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Dean’s Fellows Work for Equity, Better Dialogue

Sharon Boateng, in blue t-shirt, covers her mouth as she laughs in front of brick wall.
Sharon Boateng ’23 is one of 17 Dean’s Fellows, working to foster equity and dialogue in Emerson classrooms and beyond. Courtesy photo

As a first-year student, Sharon Boateng ’23 was thrust into completely unfamiliar territory.

Born in Ghana, the Journalism major moved to Nigeria at age 7, before arriving in Worcester, Massachusetts in the middle of high school. As a young woman of color, relatively new to the U.S. and brand new to Emerson, Boateng said she had difficulty processing and expressing her feelings when met with microaggressions and discrimination.  

Today, Boateng is learning not just how to express herself in the face of inequity, but how to work to advance equity initiatives across the College – and one day, beyond – as one of 17 inaugural Dean’s Fellows. One of her first goals is to help new college students like her.

“Coming into Emerson as a freshman, not being in America for that long at the time, I was scared,” Boateng said. “Even for an American student, college is a big transition. I just want to have space for freshmen to have difficult conversations, and also to hear them out and have them feel heard.”

The Dean’s Fellowship Program, an initiative of the Office of Academic Affairs and the Deans’ Council, was created to help support the personal and professional development of undergraduate students working toward a more equitable and just Emerson.

It is one initiative launched as part of the Emerson’s Community Equity Action Plan, a series of commitments the College is making related to the #ESOCWeekOfAction Student Demands and in support of Access: Student Disability Union’s Access Advocacy Project.

Fellows, who were selected from both the School of the Arts and the School of Communication, as well as the Marlboro Institute of Liberal Arts and Interdisciplinary Studies, receive scholarship money for their efforts. Through the program, they work with their dean’s leadership team, faculty, BIPOC student groups, and others on campus to facilitate conversations and initiatives that promote racial justice, equity, inclusion, and healing in Emerson’s academic departments.

Dean Rob Sabal said the School of the Arts has eight students serving as Dean’s Fellows for Racial Equity this year. While the program is still in development, he said Fellows will plan and produce student events, advise department chairs and himself on matters affecting students, and promote intergroup dialogue on campus.

“These students, representing the full range of departments and classes, are dedicated to a joyful and creative practice that celebrates students of color and international students,” Sabal said. “We’re very excited to welcome this inaugural group, who will set the contours of the program for years to come.”

Pranit Chand, one of four Dean’s Fellows for the Marlboro Institute, arrived at Emerson last fall from Marlboro College, where he was studying, and continues to study, data science and economics through an Interdisciplinary Studies major.

Both Chand and Boateng had already begun working on equity issues at Emerson last year, as academic senators on the Student Government Association (SGA).

While doing diversity, equity, and inclusion work can be “disheartening” for students of color – heavy on plans, lighter on action – Chand said that “definitely doing all of that work made me realize this is something I’m really passionate about, as well as something that really affects me as a student of color myself.”

He said one of the things he really appreciates about the Dean’s Fellowship is the educational aspect. One component of the program so far has been a biweekly class in which Fellows learn how to conduct intergroup dialogue around difficult topics – a skill the entire College could use.

“Having that conversation with one problematic peer or having that conversation with [a] faculty [member] who just doesn’t understand your perspective, language barriers, those are always tough to navigate,” Chand said. “It takes a lot of time to understand, [and] as an institution we have a lot of work to do, but we’re heading in the right direction.”

By fostering a discussion around race and equity, it acknowledges that students of colors should not be expected to educate their white peers and faculty.

Chand also appreciates the Fellows program from a professional development standpoint.

“I’m someone who believes things like DEI and understanding diversity [are] going to be really substantial in the workplace in the coming years,” he said. “Getting ahead in those things as well, I think it’s going to be helpful in whatever career one chooses.”

Vice Provost for Internationalization and Equity Anthony Pinder said that in addition to supporting the Fellows personally and professionally, the program “also respects where these students are in their journey.

“The program is another example of the College’s attempts to make the best programmatic decisions to take students to their next level of success. I am especially impressed by this inaugural cohort of Fellows, and equally inspired by what they are teaching us.”

2021-2022 Dean’s Fellows

School of the Arts:

HanYing Du ‘22
Media Arts Production

Brianna Jackman ‘23
Writing, Literature and Publishing (4+1 Master’s)

Shehrbano Hasan ‘24
Creative Writing

Beyonce Martinez ‘24
Theatre and Performance

Sean Myers ‘24
Theatre Education and Performance

Gabriella Pérez ‘23
Writing, Literature and Publishing

Karungi Tibbs ‘22
Media Arts Production

Jake Tolentino ‘24

School of Communication:

Sonali Anand ‘22
Political Communication

Anne Bennett ‘22

Sharon Boateng ‘23

Daniel Luppino ‘24
Communication Studies

Shruti Rajkumar ‘22

Marlboro Institute:

Maxx Carr ‘23
Creative Writing; Honors Program

Pranit Chand ‘23
Interdisciplinary Studies (IDS): Data Science and Economics

Karthik Ramaswami ‘22
Individually Designed Interdisciplinary Program (IDIP): Entertainment, Business and Performance; Honors Program

Justina Thompson ‘24
Media Studies; Honors Program

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