SIUE School of Education, Health and Human Behavior Takes Aim at Institutionalized Racism by Hiring Faculty of Color – by the Handful

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In one small way to combat a more than “400-year-pandemic” of institutionalized racism in the U.S., Southern Illinois University Edwardsville School of Education, Health and Human Behavior (SEHHB) Dean Robin Hughes, PhD, is working in a deliberate and calculated way to make her University better, stronger and more equitable by hiring a group of faculty members of color, known as cluster hires.

(Top row L-R): Candace Hall, EdD; Nate Williams, PhD; and Rachel Tenial, PhD. (Bottom row L-R): Cherese Fine, PhD; Cedric Harville, PhD; and Divah Griffin.

“We deliberately recruit the most brilliant and most qualified in every candidate pool – all of the time." - SIUE SEHHB Dean Robin Hughes, PhD

In one small way to combat a more than “400-year-pandemic” of institutionalized racism in the U.S., Southern Illinois University Edwardsville School of Education, Health and Human Behavior (SEHHB) Dean Robin Hughes, PhD, is working in a deliberate and calculated way to make her University better, stronger and more equitable by hiring a group of faculty members of color, known as cluster hires.

“I thought about a request for a cluster hire of faculty of color, when I learned about strategic hiring funds during my interview visit,” said Hughes. “In this case, it’s a hiring process that recruits and hires a number of faculty of color who are experts in the fields of education, applied health and specifically psychology. We intentionally sought to hire a number of individuals to fill multiple positions in the School of Education, Health and Human Behavior.”

Hughes’ first plans involve hiring four faculty members of color. One position is still in negotiation. The current three SEHHB cluster hires are:

  • Nate Williams, PhD, associate professor in the Department of Teaching and Learning’s secondary education program and pedagogical, curricular and leadership support at the SIUE East St Louis Charter High School
  • Cherese Fine, PhD, assistant professor in the Department of Educational Leadership
  • Rachel Tenial, PhD, assistant professor in the Department of Psychology

“The University has a commitment and strategic goal to hire faculty of color,” noted Hughes. “We responded to the University’s goals.”

Hughes also points to research that shows the benefits of hiring faculty of color.

“Faculty of color support students’ growth and social well-being in myriad ways,” she continued. “They are role models. They increase students’ sense of belonging. They support student retention overall, and retention of students of color specifically.

“For instance, our Department of Psychology was intentional about responding to the needs of students of color. They noted that about 20% of their students were Black, and they had no Black faculty. Psychology faculty believe it is important to hire faculty of color.”

The SEHHB cluster hires were achieved through the University’s Strategic Hiring Funds made available through the Office of the Provost and Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs and the Office of Institutional Diversity and Inclusion.

“The funds include a three-year start-up. The units are responsible for funding after that,” explained Hughes. “The SEHHB administrative team is well aware of the fiscal responsibility for every hire. This is nothing new to me as a leader. All hires are fiscally strategic. All hires are made to support the expertise of the unit. All hires are made to support the community.”

Hughes also named three additional hires:

  • Cedric Harville, PhD, assistant professor in the Department of Applied Health
  • Candace Hall, EdD, lecturer in the Department of Educational Leadership and co-director of the College Student Personnel Administration (CSPA) program
  • Divah Griffin, SEHHB development officer

“We deliberately recruit the most brilliant and most qualified in every candidate pool – all of the time,” added Hughes.

Once hiring faculty of color, a university also has to be calculating about retaining them, according to Hughes.

“This means critically reviewing policies that typically drive away faculty of color,” she shared. “The SEHHB is working to strategically restructure these policies, among other things, to make sure that we keep people once we recruit them. For instance, when a faculty member of color goes up for tenure and has to publish in a ‘top tier’ journal (which is racist in its subtext and is always ill-defined), we have to make sure that our policies are inclusive of the top tier work that they do. Not ‘top tier’ according to a few people who made that decision 400 years ago when Harvard first became a university or by the current group of scholars who are affirmed and perpetuate western cannon notions of what’s good and ‘top tier.’”

The SEHHB dean posed a few questions for SIUE and other colleges and universities to consider in seeking to move from an exclusive mindset, practice and environment in higher education to a more inclusive one.

Specifically, in response to questions about how hiring faculty of color advances the goals of any organization, Hughes points to a counternarrative and asked, “How has hiring all white or predominantly white staff and faculty improved and advanced a college or university? How has not paying attention to purposely hiring faculty and staff of color impacted your college or university?

“It’s 2020, and colleges and universities are just now deconstructing racist policies. We have some catching up to do.”

The SIUE School of Education, Health and Human Behavior prepares students in a wide range of fields including public health, exercise science, nutrition, instructional technology, psychology, speech-language pathology and audiology, educational administration, and teaching. Faculty members engage in leading-edge research, which enhances teaching and enriches the educational experience. The School supports the community through on-campus clinics, outreach to children and families, and a focused commitment to enhancing individual lives across the region.

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