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Rutgers SPAA Celebrates Black History Month Via a Candid Conversation with Faculty

February 2021: Celebrating Black History Month with SPAA Faculty

In celebration of Black History Month, and to help mark the 15th anniversary of the school, Rutgers SPAA hosted a panel on Feb. 18 to facilitate a candid conversation with SPAA faculty and hear each individual’s reflections on a career in public administration as a person of color. The panelists included Dr. Cleopatra Charles, associate professor, Dr. Diane Hill, assistant professor of professional practice, and Dr. Charles Menifield, dean of Rutgers SPAA and the first African American dean of the school. Wendy Nicholson, a current doctoral student at SPAA, moderated the discussion.

The conversation centered around each panelist's experience within the public administration discipline, key motivations, their personal experiences as a person of color, the mentorships that helped, and their vision of the future as it should be. When asked about the motivating factor behind selecting public administration as the discipline for their professional trajectories, all three panelists had one common theme – they didn't start with public administration. Still, they saw the field as a way forward to work through societal injustices.

"Public administration work has a lot more utility in moving the needle for society forward.” said Dr. Menifield. “We do a lot of work that has some practical applications.”

As the discussion moved to their personal experiences, Dr. Hill said, "When I think about encountering racism or the 'ism's' – it was not just in public administration. It exists in the fabric of higher education. When you look across – whether it's the state or nationally – you just have to look and see... how many women, how many people of color…”

For Dr. Charles, it was about being “one of a few in the room.” Her educational experience did not include any African American professors – in her undergrad, master's, or PhD programs – and even as a public budgeting and finance scholar “seeing people who looked like me was not something that happened all the time,” she said.

All three panelists agreed that things have begun to change, not just at Rutgers-Newark but also at SPAA. Students from underrepresented populations have started to get more opportunities to pursue advanced degrees and there are more conversations surrounding racial injustice and intersectionality. However, they emphasized that we all need to continue working together, keep the conversations going, and use education as a significant key to move forward.  

For more on celebrating SPAA's 15th anniversary: