NIU conference aims to diversify faculty at Illinois’ universities

Drawing more graduate students of color than ever before, an upcoming “Turning Fellows into Faculty” conference at NIU remains the only program of its kind in Illinois.

At least 70 Diversifying Faculty in Illinois (DFI) Fellowship recipients and other graduate students of color interested in the professoriate as a career path are expected at the fifth-annual statewide conference. The program will take place Friday-Saturday, Feb. 28-29 in the Holmes Student Center.

Janice Hamlet

“I am elated with pride at how much this conference has evolved,” said conference coordinator Janice Hamlet, Ph.D., an associate professor in the Department of Communication and a senior faculty mentor in the Office of the Provost.

“This is geared toward DFI fellows interested in becoming tenure-track professors, to expose them to all the types of institutions and opportunities available to them,” she said.

The upcoming conference will include students from 15 different institutions throughout the state—an “all-time high,” Hamlet said.

Hamlet started the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences event in 2015 to increase diversity among the professoriate. The DFI program annually provides competitive fellowship awards to about 100 students of color in Illinois.

A proponent of the program, Hamlet saw the need to recruit, encourage and educate those fellows to become professors in Illinois to counter the lack of diversity prevalent in universities nationwide.

“We need to do a more intentional job of recruiting faculty of color, so this conference is a way to try to contribute to increasing diversity among the professoriate,” Hamlet said.

The first conference drew 18 DFI fellows, and the program has grown more successful every year.

NIU Assistant Professor Shondra Clay of the College of Health and Human Sciences.

This year’s event will include research posters and digital presentations by some of the DFI fellows on Friday, Feb. 28. A welcome dinner will feature former DFI fellow and NIU Assistant Professor Shondra Clay, Ph.D., of the College of Health and Human Sciences, with the keynote speech, “Never Settle, Go Further, Reach Higher: From DFI Fellow to Tenure-Track Professor.”

Following the dinner, the NIU Black Graduate Student Association will sponsor a social for the DFI fellows. 

The Saturday, Feb. 29, workshop sessions, hosted by NIU faculty and higher education leaders from throughout the state, will include information on job market trends, the diversity of academic institutions, positioning yourself as a scholar in your discipline, creating and maintaining a hassle-free curriculum vitae, faculty roles and responsibilities, mentoring, establishing an online presence and preparing for interviews.

Other sessions will focus on “Negotiating Race, Gender, Sexuality in the Academy,” “Combating Cultural Taxation in Higher Education,” “Dr. Mom: The Challenges and Triumphs of Juggling Both Worlds,” and “Invisible Labor by Faculty of Color: Another Part of the Cultural Tax.”

Jerlando F.L. Jackson, Ph.D., from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, will present the Saturday, Feb. 29, keynote address, “Planning for Success: Being Strategic about the Promotion and Tenure Process.”

“Although we’re trying to promote the professoriate, we don’t paint a rosy picture for them,” Hamlet said.

“We let them know, as faculty of color, they’ll have challenges. For example, believe it or not, in this day and age, they will have students in their classes who will be surprised to see them there as professors. They may even have colleagues who are not as welcoming as they should be. Because of this conference, these prospective professors won’t be shocked by these challenges but will be prepared and committed to not only surviving but making a positive difference in academia.”

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