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Western’s Education & Social Justice Minor Sees Transition in Leadership 

by Aidan Wiess
Office of University Communications intern
  • Western Washington University Associate Professor of Secondary Education Verónica N. Vélez
    Western Washington University Associate Professor of Secondary Education Verónica N. Vélez

Western Washington University Associate Professor of Secondary Education Verónica N. Vélez, founding director of the university's Education & Social Justice minor, is handing over the program’s reins to Nini Hayes and Angela Fillingim, who will act as co-directors.  

Fillingim has already started as co-director and will be joined by Hayes this spring.  

According to Vélez, the ESJ minor was conceived by former Fairhaven College Professor Marie Eaton.  

“Together with Kristen French, Trula Nicholas, Maria Timmons Flores, and former Woodring Dean Francisco Rios, they collectively organized the academic structure of the ESJ minor and launched a tenure-track search in 2012 for its first director. I was fortunate to have been selected for this position and serve as the ESJ minor’s first director,” said Vélez. 

Vélez said the program has gone from 20 students to nearly 450 students in less than seven years, and has attracted the kind of students that WWU prioritizes in recruitment and retention.  

“ESJ students represent all seven colleges, 38 different departments, and 43 different majors and programs, signaling its draw from every academic corner on campus. The demographics of these students indicate that this minor continues to be a magnet for students of color (60%) and first-generation students (45%). In fact, compared to campus-wide demographics, the concentration of students of color in ESJ is more than double the rate of their representation across WWU,” she said.  

“With a critical focus on understanding and historically situating the experiences of institutionally marginalized youth in schools, ESJ students have reported in their exit surveys and interviews that the minor provides an opening to explore questions and concerns that most impact their own lives, and those of their families and communities,” she said.  

Vélez is going on sabbatical in Spring 2021 but will serve as co-director through winter quarter to help transition the new leadership. 

Fillingim said that she is in the process of settling into her job at Fairhaven College and that her specific duties are still being determined with the shift to a co-director model for ESJ.  

“For me, being a part of ESJ is about an approach to work and learning that is rooted in community and accountability to our communities. It means, to me, teaching and learning in ways that honor the lived experiences of marginalized communities, that highlight our resilience, and that enact futures that honor our humanity,” she said. “So, my research commitments to walk with the different communities that I belong to, and communities that have been invited into, has brought me into ESJ and to be the co-director of the program.” 

Fillingim came to WWU in 2017 and said that ESJ has been her home ever since.  

“The students, faculty, and staff are brilliant, kind, loving, and dedicated to making the world a better place. ESJ is a space of growth, critical engagement, resilience, and dreaming.  For me, ESJ is a site were BIPOC, queer, and first-gen students find and create love and support within Western,” she said.  

Fillingim said that the ESJ program has embraced her as a person, welcoming her partner and child to the community.  

“I say this because to me, ESJ is a place on campus where we can bring our whole identities with us, where these identities are valued,” she said.  

According to Vélez, the ESJ minor focuses on a collaborative, student-driven approach, and that students have been critical to the active design and revision and the curriculum.  

“Through this process, student investment in the ESJ minor has been unprecedented, reaching far beyond the classroom,” she said.  

Fillingim agreed. 

“Our students are phenomenal, they always bring so much into our classrooms and communities. Getting to work with such brilliant people working to make change is an honor,” Fillingim said. 

Rios, in reflecting on the development of the program, credited Marie Eaton, Larry Estrada and Joe Ferrare as well as Woodring’s Kristen French, Trula Nicholas, Maria Timmons Flores and Marsha Riddle-Buly for the proposal of the minor. 

“Both former Fairhaven Dean Roger Gilman and I agreed that this would make a substantial contribution to our curricular offerings and advance our college’s and the university’s stated commitments around equity and justice,” Rios said.  

He also said that he and Gilman acted as advocates and champions for the minor who secured funding and made sure the curriculum was ready. 

“The diversity of students it serves is incredible. The development of a critical consciousness for those students who take the minor is impressive. This is the testimony to the vision of those early faculty member as well as the quality of current faculty and staff in the program, especially under the leadership of Dr. Velez,” he said.  

For more information on the ESJ minor, click here.  

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Tuesday, December 1, 2020 - 11:46am