In October 2017, 300 student protesters stormed a faculty assembly meeting chanting, “No more oppression, no microaggressions,” and demanding administrative action to address discrimination against students of color. Two years later, the college hired Dr. Tuesda Roberts as the new director of faculty development and diversity.
Since joining the college, Roberts facilitated five workshops to help faculty make their classes more diverse and inclusive. The college created the new position in June 2019.
The workshops happen throughout the semester and take place in different locations around campus. Roberts also holds one-on-one consultations in person or over the phone with faculty members about the structure of their classes or the content of their syllabi to incorporate more inclusive subject matter for students. She also holds listening sessions for professors and meets with faculty and student groups on campus.
Roberts is facilitating and co-facilitating three different workshops and abbreviated versions this semester, one of which titled “Diversity as a Goal, Competence, and Objective.” This workshop focuses on professors helping students develop equity-infused learning objectives and helps faculty members merge the content of their class with relevant issues of equity and diversity for a more cohesive learning experience.
Roberts said the baseline introductory workshop teaches faculty members about the importance of students’ and professors’ identities and how those identities are presented in the classroom. Assistant Vice President for Faculty Affairs Carol Parker said that, since 2016, the college has required all professors to take part in an introductory diversity workshop that used to be taught by Vice President for Equity and Social Justice Sylvia Spears and Assistant Performing Arts Professor Bethany Nelson.
“Students come up with full backgrounds, religion, ability, gender, race—they come in with all of that and so do professors,” Roberts said. “We have to be very conscious of how that presents opportunities and how we can respond when issues related to bias or discrimination come up in the classroom.”
The college hired the North Carolina native after Protesting Oppression With Educational Reform started a petition on Change.org in fall 2017 calling for a new full-time position to teach faculty competency training.
Roberts and Parker are planning longer and more intensive workshops for faculty in the future through the Academic Affairs Department.
“There is only so much you can do in a couple of hours,” Parker said in an interview. “You can do a lot and plant a lot of seeds, but you can go deeper [with more time].”
Roberts returned Oct. 4 from conducting one-on-one faculty consultations with Jeremy Heflin, associate director of English-language learning at Kasteel Well, and plans to visit the Los Angeles campus in the future. Parker said it’s important that staff members participate in the introductory workshops on all Emerson campuses.
Spears said Roberts’ teaching experience made her stand out in the hiring process.
“Tuesda [Roberts] has a deep knowledge and expertise about teaching and learning,” Spears said. “I find her to be incredibly grounded and analytical, which I think is a strength when you’re trying to do work that can ultimately be very emotional or volatile.”
In 2009, Roberts considered applying to doctorate programs when she and her cousin discovered a letter from the early 1900s at her grandmother’s house from a woman inquiring about a teaching position. The letter was addressed to Roberts’ great-grandfather, who was on the board of a one-room segregated schoolhouse.
“I took this as confirmation of ‘Yeah, you need to go ahead and do this,’ because although he was not an educator himself it was clear that he valued education,” Roberts said. “That carried through in how my grandmother raised her children and how they raised us.”
Roberts said she is enjoying the creativity of faculty and students alike at Emerson.
“I really like the fact that I don’t know what a professor might come to me concerning—it might be about scriptwriting, it could be about basic syllabus construction, it could be about journalism, you just never know,” Roberts said.
Spears said she is excited to see a long-term impact from the work that Roberts is doing at Emerson.
“Her ability to support faculty to do their best teaching is going to have a significant impact,” Roberts said. “If the faculty are thriving, engaged, and excited about teaching complex issues which our students are calling for, then it means the educational experience for all students will be enhanced.”