ODI Announces UAlbany's 2023-24 Diversity Transformation Award Winners

The image includes five individual portraits of the winners: Melissa Tracy (woman with straight dark hair, gray dress), Stephanie Hassan Richardson (woman with long brown dreadlocks, black and white patterned top, beaded hoop earrings), Tammy Ellis-Robinson (woman with curly dark hair pulled back, black top, bright red scarf), Camelia Lenart (woman with short dark hair, striped top, fuchsia blazer), and Leandra Harris (woman with short black twists, black top, silver beaded necklace, hoop earrings).
Clockwise from top left: Melissa Tracy, Stephanie Hassan Richardson, Tammy Ellis-Robinson, Camelia Lenart and Leandra Harris. (Photos provided)

By Erin Frick

ALBANY, N.Y. (Dec. 12, 2023) — Five new initiatives designed to enhance the culture of inclusivity at the University at Albany are poised to kick off in 2024, thanks to the Office of Diversity and Inclusion’s (ODI) annual Diversity Transformation Award (DTA) grants.

Projects funded in this award cycle aim to unite student dancers through hip-hop, explore intersectional research methods, cultivate inclusive spaces, celebrate UAlbany’s self-reliant scholars and connect current and prospective educators of color.

The DTA program, which began during the 2012-2013 school year, offers UAlbany faculty, staff and graduate students an opportunity to earn funding in support of innovative events, programs or research initiatives aiming to promote diversity and foster inclusiveness within the UAlbany community.

“Our vision to be the nation’s leading diverse public research university includes the need to be intentional about creating collaborative co-curricular educational opportunities,” said Samuel Caldwell, chief diversity officer and associate vice president of diversity and inclusion. “It is noteworthy that dozens of proposal ideas were submitted for consideration this year, more than double the number that were submitted in 2022.

“Fostering a campus climate where inclusive excellence thrives requires us to leverage the value of diverse perspectives, identify innovative pedagogical approaches and increase cultural competence. Our strategic plan makes clear UAlbany’s steadfast commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion, and these awards reflect both the creativity of our community and a campus-wide passion for realizing this commitment."

The award selection committee included representatives from across campus, including two students. For this award cycle, 27 applications were submitted, with five winning proposals.

Congratulations to the 2023-24 award recipients:
Dancing Dialogues: Hip-Hop, Diversity and Collaboration

Project lead: Camelia Lenart, Department of History, College of Arts and Sciences

Beyond her faculty role, Camelia Lenart is a trained dancer who has served as the advisor to the UAlbany Dance Council, the largest dance club on campus, for over six years. “Dancing Dialogues” aims to bring student dancers from UAlbany’s various dance clubs together with the Dance Council to explore hip-hop as an artistic and social movement while engaging with guest speakers.

During two collaborative sessions planned for early spring 2024, students will learn about hip-hop as a cultural genre and medium used to communicate identity, embodied memory and cultural history. Students will then work together to choreograph hip-hop dances which they will perform at the UAlbany Dance Concert in May.

“As hip-hop celebrates its 50th anniversary this year, this felt like a perfect opportunity to bring students who dance all sorts of different styles together to learn about hip-hop and develop a hip-hop performance together,” said Lenart, who is a lecturer in the History Department. “Many of our students already dance hip-hop; it’s linked to their generation. The academic component will deepen students’ knowledge of hip-hop’s social and historical meanings.

“Through my involvement with the Dance Council, I’ve had the opportunity to see how deeply talented our students are. At the same time, I’ve also noticed a need to expand the diversity of students involved in the Council. Part of this project aims to create a flow among the dancing clubs on campus. Students dance their emotions; they dance their backgrounds. Their movement is so much more than a dance, and my hope is that this collaborative project will help deepen their affinity as dancers and as people.”

Enhancing Intersectionality Research and Education

Project lead: Melissa Tracy, Department of Epidemiology & Biostatistics, School of Public Health

Intersecting identities span the continuum of gender, race, age, sexual orientation, disability and socioeconomic status. Together, these traits play a profound role in shaping our everyday experiences, yet few research methods effectively capture and quantify the ways that intersectionality influences critical areas like health, education and career trajectories.

Melissa Tracy, an associate professor at the School of Public Health, developed the “Enhancing Intersectionality Research and Education” program to offer students and faculty an opportunity to learn about cutting-edge research methods that are being developed to examine inequalities across intersectional identities.

“Many of our students are deeply interested in looking at intersectionality and how it affects different health outcomes. Instead of studying effects of traits such as sex, race, gender identity or sexual orientation separately, students want to understand how different combinations of these identities produce or exacerbate risks and harmful health outcomes.

“In epidemiology, this has been difficult because we use quantitative approaches that treat each characteristic of a person separately. When you try to look at intersecting identities, you run into limitations such as sample size. To address this problem, researchers in several fields have been developing better methods to quantitatively analyze intersectionality in health-related research.”

The planned program includes an initial workshop with an invited speaker who has pioneered methods in intersectionality research, followed by two coffee sessions for students and faculty to discuss ways to implement these new methods and develop curriculum materials to guide departments across campus interested in adopting them.

Conceptualizing, Implementing, & Sustaining Inclusive Spaces

Project leads: Stephanie Hassan Richardson and Allison Craig, Writing & Critical Inquiry Program

In Spring 2023, the Program in Writing & Critical Inquiry (WCI) held a workshop on intersectional antiracism for students, faculty and staff.

“Many of the issues addressed at our spring event centered the rights and experiences of the LGBTQ+ community as well as people of color,” said Stephanie Hassan Richardson, director of the Writing & Critical Inquiry Program. “From watching how students were engaged at that event, it was clear that they wanted an opportunity to tell their own stories and highlight that their experiences are nuanced; they also voiced a need for the university to better support and respond to their multifaceted identities.”

This spurred WCI’s Antiracism and Intersectional Justice Committee to develop “Conceptualizing, Implementing, & Sustaining Inclusive Spaces” a series of programs which will provide opportunities for UAlbany community members to build the skills needed to create inclusive spaces in the classroom, across campus and beyond.

The series will include two professionally facilitated workshops — one for faculty and one for students — as well as virtual presentations by nationally renowned guest speakers who have played a pioneering role in the development of inclusivity-centered pedagogy and written works. At the end of the series, interested students will have the opportunity to work with faculty advisors to form a new student group centered on the goal of developing a culture of intersectionality on campus.

“The workshop for faculty and staff will focus on how we engage in community spaces and how unrealized biases can be brought into the classroom,” said Allison Craig, WCI assistant director and lecturer II. “The workshop for students will focus on the classroom experience, including ways to foster empowerment and resiliency in the face of homophobia and racism, and identify and implement effective strategies for change.”

Invited guests will include Brian Arao, Kristi Clemens, Aja Martinez, Carol Tonge Mack and Rachel Breidster. Events are slated to run throughout the spring semester.

Members of WCI's Antiracism and Intersectional Justice Committee include Rumi Coller-Takahashi, Allison V. Craig, Susan G. Cumings, Sarah Giragosian, Moriah Hampton, Stephanie Hassan Richardson, Courtney B. Ryan, Stefan Vogel and Graysen Wolfe.

Together We Dine: A Self-Reliant Scholars Event

Project lead: Leandra Harris, Office of the Dean of Students

Associate Dean of Students Leandra Harris coined the term “self-reliant scholars” as an inclusive way to refer to students who are orphans, wards of the state or those with a history in the foster care system, who face unique challenges in academic settings. “Together We Dine: A Self-Reliant Scholars Event” will mark the revitalization of services offered to UAlbany’s self-reliant students and highlight resources available to help them succeed.

University partners from the Office of the Dean of Students, the School of Social Welfare, Educational Opportunities Program, Residential Life, Financial Aid and several off-campus partners are committed to this effort, which will include assessing the university’s services for self-reliant students and identifying areas for improvement. The kickoff event, a dinner to be held in Spring 2024, will bring together students, task force members, and local self-reliant alums to network, share resources and cultivate mentor-mentee connections.

“Before COVID, UAlbany's self-reliant scholar population had a thriving student group that met regularly and advocated for changes on their behalf,” said project lead Leandra Harris. “With support from Dr. Sarah Mountz from the School of Social Welfare and Angeleek Johnson from the Educational Opportunities Program, the self-reliant scholars motivated several offices to develop policies and procedures that successfully improved their ability to navigate and benefit from UAlbany's campus resources.

“The task force members continue to meet, but many of the scholars who would benefit from our work are unknown to us. The task force would like to reestablish the relationship between administrators and this group so we may continue to address their needs as they arise and advocate for policy changes that truly benefit them.”

Beloved Community Intergenerational Mentorship Project

Project lead: Tammy Ellis-Robinson, Department of Educational & Counseling Psychology, School of Education

The “Beloved Community Intergenerational Mentorship Project” will bring local high school students and educators of color together with undergrads, grad students and faculty of color from UAlbany’s School of Education to engage in conversations centering career exploration in the fields of education and mental health counseling in a P-12 setting.

Through a series of four gatherings, the intergenerational network of prospective and current educators will share their experiences and develop mentorship relationships. The book “Textured Teaching” will provide a social justice frame to guide discussions around topics like goal setting and navigating college through early career experiences.

“We began convening prospective and current educators of color over five years ago, to work on unpacking the challenges of entering the field and to encourage more students of color to consider careers in education and mental health counseling in a school setting,” said Tammy Ellis-Robinson, assistant professor in the Department of Educational & Counseling Psychology and director of equity and inclusion at the School of Education. “We've found that those deep interpersonal connections make a big difference in helping the young people, both college and high school students, think about and see themselves as educators.

“During the two virtual and two in-person gatherings, participants in this series will discuss questions such as: Why be an educator? What has been your experience in school? What has been a positive experience in terms of education and social justice and equity? What would you want to change and how could we change it?”

The first interactive workshop is planned for January 2024. At the last event, participants will create a podcast to share insights generated throughout the discussion series.

This project follows on the success of the “Equity in Education Summit: The Black and Brown Experience,” which was the recipient of a 2022 Diversity Transformation Award.