Two faculty named to equity leadership positions
By C. Brandon Chapman – College of Education
Continuing its legacy of leadership in equity, diversity, and justice, the Washington State University College of Education has named two of its faculty members as associate deans of equity and inclusion.
Katherine Rodela, an associate professor of educational leadership at WSU Vancouver, will have faculty and staff development as her primary focus. Amir Gilmore, an assistant professor of cultural studies and social thought in education at WSU Pullman, will have student success and retention as his primary focus. Both will join the college’s leadership team and have a college-wide focus, despite their respective locations.
While multiple entities at WSU have leadership positions for this work, the associate dean position at the College of Education has been in place since 2013 and is believed to be the first of its kind at the university.
“These two individuals are strong leaders with respect to equity and inclusion and each brings a unique skill set to the position,” Dean Mike Trevisan said. “I am grateful for the willingness of Drs. Rodela and Gilmore to step up at this time, and we can all look forward to good things as a result of their work.”
These will be two-year appointments effective August 16.
Faculty and staff development
In her role, Rodela will chair the college’s Equity and Inclusion Committee, building on the work of Gisela Ernst-Slavit and Paula Groves-Price, who previously led the committee. Also, part of her role will be supporting the retention and mentorship of underrepresented faculty and staff in the college. Rodela said this may include creating affinity spaces or writing groups for faculty and staff of color and LGBTQ+ faculty and staff.
Rodela said she wants to, in partnership with Gilmore, learn more about what faculty and staff are doing across the college to advance equity, inclusion, and diversity in their programs, and areas they want to expand or build on.
“I want to be able to highlight this work and support the continued leadership we have around equity across the WSU system and campuses,” she said.
Rodela has a good track record in this field, as both educator and scholar. She her service, teaching, and scholarship are all interconnected around wanting to make schools, colleges, and universities more equitable and inclusive for all people, especially students who are marginalized by systemic forms of oppression such as racism, classism, ableism, homophobia, and transphobia.
“To me, the heart of equity and inclusion work across all contexts, including pre-Kindergarten through 12th grade, and higher education, is about honoring the dignity and humanity of each person,” she said. “Justice is about love and belonging – that everyone has a place and is part of our community, as their fullest selves.
“This means that we recognize and honor the diversity of our college and university—all the different identities, histories, cultures, languages, genders, sexual orientations, and races that make up our broad community.”
Rodela said that a key component of that recognition must be that of the harm that has been done to Indigenous communities.
“Being a land-grant institution is about service and responding to the needs of the state but at the same time, we also must acknowledge the legacy of settler colonialism and the harm land-grant institutions have done to Indigenous communities, Native Americans, and Tribal Governments – the systemic forms of racism and “land-grab” that land-grant institutions have been a part of,” she said. “We must acknowledge this history and work towards healing and relationship building with our Tribal and Native American community partners, especially in our work around equity, inclusion, and justice.“
While Rodela has made equity and inclusion her life’s work, as a first-generation college student, Mexican American woman of color, and mother of a multiracial Black Latino 10-year-old, it’s also very personal.
“As a young child, other kids told me that ‘Mexicans aren’t smart.’ In high school, a guidance counselor said that ‘perhaps college isn’t for you’ since my parents didn’t go to college, despite me being an honors student and having good grades,” Rodela said.
Rodela said she’s driven by those experiences and the injustices so many other children, young people, and families have faced in schools and universities.
“I am committed to making sure no child or young person is ever seen from a deficit perspective or told they can’t,” she said. “I want my son, and all children and young people to attend schools and colleges where they can be their fullest selves and successful at whatever they choose to do.”
“This new position means a great deal to me and my family, and I imagine little 9-year-old Katherine, who didn’t know what a Ph.D. was, would be proud of me, too.”
Student success and retention
Gilmore is well suited to oversee student success and retention. While he is only embarking on his second year as a tenure-track faculty member, he has been at WSU for six years, having earned his Ph.D. in the Cultural Studies and Social Thought in Education program, as well as being a clinical faculty member. This gives him a desired combination of institutional knowledge and recent studentship.
“Within my six years, I have a great understanding of the university, how it works, the conversations that have been had, and have a great relationship with many administrators across the campuses,” Gilmore said. “I have been involved with a few equity and inclusion efforts over the years. My work and my vision have been about enhancing the well-being of students and I look forward to continuing the work.
Gilmore said these mission and goals have always been aligned with serving students and advocating on their behalf. He has served as a student leader for WSU’s Graduate and Professional Student Association, and as a graduate assistant for the Research Assistantships for Diverse Scholars (RADS) program. Additionally, he has helped coordinate the Alhadeff Future Teachers of Color (AFTOC) program, which is designed to recruit and retain students of color into the teacher preparation program and place these students into the K-12 teaching workforce.
He will continue to lead AFTOC, as well as lead the Institute for the Recruitment of Teachers initiative, which aims to recruit more graduate students of color.
“Representation in education is crucial to the field and as educators it is important that we are meeting the diverse needs of K-12 students in the state,” Gilmore said. “As the AFTOC faculty advisor, I will be engaging students of color to consider and pursue a career in education through recruiting events. One of the best ways to change the world is to become a teacher and within AFTOC, I will have the opportunity to do that.”
As a black faculty member, Gilmore especially feels drawn to these opportunities and he was invited to serve in this role because of his research interest in the “social mattering” of Black lives in education and society.
“Within schooling and beyond, we have witnessed the denigration of Black life through unjust treatment and gratuitous violence,” he said. “All that we have witnessed and experienced has a profound impact on Black students, their families, and their communities.”
To ensure the best experience possible, Gilmore said it is important that the university and college comprehensively center this “mattering.”
“Recruiting, retaining, teaching, mentoring, and holistically supporting Black undergraduate and graduate students is integral to the land-grant mission and I am glad that I am in this role to fulfill the mission,” he said, stating one of the most vital parts of equity and inclusion in all these facets is one of opportunity and access.
“As a land-grant institution, opportunity and access are foundational to the role that WSU plays in higher education,” Gilmore said. “Education must be accessible to all and that education must meet the needs of the communities of the lands the university situates itself upon.
“When I think about opportunity, I think about the opportunity to receive a high-quality and affordable education that will not only provide you with the tools and skills that you need to serve your communities but will also personally fulfill you.”
Gilmore said he understands that not everybody has the same opportunities due to background or identity. Specifically, as it pertains to WSU, he said it is imperative the university does not fail to acknowledge and address ongoing and historical oppressions that have excluded so many from society from receiving an education.
“To say the happenings of the past do not affect the present and the future is quite disingenuous. In many ways, we are the products of the past and the past lingers and shapes the present,” he said. “Though we may not be able to change the past, it is important that we learn from it and create futures that we yearn for and are proud of. And for me, that important work of the future – that critical work starts by meeting the “moment of today.” The wants and needs of students, as well as the challenges, and barriers that they face dynamic, multifaceted, and intersectional.
“Higher education, public education, and land-grant education only works when everyone is included in the moments that they live their lives. It is important that the College of Education and WSU continue to meet their students in the moments that they live in, and I am glad to help do so in this role for the College and the University.”
In this video podcast from the College’s ZoomEd In series, from November 09, 2020, we talked to assistant professor Amir Gilmore about his “Black Boy Joy” research. Total Run Time: 26:53.
In this podcast from the college’s Education Eclipse series, from April 18, 2019, we talked to Katherine Rodela about her efforts to increase teachers and educational leaders of color. Total Run Time: 18:05.
WSU Insider: Two faculty named to equity leadership positions