Focusing on the Under-Represented: Rosalie Rolón Dow
Since 1970, the U.S. Hispanic population has grown by 592 percent, accounting for more than half of the nation’s population growth between 2000 and 2010 alone. Yet in major universities across the nation, the experience of being “the only one” in the department or even an entire graduate school is still a common one for Latino scholars, and many institutions offer no coursework at all in Latino studies.
Equally of concern, “even though the Latino students are the largest group among underrepresented students, we still don’t know a whole lot about their experiences,” says Rosalie Rolón Dow, Associate Professor in the School of Education at the University of Delaware (UD). To address that gap, Rolón Dow, who serves as Co-Chair of the university’s Latino/Hispanic Faculty and Staff Caucus, is conducting a data analysis of UD’s Latino students. “Like so many institutions across the nation, we have some diversity and equity issues,” she says. “The goal is to better inform what the university is doing about these issues.”
Rolón Dow herself has fashioned a successful career at UD during her 13 years there, both as a scholar and a change agent -- accomplishments for which she partly credits her 2002-03 stint as a Teachers College Minority Post-Doctoral Fellow.
“When graduate students ask me about doing a post-doc versus going directly on the job market, I always tell them, ‘Yes! Do it!” says Rolón Dow, adding that the experience helped her navigate the transition from student to scholar. “It benefited me immensely. There was huge value in giving me the time to figure out so many things without having all the accountability of being a professor and without the clicking tenure clock.”
Chief among those was mastering the difference between writing a dissertation and writing for publication in academic journals and books.
Minority Postdoctoral Fellow Spotlights
“I spent a lot of time that year writing,” she recalls. “I thought it was going to be easy. I thought, I’ll just take a chapter from my dissertation and it will be a publication, but that wasn’t the case. Many people that year helped me learn how to write in a different way for a different audience.”
But the fellowship wasn’t simply about mastering the skills of scholarship, she says. The socialization process – learning how to navigate the sometimes mysterious ways of the academy – was critical, especially for a young woman of Puerto Rican heritage who until then had relatively limited knowledge of the ivory tower.
“My parents are college-educated, but my grandparents are grade-school educated. There weren’t a lot of PhDs in my family. So this whole experience was something entirely new,” she recalls. “At first I didn’t really understand the whole process of what it means to be an academic and the privilege that comes with it. I needed time to think about the autonomy I had, about what it means to develop a research agenda, to say ‘this is what I want to study.’ That’s huge.”
Rolón Dow, who has written extensively on education and identity among Latino students and issues of educational equity, believes fellowships that promote a still-underdeveloped pipeline directing students from underrepresented groups into academia are essential in today’s world. She also held a Diversity Postdoctoral Fellowship from the Ford Foundation in 2008-2009.
“It’s important to cultivate a path for faculty who are underrepresented. We face certain challenges that other faculty don’t – whether it’s alienation or finding mentors,” she says. “The institutions of higher education were generally not set up for underrepresented groups. Delaware did not become integrated until the 1950s, for example.”
Rolón Dow says that while the focus of her research has shifted a bit in the years since she completed her Ph.D. in Urban Education at Temple University in 2002, the common threads of race, class and equity have been present in all.
“These issues haven’t gone away,” she says. “If anything, their importance is only increasing. Culturally and politically, Latinos are a powerful force, and there is so much to investigate.” – Ellen Livingston
Published Friday, Feb 5, 2016