Educators from underrepresented backgrounds and diverse disciplines at the University of California, Berkeley (UC Berkeley) continue to build a campus-wide support system and sense of community through Faculty Link, an opt-in program now entering its third year.

The initiative allows faculty to engage with each other across departments for career mentorship, work-life balance advice, discussions on racial and sexual identity, and more. The goal is to ensure members do not feel siloed in their specific department or unit and have a sense of belonging on campus.

Sharon Inkelas
Sharon Inkelas

“I enjoy watching and being part of faculty across all disciplines, ranks, and identities, finding common ground, transmitting institutional knowledge, and learning new things from each other,” says Sharon Inkelas, PhD, associate vice provost for the faculty at UC Berkeley and a Faculty Link program lead. “It’s empowering, and it increases participants’ sense of belonging on this large campus.”

In addition to the community-building aspect, the program also helps participants develop concrete skills, such as conducting research, mentoring students, applying for grants, and advancing diversity, equity, inclusion (DEI) and belonging goals. 

A group of 23 faculty core advisers serve as the backbone of the program, leading various events and discussions throughout the academic year. 

Serena Chen
Serena Chen

“You can see a good amount of diversity in the groups of people that make up the core advisers,” says Serena Chen, PhD, a core adviser, professor, and chair of the university’s department of psychology. “They’re looking for diversity in all sorts of ways — race, gender, discipline, rank, and so forth. It’s about making the program approachable to people from all different kinds of groups.”

Faculty Link is divided into four components: one-on-one advising, identity gatherings, forums, and core adviser conversations. 

Advisory meetings allow faculty members to get support and advice or engage in conversations about work and life in academia. During identity gatherings, faculty from diverse groups, including those from Asian American and Pacific Islander, Black, Latinx, and LGBTQ+ populations, are invited to come together, get acquainted, share resources, and support one another. Forums are larger monthly events featuring a panel of core advisers who share their experiences, insights, and advice on a given subject.

Core adviser conversations are hour-long, informal small group discussions on various overarching themes such as student mentoring and DEI work. These gatherings are especially conducive to cross-departmental community building, says Chen.

“Most faculty often know people in their department quite well, but it’s very hard — especially at certain stages in your career when you just focus on your work — to feel a broader sense of connection throughout the university,” she says. “This is a great, low-stress, completely optional, and supportive environment where you can make connections with people across campus.”

The program began in late 2019 but saw an uptick in faculty participation throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. This was primarily due to transitioning events online, Chen says, which made them more accessible and convenient to faculty dispersed throughout UC Berkeley’s campus. Even after the pandemic waned, program leaders decided it was better suited to a virtual space.

“Most faculty often know people in their department quite well, but it’s very hard — especially at certain stages in your career when you just focus on your work — to feel a broader sense of connection throughout the university.” 

Serena Chen

“It was a really fortuitous way to keep the program going,” Chen says. “All of our activities continue to be remote because we do think that accommodates peoples’ schedules and makes it easier for them to participate in what is an entirely optional program. … People are busy, and we don’t want to overdo it. There is a real thoughtfulness about how many activities we offer per semester.”

Faculty Link has seen steady growth each year. Since its launch, 205 faculty members have participated — many at multiple events — out of roughly 1,500 faculty at the university. The program is favorably received: 87 percent of respondents to a program survey rated their experience as excellent or good.

Erik Cliburn is a senior staff writer for INSIGHT Into Diversity.

This article was published in our December 2022 issue.