Group reunites U employees of color

After decades, the Black Faculty and Staff Association re-formed in May.

by Hailey Colwell

After years of hiatus, a group for African-American faculty and staff members re-formed in May and is now examining the black employee experience at the University of Minnesota.

The Black Faculty and Staff Association is looking to curb the isolation that some employees of color still experience on campus after a similar organization at the University disbanded decades ago.

Some of the group’s members are the only faculty or staff members of color in their department, said Alysia Lajune, the group’s president and assistant to the University’s vice president for equity and diversity.

The BFSA recently held a gathering called “The Only Ones” for these employees to meet and share their experiences.

“There’s still that feeling of, ‘I have to carry myself a certain way,’” said Lajune, who has experienced being a department’s only person of color.

The group is also conducting a survey to gain a better understanding of black employee satisfaction at the University.

As of Sept. 16, 154 employees had completed the survey, which closed Monday. Respondents reported an overall positive experience in their departments, with a more positive experience at the University as a whole.

However, 38 percent of respondents said they don’t feel their needs as a black employee are being properly addressed by senior leadership. And 92 percent said they want to see more black employees at the University.

Owen Dunkley was the only black employee in the Continuing Medical Education department when he worked there last year. He said connecting at the BFSA event with others who had similar experiences reassured him that he’s not alone in feeling unsupported in his workplace.

Vice President for Equity and Diversity Katrice Albert said social affinity groups help create a “culture of respect” on campus, and an organization like BFSA will help with employee recruitment and retention by showing that the University has social networks for underrepresented employee

“It demonstrates that there is an established organization that can reduce isolation,” she said.

Lajune said the group has met with the Office of Human Resources to work on ways to recruit and retain employees of color at the University.

Native American and Latino employees have approached BFSA wanting to start their own group, Lajune said.

“There are no ‘steps’ for employees to start an affinity group,” she said, but BFSA plans to create a package explaining how to create groups like this on campus.

Albert said she expects to see other communities expressing interest in more social support on campus.

“There’s always one group that will be the trailblazer,” she said, “and then others will follow.”