History shows that U.S. colleges and universities were not founded on social equality, but rather designed for the elite. It is this historical philosophy that has produced and reproduced “gaps” in the U.S. higher education system and while access has broadened over time, gaps still remain. Several attempts to expand and diversify higher education have been largely focused on the presence of diverse students and inclusion alone. This approach to closing equity gaps often places shortfalls on students and families rather than on institutional practices. Thus we continue to ask, how do we close equity gaps?
Dr. Castro is Associate Dean for Access and Community Engagement in the Office of Undergraduate Studies and Associate Professor of Higher Education at the University of Utah. She is Co-Founder and Director of the University of Utah Prison Education Project, an on-site initiative providing college coursework and programming at the Utah State Prison in Draper. A national expert on prison higher education, Dr. Castro’s research seeks to improve policy and practice toward greater equity and access to higher education for currently and formerly incarcerated people. She has consulted with the U.S. Department of Education, served as an advisor for the upcoming Pell grant reinstatement for incarcerated people, and works directly with a handful of states in their efforts to draft policy that improves college-going pathways for incarcerated people.
A widely published scholar, Dr. Castro co-founded the Journal of Higher Education in Prison in 2020 as an executive editor. In 2016 she helped develop and launch the Alliance for Higher Education in Prison, a national non-profit dedicated to advancing the field of higher education. Her work has been published in journals such as Harvard Educational Review and Journal of College Student Development and she routinely teaches and learns inside prisons.
Dr. Jennifer Gomez-Chavez is the Vice President for Institutional Engagement at Excelencia in Education. In her role, she connects higher education institutions to Excelencia’s team, programs, support and resources in order to accelerate Latino student success. She has 30 years of experience working on issues of diversity and equity through her positions with the LULAC National Educational Service Center and the University of New Mexico, Albuquerque. Formerly, she was the Special Assistant to the Associate Vice Chancellor in the Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at UNM’s Health Sciences Center where she served as Executive Director of the Unidos Project, ENLACE NM Central Region Director, and led Collective Impact Initiatives. Her career has focused on improving retention and completion rates for students from underrepresented backgrounds. Jennifer is a national speaker who empowers individuals to self-advocate on issues related to education and health.
Ashley Finley is the vice president for research and senior advisor to the president at the American Association of Colleges and Universities (AAC&U). She was previously associate vice president for academic affairs and founding dean of the Dominican Experience at Dominican University of CA and national evaluator for Bringing Theory to Practice. Currently, Dr. Finley oversees AAC&U’s research agenda through the coordination of projects and reports on pressing issues in higher education. She also advises on strategic initiatives to support member campuses. Dr. Finley’s campus engagement focuses on connecting learning, assessment, and equity with campus priorities. Her publications include How College Contributes to Workforce Success; A Comprehensive Approach to Assessment of High-Impact Practices; and “Well-Being: An Essential Outcome for Higher Education.” Finley received a BA from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and an MA and PhD, both in sociology, from the University of Iowa.
Dr. Clyde Wilson Pickett currently serves as the Vice Chancellor for Diversity and Inclusion at the University of Pittsburgh. Dr. Pickett was appointed to this position after a national search in 2020. Prior to his current appointment, Dr. Pickett served as Chief Diversity Officer for Minnesota State and before that he served as Special Assistant to the President for Diversity and Inclusion at the Community College of Allegheny County (CCAC) in Pittsburgh, PA.
Dr. Pickett completed his B.S. degree in Agricultural Economics from the University of Kentucky and his M. Ed in Adult and Higher Education Leadership with an emphasis in Counseling and Multiculturalism from Morehead State University. He completed his doctoral study at the University of Pittsburgh’s School of Education with a focus on Language, Literacy, and Culture.
Dr. Pickett is recognized as a national leader in advancing diversity and inclusion initiatives and strategy in higher education. He is the founder of two educational consulting firms that specialize in diversity, equity, and inclusion training, strategic planning, program development, management services, and executive leadership development. As a scholar, his work focuses on both institutional support for students of color in higher education and strategic development for equity strategy in organizations. He is the co-author for the book Inclusive Directions: The Role of the Chief Diversity Officer in Community College Leadership.
Breakout: Closing Health Equity Gaps
Keke Fairfax received her Ph.D. from Yale in Microbial Pathogenesis in 2009. Her dissertation work focused on identifying novel fatty acid binding proteins in the human hookworm Ancylostoma ceylanicum. She completed her post-doctoral training in Schistosoma mansoni immuno-parasitology with Edward Pearce and Gwendalyn Randolph in 2014. Dr. Fairfax began her independent laboratory at Purdue University in 2014 and moved to the University of Utah in 2018. The Fairfax laboratory at the University of Utah broadly focuses on using the helminth parasite Schistosoma mansoni as a tool to understand the relative contributions of schistosome antigen vs IL-4 in inducing host immuno-modulation. Dr. Fairfax has also developed curriculum on the history of racism in science and medicine and anti-racist training for scientists that she currently teaches at the U of U.
Breakout: Closing Equity Gaps in the Classroom
Dr. Annie Isabel Fukushima is Associate Dean of Undergraduate Studies, Director of the Office of Undergraduate Research, and Associate Professor in the Division of Ethnic Studies, and author of Migrant Crossings: Witnessing Human Trafficking in the US (Stanford University Press, 2019), which examines the experiences and representations of Asian and Latina/o migrants trafficked in the United States into informal economies and service industries.
As an interdisciplinary scholar, she committed to praxis, therefore she has worked at all levels of organizations, where her expertise is nationally recognized; she has served as an expert witness for human trafficking cases in courts in California, Colorado, and Utah, provided expert reports for immigration cases submitted to USCIS, and a consultant for national and local organizations in California and Washington. She has authored multiple community based studies that focus on domestic violence, sexual assault, human trafficking, labor, and migration.
Breakout: Closing Equity Gaps in the Community
Valeria Lopez is a first-generation college student who graduated from Ben Lomond High School and received my undergraduate degree in Social Work from Weber State University. She comes from a strong family of immigrants who has emphasized hard work, education, and a sense of social responsibility. She has held various positions in education including TRIO Mentor, Student Advocate, District Behavior Interventionist, Youth Court Supervisor, and Health/LIA teacher. She believes that the path to success starts with education, and for this reason, she is excited to be part of a team that shares her same passion in empowering Latino youth to lead and strengthen their communities through the pursuit of education.
Breakout: Closing Equity Gaps in the Community
A product of two powerful Mexican immigrant parents with a dream, Elizabeth was born in Moroleón Guanajuato, Mexico and came to the United States at three years old. She is a first-generation college student who is a product of Latinos In Action. She went on to graduate with her Bachelors in Ethnic Studies and Communications from the University of Utah in 2017. While there, she worked with former President Pershing as the Presidential Ambassador Director, The Lassonde Entrepreneur Ambassador Program Director, and with Former Associate Vice President of Student Development Kari Ellingson to continue to enhance opportunities for underrepresented first-generation students.
She recently returned home from Colorado, where she completed a Masters in Science in Student Affairs in Higher Education from Colorado State University. She previously was the Director of Supporter and Corporate Relations at The Salt Lake Tribune, where she lead the nation’s first nonprofit metropolitan newspaper membership program and all fundraising efforts. Her goal is to transform spaces for students by providing them with equitable resources that serve their community and other historically marginalized populations. Just like those who have mentored her and helped her persist through school. She aspires to be a mentor to students and teachers working towards increasing college access and retention rates.
Friday Forums is a commitment to the state and region in elevating national conversations and showcasing models of disrupting complicit racism. Each session welcomes national thought leaders to lead discussions and provide opportunities for participants to share ideas on actionable items towards a diverse, equitable, and inclusive campus.