New BILPOC Faculty Mentoring Group Launches at UAlbany

Four smiling people stand in front of a UAlbany banner. Man in center holds a certificate.
Prof. of Latin American, Caribbean & U.S. Latino Studies, Pedro Cabán, was recognized at the inaugural meeting for his dedication to advancing diversity and educational equity. Left to right: Elizabeth Vásquez, Carmen Serrano, Pedro Cabán, Johana Londoño.

By Erin Frick

ALBANY, N.Y. (Sept. 22, 2022) — UAlbany’s newly-launched BILPOC faculty mentoring group is calling for participants ahead of its upcoming October meetings. The aim of the group is to create opportunities for faculty members who are Black, Indigenous, Latinx and people of color (BILPOC) to build community, share research and engage in professional development activities. The group’s inaugural meeting was in August.

The BILPOC faculty mentoring group is spearheaded by Carmen Serrano, associate professor of Spanish in the Department of Languages, Literatures and Cultures, who conceived of the initiative while working on her capstone project for the SUNY Hispanic Leadership Institute in March of 2022.

“Creating a campus environment where students and faculty from all backgrounds are welcomed and supported is essential for the success of all involved,” Serrano says. “Cultivating faculty diversity is key – not only attracting faculty from diverse backgrounds, but ensuring they have the tools needed to succeed and advance. Building a supportive network of peers is critical and this is where the BILPOC faculty mentoring group comes in. Our goal is to form a community that encourages professional skill sharing, writing support and opportunities to share research, as well as chances to connect socially.”

The group’s mission aligns with UAlbany’s strategic plan, including goals to improve retention and promotion of BILPOC faculty. “We want to see our tenure-track faculty attain tenure and our associate professors promoted to full within 5-10 years of securing tenure,” Serrano says.

Kicking off the exploratory year

The inaugural meeting saw representation across a range of UAlbany schools and departments. Most attendees met in-person, with others joining via Zoom. The agenda was robust and varied, offering a taste of what members can expect from programming over the coming year. The mix of activities included an inspirational keynote address, topical workshopping in small groups and a presentation on tenure logistics.

“We realize that everyone has different needs in terms of the mentoring style that works best for them. Offering a variety of programming will help ensure there is something for everyone,” Serrano says.

The inaugural meeting began with a prayer and land acknowledgement by UAlbany PhD graduate and enrolled member of the Mohawk Nation, Gayle Skawen:nio Morse, who is now a professor at Russell Sage College. Next, UAlbany’s Lakia Green, associate director of diversity and inclusion, presented an update on campus initiatives led by the Office of Diversity and Inclusion.

Woman stands, addressing the attendees of the BILPOC faculty mentoring group during the group's inaugural meeting held in the UAlbany campus center.
Johana Londoño shares top takeaways from a small group discussion session on mentoring, including best practices, personal preferences and goals.

A small group discussion session followed; prompts focused on various aspects of mentoring and included questions like: what does good mentorship look like, what mentoring strategies have proven successful in the past and what kind of support would you like to see from the group?

Next, SUNY Assistant Vice Chancellor and System Affirmative Action Officer Jennie Durán presented a keynote on “Cultivating Community and Belonging: Being a Change Agent in the Academic Space.”

The meeting concluded with a presentation by LLC Chair Lotfi Sayahi, professor of Spanish linguistics, which delved into the expectations and requirements behind the tenure and promotion process.

Mentoring in many forms 

“Our programming is designed to spur opportunities for mentorship in different forms; the structure will ultimately be informed by member preferences,” Serrano explains. “Some people prefer regular one-on-one meetings; others thrive in a more freeform setting. The primary aim is to bring together BILPOC faculty members from all career levels — to exchange ideas, concerns, tools and challenges — and from here we will develop mentoring connections that best suit the needs of those involved.”

Elizabeth Vásquez, department chair and associate professor of epidemiology and biostatistics, has worked alongside Serrano to bring the BILPOC faculty mentoring group from idea to reality. The two met while completing SUNY’s Hispanic Leadership Institute, of which UAlbany President Havidán Rodríguez serves as executive director.

“One of our key goals is to create a comfortable space for dialogue between junior and senior faculty,” Vásquez says. “We also want to connect faculty from different disciplines. Academia tends to be siloed, but we all have transferrable skills that could benefit colleagues in different fields. By facilitating opportunities for skill-sharing, we hope to encourage members to see new avenues for learning and potential research collaborations. Most importantly, we want to give faculty of color a place on campus to feel at home — a chance to find community and support in whatever way they need.”

Johana Londoño, associate professor of Latin American, Caribbean and U.S. Latino Studies, has played a key role in developing the BILPOC faculty mentoring program along with Serrano and Vásquez and is credited for adding the ‘L’ (Latinx) to the more commonly used ‘BIPOC’ acronym, to improve inclusivity and better reflect the members of the group.

“I look forward to building community, learning from my colleagues and collaborating on new interdisciplinary research projects,” says Londoño. “This is a great opportunity to meet other BILPOC faculty, grow from one another’s experiences and deepen connections with UAlbany colleagues across career levels and fields.”

Member perspectives

The BILPOC faculty mentoring group could be especially useful for new faculty who joined UAlbany during the pandemic — a time when opportunities to network were few and primarily virtual.

“All members of the BILPOC mentoring program are genuinely committed to building a sense of community,” says Jared Enriquez, assistant professor of geography and planning. “Having entered UAlbany in fall 2020, I began my career in a disrupted system due to COVID. Thus, each successive school year has been like starting anew, with the first year fully remote, last year hybrid and this year in-person. Through this initiative, mentors have established a cohort to help junior faculty develop a sense of community as we ascend our careers together.”

Woman stands beside a lectern, addressing the attendees of the BILPOC faculty mentoring group during the group's inaugural meeting held in the UAlbany campus center.
SUNY Assistant Vice Chancellor and System Affirmative Action Officer Jennie Durán delivers a keynote address highlighting personal connections to the mission of the BILPOC faculty mentoring group.

Kyra Gaunt, assistant professor in the departments of Music and Theatre and Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies, almost didn't attend the inaugural meeting due to concerns about the time commitment

"Not because I didn't want to," Gaunt says, "but because time was, as it always is, in very short supply. But then I reminded myself that in order to build community, you must make it a habit. Just as we dedicate time to research, teaching and writing, it is equally important to dedicate time to developing a network of peers to learn from and connect with other BILPOC junior and senior faculty beyond my disciplines."

The next meeting of the BILPOC faculty mentoring group will be a lunch gathering led by Janell Hobson, professor in the Department of Women's, Gender & Sexuality Studies, on Oct. 12. See below for additional information on upcoming meetings.

Contact Carmen Serrano to get involved.


    BILPOC Faculty Mentoring Group Programming: Fall 2022

    Lunch gathering led by Janell Hobson, professor in the Department of Women's, Gender & Sexuality Studies 

    October 12, 2022 at noon 

    Location: 1844 Restaurant, on the second floor of the Campus Center 

    BILPOC Research Presentations - via Zoom

    October 14, 2022 at 2:30 to 3:30 p.m. 

    • Governmental Dead-Ends, Social Detours and Civic Shortcuts: Theorizing Urban Black America’s Political Pathways — Francisco Vieyra (Sociology) 

    • Coordinating Coadaptation – Planning for Ecosystem Migrations within Managed Retreat in New York StateJared Enriquez (Geography & Planning) 

    • Race and Ethnic Differences in Physical Activity, Osteopenia and Osteoporosis: Results From NHANES 2009-2010, 2013-2014, 2017-2018Elizabeth Vásquez (School of Public Health)

    BILPOC Research Presentation - via Zoom 

    November 18, 2022 at 2:30 p.m. 

    Stories From the Front of the Room: How Faculty of Color Overcome Challenges and Thrive in the Academy —  Michelle Harris (Africana Studies)


    The BILPOC faculty mentoring group thanks the following University at Albany offices for their generous support:

    • The Office of Diversity and Inclusion

    • The Department of Languages, Literatures and Cultures

    • The College of Arts and Sciences

    • The School of Public Health