Minority Faculty Talk Higher Education

This article originally appeared in ZU News.


On Oct. 26, the Center for Diversity, Equity and Inclusive Excellence held a panel with four APU scholars who represent diversity on campus. The speakers shared their strategies for career success to a group of about 30 faculty and staff members.

The panelists each shared their background in academia and the lessons they have learned from their careers about overcoming racial boundaries and succeeding.

The first panelist was Christopher Bassey, Ph.D. Bassey is an African American professor in the department of mathematics and physics, and has worked at APU for the past nine years. He started a program at APU called DRIVE: Developing Real Interest Very Early for STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math). DRIVE workers of different races go to elementary schools to demonstrate science experiments for students.

According to Bassey, if a student learns from a teacher of the same race, they will be inspired and believe they can succeed in the subject because they see someone who resembles them thriving in the field.

“If students see them doing a thing like them, they can do it,” Bassey said.

The goal of DRIVE is to get students, especially minorities, interested in science at a young age. Bassey said it is important to help students understand the importance of science and planning.

“I always tell my students if you fail to plan, you plan to fail,” Bassey said.

Alexander Jun, Ph.D., a professor in the Department of Higher Education, a diversity ambassador and a qualitative research methods consultant also served as a panelist. Over the course of his nine years at APU, he has encountered several struggles in his career as an Asian minority.

“In a predominantly white institution it is hard to find mentors. It is hard to find people. Where am I going to find my voice?” Jun said. “I couldn’t find people who looked like me.”

Jun overcame many of the challenges he faced as a minority and joked with his colleagues on the panel about the lack of Asian college presidents. He is publishing a book with another colleague next year on white domination and delved into this process and what it was like to write a dissertation. Jun made it clear that to succeed in higher education, especially as a minority, a person needs passion.

“If you’re going to stay up late at night reading and writing about something, it better matter to you. It’s not trending or popular, it might get published. That should matter less,” Jun said.

Another panelist, Chong Ho Yu, Ph.D. also noted the challenges minorities face in higher education. When he started teaching higher-ed he noticed that only a couple of minority students were in his classes. Yu took a similar approach to Bassey in his teaching.

“I tell my students: if they can do it, you can do it,” Yu said.

Yu is an associate professor in the department of psychology and has been at APU for the past four years. Like Jun, Yu is also a quantitative research methods consultant for APU. Using his background, Yu noted a strategy for success.

“I don’t want to do what everybody else is doing,” Yu said.

The last panelist was Yvette Latunde, Ed.D., a professor in the department of teacher education and a diversity ambassador. Latunde in particular noticed the difference in performance of white students from minorities in elementary education.

“When I came to higher-ed, I kept hearing conversations about this deficit between African Americans and Latinos in schools. I kept hearing about all the issues but I couldn’t see any solutions and no one in my department was addressing it,” Latunde said.

Latunde decided to go into higher education after having a daughter. She studies the relationships between students and parents in education while taking a closer look at the role that parents play.

“For me it wasn’t a choice. It kind of chose me,” Latunde said.

The panel was hosted by Susan Warren, Ph.D. and Richard Martinez, Ph.D. from the Center for Diversity.

Warren is the director of the diversity programs for the Center for Diversity. She worked with Martinez to get the panelists and together they administered the questions for the audience.

“I think that it was very successful in that we had a variety of fields represented,” Warren said. “We had them sharing their strategies and they each did it in a different unique way but they gave specific ideas that I think faculty and staff were able to really think about.”

Martinez is the executive director for the Center for Diversity. He said he believes the center is being proactive in professional development.

“The more we’re having these intentional conversations at a session like this, then it stands to reason the more we will then see each other in new ways,” Martinez said.

The Center for Diversity holds several events and workshops for faculty and staff throughout the year to promote diversity. There will be a similar panel held in the spring concerning diversity among faculty and staff.