Associate Professor of Theatre Heather May and Assistant Dean of Students and Director of Residential Education Brandon Barile have received the first Excellence in Diversity and Inclusion Awards presented by the HWS Office of Diversity and Inclusion (ODI). The honor is given to faculty and staff who make significant contributions to the advancement of diversity and inclusion efforts on campus or in the Geneva community.
Nominated by Assistant Professor of Political Science Justin Rose, May has been recognized with the ODI honor for her ongoing and collaborative work through theatre to broaden the stories addressing issues of inclusion and diversity, as well as to use theatre to educate, further dialogue and promote action around social justice issues.
At HWS, May is the founder and artistic director of Mosaic NY, a theatre company comprised of student actors who work with May to create performances that celebrate diversity, promote dialogue, develop community and encourage the active pursuit of social justice. Mosaic NY has performed at every HWS Orientation since its founding in 2013, and has engaged audiences with vital campus dialogue through special events and guerrilla theatre performances.
Through her work, May also restructured her “Acting I” class to ask students to engage in what it means to take on characters from circumstances far from their own experiences. May, who regularly teaches “Theatre for Social Change,” has served on the Strategic Diversity Planning Committee, was a Fisher Center Research Fellow during the 2014-15 academic year and recently directed the play The Etymology of Bird, which addressed both the creative and intellectual strengths of a community of color in Brooklyn, as well as what happens to that community when one of its young black men is murdered by a police officer.
“I am fortunate to have an administration that financially supports the work of the students in Mosaic NY; to work in a department that consistently addresses social justice issues in our mainstage productions and classrooms, as well as supports projects such as Quicksilver’s Playwrights of Color Summit; and to have opportunities to collaborate with so many insightful and inspiring colleagues who push me to improve my own knowledge of issues on a daily basis,” May says. “I cannot begin to express how much the people I work with have taught me over just the past four years.”
In nominating May, Rose cited as one example of May’s commitment to social justice, diversity and inclusion her efforts to plan and film a march and vigil following the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo. Though initially apprehensive, Rose recalls being encouraged by May’s action during a volatile time. “I then found myself in awe of her courage to take such a controversial stance,” says Rose, adding, “What started out as a solemn night meant to recognize the humanity of a dead Missouri teen, ended up as a night that represented possibility, inclusion and tolerance for so many HWS and Geneva community members.”
Barile, who is responsible for ensuring campus residences are safe and well-maintained, as well as for cultivating an engaging, co-curricular experience that connects student residents to HWS and the Geneva community, was nominated for the ODI honor by Associate Director of Residential Education Shelle Basilio-Murray.
“His passion around diversity and inclusion has been a primary focus for all housing and programmatic efforts in the ResEd office,” Basilio-Murray says. “Brandon has worked diligently over the years to create a gender-inclusive housing policy, where students don’t have to out themselves or live with someone they don’t feel comfortable with.”
Basilio-Murray cites Barile’s “Courageous Conversations” training series as one way in which he has fostered a sense of inclusion. These once-a-month sessions involve speakers representing marginalized groups, who discuss ways in which Student Affairs staff can better support students in those groups. “The training series … has resulted in a 22 percent increase in the confidence level of members of the division when discussing the importance of personal identity,” Basilio-Murray cites. Barile has also advocated at a national level, and in 2015 received a LGBT Research Award from the National Association of Student Personnel Administrators (NASPA).
In addition to his residential education responsibilities, Barile planned and participated in the panel, “Cracking the Lavender Ceiling.” He also coordinates the Personal Empowerment Institute in the Reader’s College at HWS, supervises the Alcohol and Other Drugs Prevention and Treatment program, and manages student affairs assessment. He serves on the Housing Assignments committee with ACUHO-I, the NASPA Region 2 GLBT Knowledge Community, and writes for the ACUHO-I publication, Talking Stick. In the local community, he served as president of the board of directors at the Geneva Lakefront Childcare Center, chaired Geneva’s 2010 Relay for Life, and served as 2015 Relay for Life ceremonies co-chair.
“I want the HWS campus to be a place where faculty, staff and students can find an inclusive home, where their identities are not tolerated but celebrated,” Barile says. “Sometimes, this takes looking at individual policies or practices and encouraging others to take on the lens of an individual student. I think change happens when others begin empathizing with a student or community member and then adjust their work to become more and more welcoming. I also am humbled to be working with so many HWS community members who are striving to continually grow our campus, both in a feeling of inclusivity but also multicultural competency.”
The Office of Diversity and Inclusion anticipates that the Excellence in Diversity and Inclusion award will be annually presented to nominees who have increased awareness and understanding of diversity and inclusion, promoted a campus environment that is inclusive and welcoming while embracing and nurturing human differences, and advocated for the interests of under-represented populations.