profession and support them along their path to a teaching career.

Early this year, Johnson received recognition from the Georgia State Assembly for her role in both programs. During a 2021 session, State Rep. Will Wade (R-Dawsonville) presented a resolution honoring Johnson “for her efficient, effective, unselfish, and dedicated academic and community service to the State of Georgia."

It’s not the first time she’s received recognition for her work. In 2017, she was a Governor's Teaching Fellow and selected for the Fulbright-Hays Seminar Abroad Program. In 2019, she received the UNG Diversity Champion Award followed by the Emerging Leader Award in 2020. She has also secured five UNG-based research grants over the years.

“As an applied anthropologist, I’ve been trained that it's not enough to do research just for the sake of doing research,” she says. “There needs to be an end goal, a purpose.” 

An “educator first and anthropologist second,” some of her recent research has taken her abroad again to South Africa, where she is studying how the country is contending with disparities in its K-12 education system “in a time period after legal racial segregation” and “in a social context of white socioeconomic dominance.”

If the context sounds similar to the dynamics of K-12 education in the U.S., that’s because it is, she says.

“In terms of racially polarized societies, we have a lot in common with South Africa,” says Johnson. “We have some similar challenges and some that are very different, but I think it's possible to learn from each other.”

Knowing and learning from other cultures seems to be the theme of her career, and it’s one that she continually emphasizes to aspiring teachers.

“You have to get to know your students,” she says. “You can't effectively teach K-12 students without knowing their background, histories or culture.”  

This article originally appeared in the September 16, 2021 edition of Diverse. Read it here.

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