Black Faculty and Staff Association Provides Community and Support | Latest | NDWorks
In the photo above, left to right, are Black Faculty and Staff Association officials Karmen Duke, Treasurer; Cynthia Reeves, vice-president; Brianna May, President; and StÃ©phanie Washington, secretary.
history teacher Richard Pierce, a specialist in the urban experience of blacks in twentieth-century America, did not set out to create Notre Dame’s first Employee Resource Group (ERG). He simply saw the need for an affinity group for black faculty and staff, which he co-founded with a colleague. Rev. Hugh R. Page in 2004.
âThere were African American professors and staff who found themselves alone in their department; managers who were the only ones in their unit. There was loneliness and fatigue. They didn’t feel supported in their work, challenged for their authority and questioned about their abilities, âsaid Pierce, who joined Notre Dame in 1996.
Pierce recalled that some black professors and staff are literally looking for community – knocking on his door and on the doors of other black faculties, needing an attentive ear.
âWe felt there was an opportunity to collectively join together and share our stories, to provide peer support, to strengthen each other and to offer solace,â said Pierce. So a group formed and began to meet every month in a banquet hall at the Morris Inn.
âIt’s good to be in a traveling companion’s room, to share a cup of tea or coffee, to just let loose in a safe place. It’s significant, âPierce said.
Friendships were formed. A community has been formed.
In 2014, the group was formalized as Association of Black Professors and Staff (BFSA), creating a charter, statutes and a board of directors. Pierce served as president for several terms.
In 2017, the group voted to become a ERG, sponsored by human resources. Pierce had reservations. He feared that the genuine sense of community would be lost.
While HR terms such as networking, professional development, and advancement may appear more at BFSA meetings than in the past, Pierce understands that such efforts help the University retain black talent. He noted, however, that the teachers and staff who move to South Bend to join Notre Dame have more than anything needed from the community.
âRetention was one of the things we were trying to achieve – retention across the community, âsaid Pierce, who sits on the BFSA board as past president providing a historical perspective to current leaders.
Much like when the group formed in 2004, Pierce said there was an ongoing desire for community among the black professors and staff at Notre Dame.
It was clear in May 2020 following the murder of George Floyd which led to the rise of racial tensions across the country. Once again, BFSA provided a safe space to speak, this time on Zoom rather than in a banquet hall, as most faculty and staff were working from home due to the pandemic.
âPeople shared their hurt and pain. It was a throwback to previous times, the community aspect of it, âsaid Pierce. âWe also laughed a lot. We told jokes, maybe to cover up the pain. The African American community has endured many episodes of pain and so we have developed coping mechanisms over generations and laughter is one of them. Thus, the BFSA draws on the mechanisms of shared intergenerational comfort that allow survival. “
Brianna may, a Senior Financial Aid Advisor, had just started her two-year term as President when BFSA launched the weekly listening sessions. Over the weeks, she was struck by the feeling of hope that emanated from it. In an era when people were isolated in their homes, there was a virtual place to go to play games, laugh, and share stories and information, just like friends do.
âBecause there is this little black community on campus, we can celebrate every other and meet people at Notre-Dame that we might not otherwise meet, âshe said.
Sometimes BFSA extends its reach to black students, offering support when faced with acts of racial aggression on campus.
âWhen the Africana Studies Department bulletin board was degraded and chicken bones were left in the African Students Association mailbox, we galvanized support for these organizations and individuals. We have been a resource for the students, âsaid Pierce.
The BFSA is perhaps the best kept secret on campus, said Cynthia reeves, deputy director of international affairs for students and academics.
âI’ve been on campus for 10 years and think I was here for five or six years before I even knew it,â Reeves said.
As Vice-President of BFSA, she intends to spread the word. She encourages interested professors and staff to visit the BFSA website to subscribe to receive the group’s e-newsletter and find out about upcoming events. All members of the campus community are welcome to join BFSA.