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Faculty Women of Color in the Academy inspires support among Emory women
women at Academy event

Paula G. Gomes (left), executive director of the Faculty Staff Assistance Program, shares the range of personal and professional services available to help Emory employees thrive.

A group of Emory women of color gathered last month to celebrate the launch of the new academic year and learn about professional development opportunities, including Faculty Women of Color in the Academy (FWCA). Some attendees were familiar with the national organization and its annual conferences; others were interested in learning more about FWCA, which supports the scholarship and careers of women of color by addressing such topics as the intersection of scholarship and activism and how to expand networks of support in the academy.

Transformation and growth emerged as themes for the evening, which included welcome remarks from Pearl K. Dowe, vice provost for faculty affairs, and Carol E. Henderson, vice provost for diversity and inclusion and the university’s chief diversity officer; reflections from Provost Ravi V. Bellamkonda; and a presentation by Paula G. Gomes, executive director of Emory’s Faculty Staff Assistance Program (FSAP).

Bellamkonda shared a vision of an Emory in which community members are invested in each other’s concerns and success — a message in alignment with the goals of Emory’s women of color, including strengthening inclusive belonging. Henderson, who is also an adviser to President Gregory L. Fenves, noted the strong resonance between Bellamkonda’s vision and the goals of One Emory.

“We want to create an academic environment — a campus community — where all of us are concerned about each of us at Emory and our ability to fulfill our educational mission and individual purpose with the authenticity of who we are as humans,” Henderson said.

Following Bellamkonda’s remarks, Gomes explained FSAP services and contributions to Emory’s culture of wellness. Personal counseling, professional coaching, emotional wellness education and outreach workshops and services focused on care for the self and team can empower faculty, staff, teams and departments to thrive. These services also encourage community collaboration in support of inclusive belonging and the goals of One Emory.

At the conclusion of the evening’s formal agenda, attendees discussed their experiences with the FWCA conference. Leaders in the Office of Diversity, Equity and InclusionFaculty Affairs and Laney Graduate School have identified FWCA as a promising educational and professional opportunity in response to research confirming women of color face unique challenges in higher education at a national level, including heavy service burdens, microaggressions, uneven salaries and inequitable valuations of their work.

“The conference provides pathways for the preparation of attendees’ academic success. Through carefully curated sessions, it fosters a culture and climate that makes space to pursue academic ideas and opportunities for self-discovery,” said Nicole Ingram, director of programs and special initiatives in the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion.

In 2020, the three units sponsored the attendance of an Emory cohort of 10 self-nominating graduate and postdoctoral students and 10 faculty members selected across schools, ranks and disciplines. They have since sponsored the attendance of two additional cohorts.

Carol Flowers St. John, associate vice provost for faculty affairs and inclusion, recalled attendees’ response to the conference.

“One wrote ‘I found the entire conference to be instrumental in my resetting of my own career presence and an affirmation of my journey’s hardships and continued headwinds,’” she said. “Another said simply, ‘It was transformative.’”

In April 2023, Sarahna A. Moyd, a doctoral candidate in Rollins School of Public Health’s Gangarosa Department of Environmental Health, was part of the Emory conference cohort. Immersed in dissertation research at the time, Moyd arrived questioning her path. She left the conference uplifted. “It was not just a conference,” she said. “It was an opportunity to learn what it means to be in academia as a whole person.” 

Yuhong Du, associate professor in the Department of Pharmacology and Chemical Biology in Emory School of Medicine and a 2023 conference attendee, described the experience as eye-opening. “I didn’t think of myself as a woman of color. I didn’t even know such a conference existed,” she said. Having many male colleagues, Du appreciated the conference as an opportunity to interact with women in other disciplines. She’s eager to continue engaging with FWCA, and brought colleague Kecheng Lei, an instructor in the Department of Neurosurgery, to meet the group and learn more about FWCA.

Of transformative experiences like Du’s, Flowers St. John noted, “It is so important for faculty, especially faculty women of color in the academy, to participate in professional development opportunities. The feedback we receive each year assures us we are supporting Emory faculty in a consequential way.”

Tanya Jones, an executive administrative assistant in the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, was familiar with these efforts, but hearing women speak of them changed something for her. Feeling the camaraderie in the room, Jones said, “This feels like partnering. Sharing ideas and getting support from people willing to help and offer guidance brings all of us out of our silos.”

Dowe, too, noticed the impact of the women’s conversations, comparing the gathering’s vibrant energy to that of the conference itself.

“For me, this confirms the value of a space in which faculty women of color know Emory supports them as do other Emory women,” Dowe said. “The impact of this type of affirmation cannot be understated. It’s critical to women’s success as scholars, teachers and leaders at our institution.

Eligible women of color will receive an email notification when the FWCA conference self-nomination process opens.

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