When Mark Williams, director of Educational IT for NC State’s College of Education, saw a request for volunteers to help re-establish the African American Faculty and Staff Organization (AAFSO) in 2019, he thought it would be good to help out and serve as an active member.
He quickly realized that the organization had been dormant due to a lack of leadership and, following the murders of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd, submitted his name for consideration for the role of AAFSO chair.
After being elected for a two-year term in Summer 2022, Williams and his vice-chair recruited a full leadership team and restarted the organization.
“AAFSO is ultimately about building a community within the greater NC State community,” Williams said. “AAFSO strives to be an organization that provides Black and African American faculty and staff with a sense of belonging on campus, no matter what the makeup of your daily interactions and work environment are.”
During his time as AAFSO chair, Williams has helped to have the organization officially registered and assisted in organizing NC State’s inaugural Juneteenth Celebration, along with the African American Cultural Center, other on-campus groups devoted to diversity, equity and inclusion and financial support from the Office for Institutional Equity and Diversity.
As he wraps up his term as chair of the AAFSO, Williams reflects on the accomplishments he is most proud of and the successes of this inaugural event.
The following Q&A has been edited for clarity.
What achievements during your time as AAFSO chair are you most proud of?
Taking over and restarting an organization during a pandemic made member engagement tough and face-to-face events or activities impossible. Therefore, I decided to focus our initial efforts on the foundation and infrastructure of the organization. We re-established standing meetings, a web and social media presence and a technology infrastructure for the organization.
We reached out to the Office for Institutional Equity and Diversity to discuss that our organization was back with new leadership, ideas and enthusiasm. We regularly meet with and have created a great relationship with Vice Provost for Institutional Equity and Diversity Sheri Schwab. Those discussions lead to the realization that AAFSO, while recognized, is not officially affiliated with the university, so the organization has no budget line item or official funding. So, I’m most proud of the fact that we now have AAFSO officially registered with the IRS as a non-profit, social entity and established the organization’s first membership dues and bank account for a self-managed funding source.
What did it mean to you to be able to help organize the university’s inaugural Juneteenth event?
For me, it was great to be able to help with the planning and coordination of an actual event after two years of trying to engage the community via Zoom and other limited gatherings. It gave me a sense of ending my AAFSO term with an event that showcases what we’ve been working toward and what the future holds for the organization and its collaborations. It was also great for the recognition and growth of the organization itself to be billed as a collaborator of what turned out to be a great event.
What were some of the highlights of the event?
The event turned out great and exceeded all our expectations for participation and attendance, particularly during a summer term and with the late announcement of leave availability for the Juneteenth holiday. We overran our scheduled event time and had to make last-minute arrangements for additional food for the crowds. The highlights for me were the many staff who actually took the vacation day and still came out to support the event. There were the alumni who were so excited that their alma mater, NC State, was celebrating Juneteenth that they just had to come out to support and see it for themselves. We also wanted to highlight the multiracial, multicultural makeup of the participants and the biggest highlight of them all, Vice Provost for Institutional Equity and Diversity Sheri Schwab and her line dancing showcase.
It is my hope that its success will show all university leadership that if we lend support and resources to these types of events and celebrations not only will the campus community show up, but they will exceed your expectations
As outgoing chair, how do you hope the next AAFSO leader will build on your successes going forward?
I hope Karen Sims and Gerald Cobb (incoming co-chairs) can use the momentum and enthusiasm we’ve created with this most recent event and the last two years of building to move the organization to a bigger platform of action and not just the planning that we were focused on while bringing the organization out of dormancy during the pandemic. I hope they can maintain the lines of communication with Sheri Schwab and the Office of Institutional Equity and Diversity and have AAFSO making enough “good trouble” on campus that it becomes not just a recognized affinity group but one that OIED wants to be an official partner in its diversity, inclusion and equity efforts.
This post was originally published in College of Education News.