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Pack IDEAs Faculty Spotlight: Joy Gaston Gayles, Ph.D.

NC State College of Education Professor Joy Gaston Gayles

In each edition of Pack IDEAs (Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, and Access), a newsletter released by the NC State College of Education Change Agent Task Force, we highlight faculty, students and alumni who have expertise and experiences that align with advancing diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) within the college. In becoming an anti-racist college community, we must deepen our commitment to creating and sustaining a healthy teaching and learning community that uplifts the humanity of all people, but especially Black, Indigenous and people of color, who due to structural inequities are marginalized in education and society. The spotlight feature offers a counternarrative that celebrates and showcases the brilliance of individuals within our college community.

Joy Gaston Gayles, Ph.D.
University Faculty Scholar
Professor of Higher Education and Program Coordinator
Senior Advisor for Advancing Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

How long have you been a faculty member at NC State? I have been a faculty member at NC State University since 2007. Prior to my appointment here, I was a faculty member at Florida State University for five years.

Why are diversity, equity, and inclusion in education important to you? Growing up in a working-class family and as a Black woman, first-generation college student, I experienced a lot of microaggressions, systemic oppression, barriers and so many other forms of discrimination at all levels over the course of my life and even now. So these issues have always been important to me, even when I didn’t have the language to express what was happening and why. I just always knew that it didn’t feel right and wanted to do something about it so that it wouldn’t negatively impact me or anyone else. Because of my experiences and those of so many others in this country, I am forever committed to doing the work and getting into good trouble to advance equity and justice in education and society.

Are you currently conducting research around the areas of diversity, equity, and inclusion? If so, tell me a little about your research. Everything I do in my research is undergirded by issues of equity, diversity and social justice. Whether it’s writing about the unfair treatment of student athletes and the misaligned values of intercollegiate athletics and higher education or the experiences of women and underrepresented people of color in STEM fields — the context for the work that I do is usually, if not always, rooted in the fact that these disparities exist because we live in a society that consists of systems, rules, policies, legislation and structures that are inherently designed to privilege certain groups in society and discriminate against and alienate others.

I’m working on a lot of projects now and I’m excited about them all. Two projects are grant-related with a team of scholars at NC State. If funded, we will engage in work to advance women and women of color in STEM fields in the areas of innovation and entrepreneurship. I am also writing a few papers with doctoral students on issues related to social justice and equity — one focusing on allyship and advocacy and another chapter for a book that focuses on mentoring undergraduate Black women in STEM. I’m also hoping to launch a survey project on faculty experiences in conjunction with the National Center for Faculty Development and Diversity.

What are you hoping to accomplish as a result of your research, and how do you expect it to impact the field of education and learners? I hope the work that I do in research and practice empowers and liberates people, particularly people who find themselves on the margins of society because of their social identities. I have two children and I want their experiences in education and society to be better than mine. So in a sense, I want to do work that makes a real transformative difference in the lives of others. For me, it’s important not to just do the work, but live the work so that my actions and how I treat others align with what I say I value. I want to use my influence through my research and my leadership positions to challenge the status quo.

Are there community projects and initiatives you are involved in related to diversity, equity, and inclusion? Tell me about those projects. Yes, in 2013 or so I started an accountability group and that has been an amazing experience so far. Over the years, it’s been a great way for me to mentor and be mentored and create a sense of community for myself and others within the college. I’m really excited to be a part of a team of scholars at NC State working on a National Science Foundation (NSF) ADVANCE grant project led by Pamela McCauley, associate dean in the College of Textiles. If funded, this project will make a difference in advancing the careers of women and women of color in STEM disciplines.

I am also involved in a lot of communities outside of NC State that focus on diversity, equity, and inclusion, including the work that I do with the National Center for Faculty Development and Diversity. As President-Elect for the Association of the Study of Higher Education (ASHE), I get to lead an entire national and international community of scholars and that’s been an exciting experience so far.

What do you hope to teach future educators and scholar-leaders about equity and inclusion in education? How do you incorporate that into your instruction and curriculum? I really want future educators to know and understand that context matters, and I want them to find and use their voices for good. In our field, we prepare scholar-leaders to work in postsecondary educational settings, which represent some of the most diverse environments in the country. However, diversity is not equivalent to equity. In order to work effectively with and on behalf of ALL students, we have to create spaces that are equitable and just for everyone. To do that we have to disrupt the norm that has historically privileged people who hold dominant social identities and oppressed people who fall outside of this mythical norm. So in the courses that I teach we talk about issues of privilege, power and oppression. I introduce critical perspectives and include readings from diverse perspectives. I try to create assignments that have real-world applications.

For other educators and teacher-leaders interested in learning more about social justice and anti-racist education, what are two resources you would recommend? Wow, just two! There are so many! If people are interested in learning about what it means to be and do anti-racist work, I would recommend Ibram Kendi’s book How to Be an Antiracist — the second book I would recommend that has a social justice in education slant is We Want to do More than Survive: Abolitionist Teaching and the Pursuit of Educational Freedom by Betina Love.

Is there anything else you’d like to share with the College of Education community? Given that it’s Black History Month, I should add that I’m the first African American to achieve the rank of full professor in the higher education program and in the Department of Educational Leadership, Policy, and Human Development at NC State University.