Faculty Feature

History professor Kirsten Wood named new AWED Associate Director

Kirsten Wood, associate professor of history, is the inaugural associate director of the Office to Advance Women, Equity & Diversity (AWED). AWED aims to achieve and sustain faculty equity and diversity as an essential element of FIU’s academic excellence

AWED also houses FIU ADVANCE, the university’s five-year, $3.2 million Institutional Transformation grant awarded in 2016 by the National Science Foundation (NSF) to develop strategies that increase the number of women and minority professors in science, technology, engineering, mathematics (STEM), and the social and behavioral sciences (SBS) at FIU.

The position was created in Spring 2020 to assist AWED with STRIDE and Bystander team facilitation, diversity & inclusion plan development, and research and publishing projects and collaborations.

A historian, Wood has spent her career exploring the ways that racism and sexism have structured the United States throughout its history. She “saw in ADVANCE the opportunity to do something in my own community, today, to address problems and not simply explore and interpret them.”

Wood’s experience as a historian shapes her advocacy in a number of ways. The same lens that helps her see important continuities in the histories of racism, sexism, and other forms of oppression helps her think about change.

“It might make good TV and popular history to attribute revolutionary change to a handful of individuals, whether they are heroes or villains. However, it’s more truthful and more hopeful to recognize that dramatic transformations start with a myriad of small moments and actions that only much later can be seen as the preconditions for a subsequent revolution. We plant seeds today that will bear fruit only in the future, and often in ways that we cannot now imagine.”

Wood, like most faculty members, already has a full plate of research, publishing, and teaching, but despite her busy schedule, she thought it was important to take on the role of AWED associate director. “I found an opportunity in AWED to do work that I found meaningful and that, somewhat to my own surprise, I was reasonably good at,” she says. “But I could not have taken on this work without the resources provided by FIU and the NSF ADVANCE grant and without my chair’s willingness to allow me to explore this avenue.”

Wood has been the lead facilitator of the Bystander Leadership Program workshops since their inception. Bystander, the signature program of FIU ADVANCE’s initiatives, is an educational, interactive, behavioral skills training for faculty members. It’s designed to increase inclusion among faculty and address gender and race bias within faculty interactions in positive and prosocial ways.

To Wood’s mind, the most important part of Bystander is its participatory foundation. “It’s the experience of getting out of your seat, raising your voice, and trying something new in the effort to make FIU a university where prejudice creates no barriers to doing our best work.”

Wood hopes to see Bystander established as an ongoing part of FIU culture, as much a part of our institutional fabric as STRIDE workshops. She would love to see Bystander expand in its reach in at least two ways: offering training to more groups of people, including deans, chairs, graduate program directors, and new faculty, and offering training that is more diverse in the problems addressed. As a function of the NSF grant that funded Bystander, the workshop currently explores issues of race and gender, particularly where faculty are concerned, and there are other issues that can be addressed, from religion to socioconomic status.

Most importantly, she wants “this work to put FIU on the map nationally and globally as an institution that promotes justice within its walls as well as within the wider community.”