Virtual platforms expand resource group’s presence, support

Virtual platforms expand resource group’s presence, support

By Jennifer Palma Sanchez

Virtual platforms expand resource group’s presence, support

By Jennifer Palma Sanchez
Learn more about the Woodson-Williams-Marshall Association Employee Resource Group.

Last year, before the University of Miami pivoted to remote work and study, the Woodson-Williams-Marshall Association (WWMA) decided that part of its role as one of the University’s Employee Resource Groups was to be more present within the campus community. As the implications of social injustice came to the forefront of conversations around the world and the University reaffirmed its stance on the need to pursue equality, Tywan Martin, WWMA president and associate professor in the Department of Kinesiology and Sport Sciences, and Renée Dickens Callan, WWMA vice president, and executive director, Student Life Division of Student Affairs, made a conscious decision that despite the challenges of the new environment, they could not waiver in their commitment to be more visible and accessible. 

“We understood that in order to advocate for Black students, faculty, and staff that we needed to be seen and we had to engage; even if we didn’t always know what to say. Our silence would be a disservice to our community,” shared Callan. 

Serving both students and employees across all campuses, WWMA officers worked together to ensure that the group’s outreach would be impactful for audiences by determining their needs. 

“Oftentimes as educators, we can be singularly focused on the student experience. But recognizing that faculty and staff aren’t immune to similar challenges when navigating work and life on our campuses has been a large part of our impact,” said Callan. 

Through hosting virtual business meetings and social community-building events, conversations surrounding the needs of the community became more defined, sparking new collaborations, partnerships, and interest from ERG members.

“Our first virtual business meeting was an overwhelming success,” said Martin. “It opened my eyes to the fact that our colleagues wanted to use this platform to benefit everyone and there was potential to expand our reach to those who were unable to engage in the past.”

As interest began to grow, the need for a presence from the WWMA ERG became increasingly apparent. 

While the group had found ways to support students—by serving as mentors, collaborators, or simply providing a safe and productive space to discuss an idea—it also recognized that Black faculty and staff members could benefit from similar advocacy. 

“Just as we support students, we have to do that for each other. It can be lonely, even isolating, if you’re the only person of color in your department where you are advocating for issues that are important to you, but don’t have representation,” noted Callan. “By providing a space and the ability to have discussions such as ‘who can help move this forward,’ ‘how can we put our minds together,’ or ‘is there someone who can support me,’ we are acknowledging that faculty and staff need the same level of support in order to strengthen our community.’’

Today, the use of virtual platforms continues to broaden WWMAs impact by delivering new ways to engage while advancing conversations that are imperative to progress within the University community and beyond. 

“We have learned that the students, faculty, and staff desire for us to have a greater presence and more so than ever. This echoes the importance of staying connected to serve as an effective resource,” Martin stated.

As part of the spring semester, the group continues its outreach efforts through programming and events. With support from a University of Miami Racial Justice Grant, they will also work with the African American Coalition of Excellence to foster mentorship and an overall sense of community between minority faculty and staff members. 

Email Renée Dickens Callan at rcallan@miami.edu to learn more about the upcoming membership meeting on April 22 or to join the WWMA listserv. Learn more about the WWMA ERG or visit miami.edu/erg to get information about the ERGs at the University of Miami.