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African American Employee Council enters third year with eye on expanding visibility, reach

African American Employee Council logo(Posted on Tuesday, Aug. 9, 2022)

As the African American Employee Council (AAEC) at Austin Peay State University enters its third year after re-establishing in the summer of 2020, its leaders are striving to expand the organization’s vibrancy and reach.

In the coming year, the organization will focus on recruiting and retention of Black faculty and staff and connecting with Black-owned businesses in the community.

Members of the AAEC executive board met recently at a local Black-owned restaurant – Jamrok Caribbean Buffet on Fort Campbell Boulevard – to discuss priorities for the coming year.

“Some of what we want to do in the next year is to improve programming around community outreach – find ways to bridge relationships with the APSU Black community and the Black community outside of APSU,” said Dr. Paula White, assistant professor in the Department of Languages and Literature and AAEC’s incoming vice chair. “We want to add visibility to our program and to businesses in the community because we are an interconnected network.

“At the same time, we want to draw students – and potential students – in,” she added.

A space of community and belonging

Dr. Paula White
Dr. White

One way AAEC leaders hope to accomplish more visibility and engagement is by prioritizing (as COVID allows) more in-person meetings and monthly events.

“One of the goals of AAEC is to provide community and belonging to Black faculty and staff,” White said. “We hope that being more visible and engaging in the campus community will improve and grow our organization, while also inspiring people to come out, have fun and network.”

That begins with the executive board, which will meet for “Final Fridays” each month at a communal space while also supporting a Black-owned business or organization through catering, retail or other services.

AAEC also is planning a “Fall Semester Kickoff” for current, former and prospective members. This meet-and-greet event is at 4 p.m. Friday, Aug. 12, at the Office of Equity, Access and Inclusion, 416 College St.

“We hope to welcome new Black faculty and staff to APSU and strengthen bonds with our current colleagues,” White said.

A local, Black-owned Clarksville business will provide catering and refreshments.

A space of unity and support

AAEC was re-established in the summer of 2020 after the deaths of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and George Floyd with a mission of promoting unity and support among Black faculty, staff and students.

The organization quickly outlined its mission: Enhancing communication and championing equity, access, inclusion, opportunity and social justice — while challenging racism — within the University, with African American alumni and the broader African American community.

In the first year, the organization attracted more than 75 members by hosting professional, academic, enrichment and social programs, and establishing two scholarship funds.

White was one of the new faculty who joined during the first year. And after she attended an AAEC-hosted writing retreat, she joined the organization’s executive board. She quickly found friendships and grew professionally through AAEC.

“I was excited that this type of organization existed on campus, particularly having come from a predominantly white campus that didn’t have these opportunities,” she said last year. “I was happy Austin Peay was doing something different. It made me feel more connected to the University in that there was a space for me.”

Making connections on and off campus

AAEC Flyer February 2022
A flyer for last February's #BlackInTheIvory panel.

The organization’s work during the first two years touched on what AAEC is focusing on this year.

Last spring, for example, AAEC partnered with the African American Studies program to host a dossier workshop. The workshop not only allowed senior Black faculty – Dr. Anthony Sanders in the Eriksson College of Education, Dr. Marsha Lyle-Gonga in the College of Behavioral and Health Sciences and Professor Marcus Hayes in the College of Arts and Letters – to participate directly in helping junior Black faculty, but the gathering also supported a local Black-owned business – Four Brothers Wood-Fired Pizza on Profit Drive.

“We used that event to support a Black-owned business, something AAEC is passionate about,” White said. “The workshop not only connected with Black faculty on campus, but it allowed us to make connections off campus.”

Other recent examples of AAEC’s work include February’s panel discussion – “#BlackInTheIvory” – for Black professors navigating a predominantly white institution and May’s Beloved Community Writing Retreat that offered a space focused on creative and scholarly activities.

AAEC members also want to support Black-led organizations and spaces on campus, whether they’re led by faculty, staff or students. A good example of this was AAEC’s welcome back mixer last fall in the Wilbur N. Daniel African American Cultural Center on campus.

“We wanted people to know that this space is a place for faculty as well as students to feel comfortable hosting events and classes,” White said. “This year, we hope to have more programming and formulate ideas about expanding those experiences.”

This year’s executive board

David Davenport
Davenport

The incoming executive board members for this academic year are:

Ex-officio members: LaNeeça Williams, chief diversity officer and Title IX coordinator; JaCenda D. Robinson, assistant vice president and chief human resources officer; Dannelle Whiteside, vice president for Legal Affairs and Organizational Strategy.

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