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President Núñez honored at inaugural 'Shades of Success'

Published on April 02, 2024

President Núñez honored at inaugural 'Shades of Success'

Women of color share their experiences in academia

President Núñez accepts flowers from Joshua Sumrell, coordinator of the Intercultural Center, and Starsheemar Byrum, director of the Women's Center before speaking at the "Shades of Success" forum
President Núñez accepts flowers from Joshua Sumrell, coordinator of the Intercultural Center, and Starsheemar Byrum, director of the Unity Wing, before speaking at the "Shades of Success" forum.

President Elsa Núñez was named the inaugural honoree of the “Shades of Success” forum for her continued impact on increasing accessibility and diversity at Eastern Connecticut State University. Additionally, the forum featured several women of color who are Eastern administrators.

The recent event celebrated Women’s History Month and was hosted by the Women’s Center, the Intercultural Center and F.E.M.A.L.E.S. -- Females Excelling Maturing to Achieve Leadership, Excellence and Success -- so that women of color could share their experiences in academia.

“I’m very grateful,” said Núñez. “I really believe that you have to give back. That’s where you can really create change for others.”

The panel discussion at Shades of Success

The panel discusses diversity and accessibility issues.

In her time at Eastern, Núñez has firmly established the University’s reputation as the only public liberal arts university in Connecticut. She has raised the standard of sustainability and increased access for underserved students through her collaborations with staff on campus. This includes the development of spaces such as the Academic Success Center, Office of Opportunity Programs and the Unity Wing, which houses the Pride, Women’s and Intercultural centers.

“We have all served our students well,” Núñez said. “Many people have succeeded here because they can see themselves and feel supported in these spaces.” She extended her thanks to staff and faculty across campus, saying that “presidents depend on those who they work with to carry out their vision.”

Núñez’s impact goes beyond services at the University. Kemesha Wilmot '05, dean of students, credits the president with her success. “I am a product of Dr. Núñez’s accessibility,” she said. “I am here because Dr. Núñez believed in me.”

Niti Pandey, dean of the School of Education and Professional Studies

Sara Madera, Title IX coordinator

Kemesha Wilmot, dean of students

Wilmot remembered being denied admission at Eastern when she first applied for her undergraduate degree. She was provided the opportunity to continue her studies through the summer transition STEP/CAP program, which provided her additional support in the transition to college.

After graduating in 2005, Wilmot completed her master's degree and is now finishing her doctorate. She has also worked in higher education for the past 19 years, using her position to help others.

“I see myself in Eastern students,” said Wilmot. “I want to see each of them graduate.”

Dean Niti Pandey of the School of Education and Professional Studies said that Núñez created opportunities for other women of color to step into administrative roles and to see themselves in academia.

Pandey reflected on the impact her culture has had on her. She recalled the prejudice she faced after coming to the United States from India for graduate school. She described stories she heard growing up in India and learning the concept of “dharma,” which emphasizes “doing your duty well.”

She encouraged students to “know that you can do the work” and that hard work and competency speak for themselves.

Christina Irrizary, director of University Opportunity Programs at Eastern, recalled her experiences as a first-generation college student. She remembered struggling with imposter syndrome and feeling as if she wasn’t good enough for higher education. Thanks to her mentors, however, Irrizary continued to learn and grow, earning a doctorate in education.

Now, with the help of Eastern faculty and staff, Irrizary works to ensure that all students are prepared for success both in and after college. “Just being here,” she said, “shows students that they, too, can succeed. We meet students where they’re at, get to know them for who they are and see them blossom.”

Title IX Coordinator Sara Madera expressed similar sentiments, noting that minority students often “hear that we don’t belong in (higher education) spaces.”

To combat the historic and continuous exclusion of diverse voices in academia, Madera said she embraces being in administrative and academic spaces. She said, “Being present is so important.”

Written by Marcus Grant