‘A space of belonging’: FAS faculty members honored for fostering inclusion

As a woman of color in a male-dominated field, biomedical engineer Anjelica Gonzalez strives always to remind — and sometimes convince — students that anyone can make a career in science and technology.

For her efforts to promote inclusion and belonging in STEM, Gonzalez is one of four Yale faculty members to receive the inaugural Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS) Dean’s Award for Inclusion and Belonging. The other honorees are scientist Andrew Miranker, historian Stephen Pitti, and James Tierney, a senior lector in English and director of the English Language Program.

The inaugural recipients were nominated by their colleagues and department chairs across the FAS divisions for their commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion in their classrooms, their teaching and mentoring, their departments, and in the broader Yale community or beyond.

Members of the FAS faculty work every day to make this community a space of belonging,” said FAS Dean Tamar Szabó Gendler. “They mentor students, support colleagues, and lead initiatives on campus and beyond. These efforts are transformative; they help bring a sense of belonging to scholars and students from communities that have historically been excluded from the academy. This award is an opportunity to celebrate this work.”

A welcoming mentor in STEM

Anjelica Gonzalez, associate professor of biomedical engineering and faculty director of the Tsai Center for Innovative Thinking at Yale, won the award in recognition of her dedication “not only to scientific innovation but also to equipping the next generation of scientists with the tools to work and think across disciplines,” Gendler said in announcing the award recipients.

Gonzalez was described by her nominators as “a true leader in increasing diversity and promoting a sense of belonging and inclusion across all members and potential members of our community” and for creating opportunities for faculty and students to engage with questions around diversity. In her courses “Biomaterials” and “Biotechnology for the Developing World,” and in her work at the Tsai Center, she emphasizes that a diversity of people, ideas, interests, and experiences is what spurs scientific and technological innovation.

It has always been important to me to set an example, to demonstrate that just as everyone benefits from science and technology, anyone can contribute to these fields to improve our health and living conditions,” said Gonzalez. “By showing that women and underrepresented minorities can take part, we have an opportunity to have more innovative science and engineering in our world.”

Gonzalez helps students understand the challenges around health equity, and encourages them to think not only about the technological tools they create but the culture and needs of those who will use them.

I try to teach students that we can develop all the biotech that we want, but if it is not affordable, accessible, and adaptable, then it’s trash,” she said. “We have to understand our users’ needs, what their considerations are, their culture, their ideas of aesthetics, and even their infrastructure: Do they have water and electricity, for example?”

Gonzalez also works with public schools around New Haven and nationally to promote opportunities for underrepresented students and teachers “to see themselves as scientists and engineers,” said Gendler.

I am really excited about the fact that Yale is recognizing the importance of faculty contributions to making sure that everyone feels valued at the university, that everyone has a place here,” said Gonzalez. “It means that the things I do naturally mean something to someone, and that makes me happier than I can express. I’m in good company with the other award winners.”

Being an ally and creating change

Andrew Miranker, a professor of molecular biophysics and biochemistry (MB&B), chemistry, and environmental engineering, was recognized for his “commitment to advocacy, teaching, and mentorship [that] has created lasting benefits to Yale and beyond,” said Gendler.

Miranker first became proactive on issues of inclusion and belonging in STEM in response to campus-wide student protests at Yale in 2015. He organized a series of workshops to educate members of majority groups in STEM at Yale and to facilitate expression by underrepresented students and faculty members of their experiences on campus. The result of these workshops and follow-up advocacy encouraged STEM departments to make considerations of identity and diversity an integral part of their teaching.

I’m a scientist and an academic, so if I don’t understand something I need to go find the information,” said Miranker. As he felt the same must be true of his colleagues, he and his coworkers, inspired by a course at Amherst College called “Being Human in STEM,” developed a team-taught course with the same title at Yale. Grounded in sociological research, the course develops inclusive practices in STEM and is facilitated by a rotating cast that includes majority-group faculty members who foster their own learning by participating. Advocacy for the course by Miranker and colleagues has resulted in variations of “Being Human in STEM” now being taught at nearly 20 undergraduate institutions.

As MB&B’s director of undergraduate studies, Miranker led the department’s faculty “in the invention and adoption of a new requirement and coursework for their majors at the interface of identity and society with STEM,” noted Gendler in the award announcement. Furthermore, Miranker’s leadership enabled an MB&B faculty-search team to transform inclusive practice in faculty recruiting and hiring by developing an approach built around anonymization. This enabled job candidates to initially present their academic accomplishments without faculty knowing anything of their identity. This new method for hiring has garnered attention from other Yale departments and campuses, Gendler said.

Andrew Miranker’s nominators described him as an exemplary colleague and ally whose work shows how members of majority groups can lead critical DEI initiatives that improve institutional culture and climate,” she added.

Miranker said that his contributions would not be possible without the collaboration of STEM colleagues and students on campus. In fact, because of that he was initially reluctant to receive the award. However, when MB&B chair Enrique De La Cruz pointed out, “This isn’t about you; it’s about how others will learn from your work,” Miranker acquiesced.

I’m glad that the work I’ve done has had an impact, which is to let other majority-member faculty members appreciate the role they too can play to help create positive change.”

An advocate and campus leader

Stephen Pitti, a professor of history and American studies, of Ethnicity, Race and Migration, and Spanish and Portuguese, was described in his nomination as “a leader in understanding how universities can implement equity, inclusion, and belonging in all they do.”

Pitti, who is also director of the Center for the Study of Race, Indigeneity, and Transnational Migration (RITM), is a scholar of Latinx history. During more than a decade of service as head of Ezra Stiles College and more than 20 as a teacher, he has mentored scores of graduate and undergraduate students. “At RITM, Pitti has implemented programs that advance student scholarship and that provide faculty with opportunities for collaboration and exchange,” Gendler said. He is seen across our community as a campus leader on questions of inclusion and belonging, she added.

It is important that all colleges and universities take steps to help every student, faculty member, and staff member feel that they belong on campus, and that Yale be a leader in those efforts,” said Pitti. “As our institutions of higher education become more diverse, this work will be more critical for the advancement of knowledge, for allowing people to learn from one another, and for creating spaces where new perspectives, new leadership, and new communities can develop.

In the RITM Center we have tried to do just that over the last five years, creating programs and opportunities that bring together students, researchers, artists, activists, and educators who are interested in pursuing questions related to race, indigeneity, and transnational migration,” he added.

Pitti said his work to promote inclusion, diversity, and belonging has been in collaboration with many others at Yale.

I feel like a stand-in for dozens of people who are doing this work, and I am happy to accept the award on behalf of them,” he said. “I am grateful that FAS is eager to recognize this importance of doing work in these areas.”

Helping others to feel ‘at home’

As a senior lector in English and director of the Center for Language Study’s English Language Program since 2010, James Tierney has dedicated himself to Yale’s international students, faculty, and staff in the FAS and beyond

The programs, courses, and workshops he has created have helped scholars and students for whom English is not a first language feel at home, navigate U.S. academic culture, and build not only linguistic confidence, but connections to community,” Gendler said in the announcement. “By reaching out across departments and all of Yale’s professional schools to support nonnative speakers of English, James Tierney has made inclusion and belonging a foundation of his work in the FAS.”

Tierney said he is “deeply honored to be among the inaugural recipients of the award,” adding, “I count myself very lucky to work at an institution with a strong commitment to fostering inclusion and belonging alongside colleagues who share these values.”

For many international Yale affiliates, he said, working across languages can be a challenging and sometimes “alienating” experience.

It is hard to exaggerate the importance of language for academic success and wellbeing; at the same time, it is easy for those not working across languages and cultures to underestimate its importance,” said Tierney. “While people sometimes talk about language as a ‘skill’ or ‘ability,’ it goes far deeper than that; it is intimately connected not only with academic success but also identity, self-esteem, and interpersonal relations.

In building the program and designing curriculum, we have tried to keep these wider aspects always in view,” he said. “An overarching aspiration of our program is for our students to be able to participate fully and as equals in their programs and in the larger Yale community and beyond.”

Larry Gladney, the Phyllis A. Wallace Dean of Diversity and Faculty Development in the FAS and professor of physics, helped conceptualize the new award. He said that while he recognizes that all of the honorees’ achievements have been made with the support of others on campus, he believes it is important to recognize individuals for their work.

In the work that goes on, there are champions, people who have been exceptional in driving change,” Gladney said. “It is hard to talk about a prize to individuals for inclusion, but I do believe there needs to be a spotlight on the contributions they make, even if making them with other people. The award is emblematic of the fact that we want to recognize in our community the terrific things that are going on.”

Our four awardees exemplify a vision of the FAS where inclusivity serves our mission and advances our work as leaders in the pursuit of knowledge,” Gendler added. “Their dedication has created new opportunities and has made space for new ways of thinking. I’m thrilled to celebrate the enormous contributions that Anjelica, Steve, Andrew, and Jim have made to our community.”

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