Since she was appointed as the first-ever Chancellor’s Faculty Fellow last September, Faye Caronan has immersed herself in her new role, virtually meeting with campus leaders and brainstorming ways to make CU Denver a more just and equitable institution.
Caronan, PhD, head of Ethnic Studies at CU Denver, brings to the table a strong academic and personal perspective. An established scholar, Caronan’s research focuses on how race as a category is constructed and how scholarship can build understanding across racial categories. And, as a woman of color who earned her academic degrees at predominantly white institutions, she understands the challenges that students, faculty, and staff of color at CU Denver face.
The faculty fellow position is a result of Chancellor Marks’ 100 Days of Listening Tour, during which she led a series of listening sessions on issues of equity and racial justice. The candid feedback she received from faculty, staff, students, and alumni guided the development of her commitments for action for the next year. One of the first items she checked off her list was the appointment of Caronan.
Caronan joined the university in 2009 as an assistant professor, earned tenure, and now teaches as an associate professor and head of Ethnic Studies. During her time at CU Denver, she’s served on several student- and faculty-facing committees, including the CU Denver Asian American Staff and Faculty Group and advising Sibol, the Filipino American Student Club.
CU Denver News virtually sat down with Caronan to talk about lessons learned and accomplishments achieved as CU Denver’s first faculty fellow.
Can you provide some reflection on the past year? What were the some of the biggest challenges?
The biggest challenge for me was getting acclimated. At the very beginning of the fellowship, I felt a little over my head because I wasn’t used to talking to leadership, and meeting so many new people over Zoom was a bit overwhelming. But I really got to know all of the Cabinet members and deans, and it was very helpful for me to understand the structure of university leadership.
I’m committed to diversity, equity, and inclusion, (DEI) and social justice work. The fellowship has been an open charge, which is exciting but also challenging because I have had to figure out what is possible and what I can accomplish.
What were some of your accomplishments as the first faculty fellow?
When I first came on, one of the things I was really interested in exploring was, how do we change the culture of primary units so that they are more inclusive? In my experience as a person of color in a program whose faculty are primarily people of color, I didn’t face the same kind of microaggressions that other BIPOC faculty and staff have brought to light. I started thinking, if it can happen in my department, what do we need to do to make this happen in other departments?
In order for that change to happen across campus, we need resources. I had been talking to Nelia Viveiros, who at the time was the interim vice chancellor for diversity and inclusion and was exploring creating a way finder website of mental health resources. I thought, we should have a centralized website of resources for different people who are interested in DEI work—perhaps you’re a department chair who wants to start having discussions around pedagogy, for example. That’s one of the largest projects I’ve been pulling together. A lot of the work is asking different constituents across campus, what do you need? We are coordinating all the different pieces, but it’s well on its way.
Also, for the month of April, the School of Education and Human Development did a schoolwide reading of Dr. Ibram Kendi’s How to be an Antiracist. I’ve been thinking about how to scale that up as campus-wide, regular readings on similar DEI content.
What did you discover about diversity, equity, and inclusion at CU Denver and what’s in store for the future of DEI at the university?
Over the past year, I feel as though the networks of BIPOC faculty and staff have strengthened. My network prior to the pandemic was much smaller and limited to the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. Now, working with BIPOC faculty and staff across the university, I really feel like my network has grown. Plus, having regular meetings with the chancellor—both one-on-one and with other BIPOC faculty and staff—has made me feel like I’m part of a community, even when we have been physically apart. Knowing these different people across the university, and knowing that so many others are committed to DEI work, has been really powerful for me.
What are some words of advice you would give to the next faculty fellow?
Use the time to build relationships across the university. Don’t be intimidated—there is no reason to be. Have confidence that if you were chosen as the faculty fellow, you have a perspective and experience that is really important to bring to the table.
What are you looking forward to most about our plans to return to more in-person learning and activities this fall? What have you missed the most about in-person teaching?
Meeting people in person who I’ve only met on Zoom and getting to work physically together and not remotely! A lot of my teaching was already online prior to the pandemic, but my students would still come to my office hours to ask questions or just to talk. It’s been really hard to gauge how students are feeling when everything is virtual. I miss hearing what is on their minds and what their concerns are, and helping them address those concerns.