Professor named to advance diversity

  • Enobong (Anna) Branch, new faculty adviser to chancellor for diversity and excellence at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Contributed photo

For The Recorder
Published: 8/28/2016 9:22:53 PM

AMHERST — An advisory role established in 2013 to advance campus diversity has been filled at the University of Massachusetts.

Enobong Branch, associate professor of sociology, was named by Chancellor Kumble Subbaswamy to serve as his faculty adviser for diversity and excellence. The role was previously filled by Professor Amilcar Shabazz, who has returned to teaching in the Afro-American studies department.

Students at a forum late in 2015 had called for a greater response to incidents they deemed institutional racism.

The appointment, which is half-time for a two-term year, started Aug. 15. In her new role, Branch will serve on the Campus Leadership Council and be the chancellor’s representative to all campus groups, committees and councils involved in advancing diversity, according to UMass.

She also will be responsible for working with the Faculty Senate Status of Diversity Council and the Chancellor’s Diversity Advisory Committee, as well as members of the senior administration, staff, faculty and students, “to develop and implement appropriate academic initiatives to advance the campus’s diversity goals,” according to a university announcement.

A diversity plan completed last year established five goals to increase enrollment of people who belong to groups currently underrepresented at UMass. The goals involved better establishing the school as a top choice for those from underrepresented groups, improving the campus climate, enhancing diversity in programs and curriculum, recruiting, retaining and promoting diverse faculty and staff and increasing outreach to schools and communities with large minority populations.

Branch will also oversee the implementation of the diversity plan.

In a statement, Subbaswamy touted Branch’s academic research on race and gender, as well as her activities on and off campus as a demonstration of her “profound commitment to issues of inclusion and equity.”

Branch has nearly a decade of experience with UMass, starting with a postdoctoral fellow position in the sociology department in 2007. The following year, she was appointed to assistant professor, and then associate professor in 2013. Branch is also a faculty associate in the department of women, gender, and sexuality studies.

Subbaswamy said Branch’s appointment is an exciting chance to move forward in achieving and sustaining what he calls “inclusive excellence” at UMass.

“In its simplest form,” he said, the term refers to “a campus climate where all students, faculty and staff can thrive, where the race/ethnicity/nationality, gender, sexuality, class, religion and/or ability composition of your peers does not dictate your belonging or your chance of success.”

Branch will help to shape work on that front, he said. Her other experience includes working to ensure a diverse pool of candidates in faculty searches, helping to build a diverse support network for faculty of color, and founding the sociology department’s civility and equity committee.

Branch earned her doctorate in sociology at the State University of New York Albany and her bachelor of science degree in biology at Howard University. Her current work uses the lens of racial and gender inequality to look at rising employment insecurity in the post-industrial era, work funded by the National Science Foundation.

UMass is a campus that, in the past, has seen challenges with issues of diversity and inclusion.

Last year, an anti-Islam message was written on the university’s Fine Arts Center plaza. A swastika was found carved into a bathroom stall in an academic building. The school was also among many across the country to receive some 20,000 anti-Semitic fliers to printers and fax machines.

Still, Subbaswamy said there is “reason for optimism.”

Branch will bring new perspectives to these challenges, he said.

“We can build a more inclusive UMass if we work together,” the chancellor said.


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