Rolanda Mitchell is Using Diversity, Equity and Inclusion To Help Build Strong Educational Systems in K-12 Schools and Higher Education
Rolanda Mitchell believes that diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) efforts are necessary because all students deserve to see someone who looks like them in education spaces and feel like higher education is an option for them.
“As a Black woman raised in a low-income, rural North Carolina community, I recognize that part of the reason I’m here is because I was able to see and interact with other Black people who pursued a college degree,” she said. “As a result, earning a college degree felt like a feasible option.”
Mitchell is currently an assistant teaching professor in the counselor education program and one of the co-chairs of the Council for Multicultural Initiatives & Diversity (COMID). She joined the NC State faculty in January 2018.
Mitchell does not think it is possible to have strong and effective educational systems if diversity, equity, and inclusion are not prioritized and centered.
“The reality of our world includes barriers that prevent people in marginalized groups from having a high-quality K-12 education and seeing educators that look like them,” Mitchell said. “The barriers aren’t going to go away by themselves, so it’s our job to be intentional about centering diversity, equity and inclusion.”
Mitchell believes that DEI efforts help to mitigate barriers and give folks the tools, confidence and support to meet their full potential.
“As a result, we get equitable distribution of funding, stronger schools, graduates who are better equipped for careers and/or post-secondary education and more effective higher education institutions,” she said.
Mitchell’s research interests include studying access to counseling and mental health services for historically marginalized communities. She saw first-hand how COVID-19 exacerbated the digital divide and created a significant barrier in low-income and rural communities.
Mitchell is also planning a study that surveys how professional school counselors managed the transition to virtual learning. She will collect information about the support they received or were missing during the pandemic and how that impacted their ability to provide counseling services to students and families.
“My hope is to bring awareness; I don’t think there can ever be too much of that,” she said. “But more than that, I hope that all of our research inspires change.”
Recently, she was also invited to work on a collaborative project with Halifax County Schools, specifically with the school counseling department, for the 2022-23 school year.
“As a consultant, my job will be to tap into their existing skills, add additional training and hopefully leave them feeling better equipped to support their schools through a strong comprehensive counseling program,” Mitchell said.
Another goal of this collaboration is to use research and data to demonstrate the hard work and progress happening in Halifax County school counseling departments.
“Often, schools and students in lower-income districts are portrayed from a deficit model, highlighting what’s wrong and suggesting that there is something inherently lacking with students, families and educators,” she said. “That is absolutely not the case…there is talent and potential everywhere if we take the time to look.”
Mitchell’s role as an educator in the counselor education program also allows her to embed DEI into her work.
“Our goal is to graduate counselors who have unconditional positive regard, empathy and hope for the students, clients and families they serve,” she said. “Additionally, we want them to value and practice advocacy in their community.”
In the counselor education program, the faculty works to help students recognize and confront the inherent biases that all humans bring to the table, unpack where that comes from, challenge the beliefs that don’t serve them and work to keep biases from interfering in their counseling skills and techniques.
“In order to get conversations going, we use elements such as readings, case studies, media and processing questions,” Mitchell said. “It’s also important that we provide a safe space so that all students can have honest discussions without fear of academic retaliation or harm from their peers.”
For other students and NC State community members, Mitchell encourages those who are not already familiar with COMID to engage in their upcoming events.
This year, in collaboration with Professor and Senior Advisor for Advancing Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Joy Gaston Gayles, COMID hosted a series of discussions focused on topics such as anti-racism and self-care while doing DEI work, tackling microaggressions, and racial gaslighting.
Mitchell also recommends those who engage in DEI work be intentional about taking care of themselves.
“In order to engage fully and effectively, you have to be healthy and whole, mentally, physically, and spiritually,” she said. “So, if you’re reading this, take a moment now and think about something you can do to recharge, then make time for that.”
This story was written by Jayla Moody