Rio’s Black History Month Panel Talked About Inspiration, Education, & Belonging


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Thursday, March 21, 2024
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As part of our annual celebration of Black History Month, Rio Salado College hosted a virtual panel discussion on Feb. 26. Titled Resilience and Brilliance: The Power of Black Women in Higher Education Panel, the event was organized by Rio’s DEIB Council to foster a conversation about the significant impact and achievements of Black women in academia.

The event was moderated by Rio Student Services and DEI leader Dortrecia Adelis, who deftly introduced the panelists. The panel consisted of fellow Rio educator Dr. Latrice Gettings, Rio students Beka Namachanja and Tara Hayman, and two out-of-state guests: Dr. Nikiya McWilliams from California State University, Northridge (CSUN) and Dr. Marla Goins from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV). These six women represented a broad spectrum of professional expertise, with deep backgrounds in equity studies, teaching, new media production, social studies, Black feminism, addictions and substance abuse counseling, political science, and behavioral studies.

After some opening remarks and acknowledgements from Rio Salado President Kate Smith (DEIB Executive Officer Reina Ferrufino was also present for the discussion), the panelists launched into a spirited and nuanced dialogue about their influences and experiences as Black women in academia. Hayman talked about the difficulty of going back to school in her 40's and how she stayed motivated by wanting to set a positive example for her young daughters: "If you want it, you have to fight for it." Namachanja shared her love for Charles Dickens' A Tale of Two Cities and how reading that seminal classic helped fuel her lifelong love of learning.

The renowned sociologist and civil rights activist W.E.B. Du Bois was one of several touchstones in the panel discussion, with Adelis in particular talking about how reading DuBois at the age of 5 opened her eyes. Another common thread was the importance of community and tradition, of the wisdom of elders and the fiery inspiration of youth.

"There is a lot you can learn from other people's lived experiences," Dr. Gettings remarked, noting how the influence of her paternal aunt helped her "get over the barrier of myself" as she pursued her education.

A fascinating vein mined by the panel was how crucial representation is for students. Many panelists agreed that the experience of growing up and not having any Black instructors in school was alienating for them. Part of the importance of the more prominent role Black women have played in academia is leading by example, by their very presence, to show Black students what can be possible by being there to help model it.  

Dr. Goins talked about Du Bois' concept of double consciousness—of perceiving yourself and the world not just through your own worldview but through the lens of whiteness as well. Dr. Goins explained how exhausting it can be to have to manage the expectations of others and negotiate how other people see you. The question of how to bring yourself into a space and make it comfortable weighed heavily on Dr. Goins' mind.

"If I'm able to fully be myself, I can more fully contribute to the world in my workplace," Dr. Goins said. 

Dr. McWilliams spoke about her pride in not fitting into the existing structure.

"I do not want to belong amongst the dysfunction, the injustice, the disguised hatred that takes place with a smile while claiming DEI ideals in academia," McWilliams said.

Clocking in at just under an hour and a half, the panelists had a wide-ranging conversation about mentorship, adversity, and their hopes for the future. It was honest, heartfelt, and at times hilarious: the kind of open and thoughtful discourse that we strive to see more at our future events.

But hey, don’t take our word for it: see the conversation for yourself.

Watch Panel Discussion Now


Article by Austin Brietta