University Opens Academic Center for Equity and Inclusion Cassagnol credits student activism for new opening


Torch Photo/Amanda Negretti

The ACEI opened days after the University introduced the Inclusivity Resource Center.

Jillian Ortiz, Assistant Copy Editor

St. John’s University’s latest diversity initiative, the Academic Center for Equity and Inclusion (ACEI), opened its doors on Monday, Oct. 8 on the fourth floor of St. Augustine Hall. The new space comes on the heels of the opening of the Inclusivity Resource Center, which opened last month on Friday, Sept. 28.  

The goal of the ACEI is to “foster personal and institutional accountability for the University’s mission of ‘respect for the rights of every person’ and advancement of the global common good,” according to the University website.

As the Inclusivity Resource Center serves as a resource center for students, the ACEI serves the same purpose for faculty. It is a faculty-led initiative that seeks to work towards the incorporation of pedagogical practices that strive toward equity and inclusion in the classroom.

“This provides a space where I’m centralizing equity and inclusion and you’re (faculty) here also centralizing equity and inclusion, you’re bringing this work forward, and now I am able to see what you’re doing and ways that we can probably collaborate and think about things,” Manouchkathe Cassagnol, director of the ACEI, said on the role of faculty in the ACEI.

“Even though this is a faculty development hub, there is an arm in that — that we first of all need to align ourselves with students that are advocating for change. That’s been the tradition of this group, the faculty that sit in these spaces that have been part of the working group,” Cassagnol said.

Sophomore Dana Livingston likes the idea of faculty collaborating to educate each other on pertinent issues, particularly equity and inclusion in the classroom.

“Who are the people responsible for building the students that are going to be future leaders? The teachers. I think that it’s cool that they have a place to go to learn, and not to speak from a place of ignorance,” Livingston said.

The Grand Opening took place over the course of several hours, beginning with a ceremony in the D’Angelo Center Living Room followed by faculty poster presentations of their work towards equity and inclusion, a session titled “Pass the Mic,” where professors were able to speak further on the pedagogical practices that they instill in the classroom.

The session featured 10-minute presentations about inclusive pedagogy by St. John’s professors Vibhuti Arya and Joanne M. Carroll of the College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences; Olga Mariella Bonilla, Jeremy V. Cruz and Judith Ryder of the St. John’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and Liz Chase of the School of Education.

Cruz noted the importance of bringing different discussions regarding equity and inclusion through different pedagogical approaches into the classroom.

“I’ve really been looking at the limits of liberal arts education and its capacity to challenge insurgent racism, xenophobia, sexism, fascism,” Cruz said during the session. “A pedagogy of neutrality or a pedagogy that says, ‘gotta hear both sides,’ cannot disrupt that dynamic.”

After the “Pass the Mic” session, there was a brief faculty poster viewing followed by the evening symposium, the concluding portion of the event, which included a discussion with Tommy Orange, author of the book “There There.”

Arriving at the opening day of the ACEI was not an easy process, it was an idea that took two years to come to fruition.  

“We did do a benchmark analysis, we did do a SWOT analysis [Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats; a strategic planning technique], we did a faculty climate survey which will be published on our website, we did a strategic plan. We sat down to think about, ‘Okay, well how do we operationalize this?’ So, the next step is going to be putting the people in place so we can operationalize the strategic plan,” Cassagnol said.

The opening of the ACEI, although a milestone in SJU history, was the easy part. Going forward, Cassagnol knows there is more work to be done to achieve the desired results.

“The real work is about to start, but I feel very confident that I have the support of the University’s leadership in moving us forward, and certainly there’s a coalition of faculty who really are fully invested, and they have been,” she said. “Now we have a space to operationalize that investment.”