Diversity, Equity and Inclusion lecture — February 25

The President’s Council on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion hosted its inaugural session for the Nine Pillars of Diversity Lectures Series, “A Legacy of Advocacy: A Reflection on the History of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at the University of Maine,” on February 25 with guest lecturer Dr. JoAnn Fritsche, the first director of equal opportunity and women’s development at the University of Maine.

A transcript of this lecture is available below the video.

A Legacy of Advocacy: Guest lecturer Dr. JoAnn Fritsche


Kimberly Whitehead: Good evening, and welcome to the Nine Pillars of Diversity lecture series. The University of Maine recognizes that it is located on Marsh Island in the homeland of the Penobscot people, where issues of water and territorial rights and encroachment upon sacred sites are ongoing. Penobscot homeland is connected to the other Wabanaki tribal nations — the Passamaquoddy, Maliseet and Mi’kmaq — through kinship alliances and diplomacy. The university also recognizes that the Penobscot Nation and the other Wabanaki tribal nations are distinct, sovereign, legal and political entities with their own powers of self-government and self-determination. 

I’m Kimberly Whitehead, vice president and chief of staff at the University of Maine, and it is my pleasure to welcome you to our lecture series. This is our inaugural session and it’s entitled “A Legacy of Advocacy — a Reflection of the History of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion at the University of Maine.” We’re so excited to have you with us this afternoon. This lecture series is funded with generous support from the Alton ’38 and Adelaide Hamm Campus Activity Fund. I’m so excited to have with us tonight our president, Dr. Joan Ferrini-Mundy. She’s the 21st president of  the University of Maine, and also serves as the president of its regional campus in Machias, the University of Maine at Machias. She began her tenure at the University of Maine in 2018, and has been an exceptional leader and is responsible for convening the President’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Council. Dr. Ferrini-Mundy. 

On screen: We now join A Legacy of Advocacy: A Reflection on the History of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion at the University of Maine in progress

Joan Ferrini-Mundy: […] had undertaken the work early on in my time here to create a report to show us all that was going on at the University of Maine in the name of diversity, equity and inclusion. And it was impressive, the amount of activity. It was also very decentralized. And so, in that way, it didn’t create visibility for these efforts, but rather, they kept moving and going without a lot of interconnection necessarily. And so I thought about what to do, and decided that the way to go would be to create a standing Council: a President’s Council on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. 

And the two inaugural co-chairs of that committee are here with us tonight; Kimberly Whitehead and Dr. Susan McKay. And they have assembled a group of 33 members of students, faculty, staff, alumni and community partners, just a remarkable group, to take us forward with recommendations about what this university can do to further its diversity, equity and inclusion mission. They’ve released an initial report in very record time. They just were appointed in July and have a first report out. Had drafts of it at the end of December, and early January we got it. So this group is taking responsibility for stepping back, looking across our campus and making recommendations to the President and to the Cabinet about what we can do, particularly to begin by addressing structural impediments to diversity, equity and inclusion here. And these recommendations are sound and provocative, in that they’re pushing this university in good ways, and so we are taking them up within the Cabinet, discussing which groups will be responsible for implementing which, and continuing to grow. This Council very quickly has become, I think, a central, in a sense, entrenched feature of our university. They are there, they are visible, they are representing so many different groups and all of the nine pillars of diversity that are the framing for the series. So I’m just very excited that we’re able to be here together talking about issues with our very distinguished speaker. And I’m honored to be able to be a listener, at this point, so thank you.

Laura Cowan: Good evening, many thanks to President Ferrini-Mundy, Kimberly Whitehead, Susan McKay, and the DEI Community Committee. I’d also like to recognize Amy Parker, the OEO director.

My name is Laura Cowan, I use she/her/hers pronouns and I am director of the University of Maine’s Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Program.

Our program’s name has changed, but its goals to advance equity, diversity, social justice and inclusion have never changed. With 63 faculty affiliates from 29 departments and all six colleges at the University of Maine, as well as Fogler Library and Residential Life, we are one of the most inclusive programs at the university.

It is my great honor to introduce this evening’s speaker, our program’s first administrative leader, Dr. JoAnn Fritsche. Dr. Fritsche was hired in 1973 as the first officer for equal opportunity at the University of Maine. It is not an exaggeration to say that Dr. Fritsche transformed “The College of our Hearts Always.” She understood that advancing equity and diversity required important changes in practice, such as equal salary, more diverse job candidates, accessible buildings and classrooms, but also a change in culture.

Dr. Fritsche’s initiatives were catalysts for cultural changes that still benefit our community. Because of JoAnn Fritsche, our students have a university curriculum that incorporates the knowledge and experience of underrepresented people into courses and in all fields. Fritsche set out her goals in a 1981 grant proposal that I will read and quote from. The curriculum should help prepare students, both male and female, for a world in which the needs, contributions and ethical claims of women, people of color and developing nations must be acknowledged, not merely to ensure equity, but also to ensure peace and human survival.

JoAnn Fritsche left the University of Maine in 1986 for an illustrious career fundraising for nonprofits and is director of the Tacoma Washington Area Commission on Disabilities.

With an eye on continuing the good work she had started, Dr. Fritsche created a committee before she left Maine and she called it “Preparing Ourselves for a Changing World.” Fritsche was truly a visionary. Her committee for a changing world in 1986 was important then, and it is urgent now. I urge all members of our community to prepare ourselves for a changing world in which the University of Maine leads the Northeast and the country in creating diverse, equitable and inclusive universities. Welcome to JoAnn Fritsche and many thanks to you, JoAnn.

JoAnn Fritsche: All right, thank you Laura for your very kind and very flattering introduction. I entered the world of advocacy by becoming the first director of equal opportunity at the University of Maine.

Looking back today, I realized that any of you who are younger than 60 will probably think I’m a talking dinosaur. And yes, the world really has changed almost that much. At that time, married women couldn’t get a credit card without their husband’s permission. And married women job applicants were asked “when do you expect to start a family,” so they could, you know, knock them out of promotion if they were going to have a child.

When I was interviewed for the director of equal opportunity position then president Win Libby had advertised the position because a woman faculty member in 1972 had filed a lawsuit against the Portland campus and its administrators for violating Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, which forbade sex discrimination in employment.

Since women faculty and staff at the University of Maine had been bringing complaints of sex discrimination to his attention internally, President Libby decided to advertise for an equal opportunity director to help the university investigate and resolve complaints internally, so as to prevent expensive and embarrassing lawsuits. Salary inequities were the first issue emphasized by the women on the interview committee. Nothing had changed yet to result in salary equity as the University of Maine.

[Looking at a slide] That’s how I looked once upon a time. Look how old I am now. Anyway. Nothing had changed, even though the Equal Pay Act had been passed by Congress nine years earlier.

Frankly, what I’ve seen in my life is that laws to require diversity and equity are crucial, because they provide us a legal remedy, but changes in laws do not bring about changes and attitudes or behaviors until and unless there are protests and also effective advocacy.

In 1973 at the University of Maine, like everywhere else in the United States, it was assumed that even a woman with a Ph.D. in English, psychology, chemistry or any other field had, or should have, a husband, who was the primary breadwinner.

Before advocating for anyone, I had to do much homework to investigate and overcome discrimination on the basis of both sex and race. I had obtained spreadsheets of the names, race, sex and salaries of faculty and staff in each department in the university. That’s when I noticed that a non-tenured assistant professor, a man teaching German, was being paid almost $2500 more than a woman with similar credentials. This is an example of my first case of intervention advocacy. The woman had a Ph.D. in German and was teaching in the foreign language department.

After introducing myself to the chairman of the department, I complimented him for his own research to establish some rapport, I hoped. And then explained that I’d noticed that Dr. D was making almost $2500 less than her male counterpart, Dr. F. With no embarrassment whatsoever, the department chair then said that the man, Dr. F, had six children and a wife to support. But Dr. D had a husband, who was the department chairman, making plenty of money and they had only one child, so of course it seemed only fair to give a higher salary to this male faculty member, even though his credentials were similar to hers.

At that point, I told the chairman that there were now two laws, the Equal Pay Act of 1963 and also Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. And both required that a woman and a man doing equal work must be paid equally. When the chairman protested about his budget, as well as what he thought unfair, I told them that I had been hired by the university’s president to help ensure that not only women like Dr. D would be protected from sex discrimination — but also so the university itself, as well as chairmen like himself, would be protected from expensive, embarrassing sex discrimination lawsuits.

Moving on to 1974, let’s look at two other equity and inclusion issues presented for advocacy. The first involved a classified employee who happened to be gay. The application for classified employment included the question, quote, do you have homosexual tendencies. This particular employee was smart. He said that he could truthfully answer no to that question because for him, homosexuality was more than a tendency. Although I was amused by his response, the homophobic question on the application form for classified employment was no joking matter. As an advocate for employees and for the university as a whole, I warned both the president, and also the director of personnel, that if they wanted to avoid a potential fight with some nasty publicity, I would recommend they simply remove the potentially discriminatory question from the application for classified employment.

Advocacy worked. The president took my advice and had the question removed from the form in 1974, even though Title VII of the Civil Rights Act was not interpreted by the Supreme Court as covering discrimination against people who were gay and lesbian until 2002.

I knew that everyone from the trustees to the president could be dragged into a fight over gay and lesbian rights because student members of the Wilde Stein Club had come also to me, even though they had previously contacted a journalist at the Bangor Daily News. And what was the issue? The students had wanted to hold a gay/lesbian conference in February or early March of 1974, but the director of conferences has scheduled their conference to be held during spring break when very few students or faculty would be around. The students were angry that their protest to the conference program director had been blown off. I went to the president and told him about the actions the students were planning to take, and suggested that he might wish to go to the trustees himself to avert unpleasant publicity problems for the campus, himself and the trustees. However, the president decided to let the trustees deal with it. Since he anticipated correctly, unfortunately, that major donors to our campus would be furious if he had in any way supported gay and lesbian students.

So ultimately the trustees got involved and the trustees overturned — they decided in favor of the Wilde Stein Club, and said, never again could this be done simply to dodge the issue, basically, of gay and lesbian students. And so what’s another takeaway? The effects of advocacy are often slowed down where administrators are concerned about the objections of big money donors. From 1974 until 1986, as equal opportunity director, I advocated for students and employees in all categories.

After 1975, both students and employees with disabilities were protected by the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, sections 503 and 4, which apply to universities, cities, states and companies that had federal contracts of $1 million or more. At that time, I did not have disabilities. And I am embarrassed to admit to you that, with the arrogance of a 35 year old “TAB,” in other words a temporarily able-bodied person, I sure didn’t plan on getting disabled, nor did I plan on getting as old as I am now. This is a real inconvenience being old, but anyhow. I attended training workshops and learned about the pertinent laws and new policies and procedures for which I’d now be advocating.

I learned also that all of us will become disabled if we live long enough. We will acquire disabilities, because we’ll age into them, of course. Thanks to the disability training workshops I’d attended, I learned a philosophy which can be expressed by spelling disability, with a capital A, and a lowercase D, as in “disAbility.” The purpose is to focus on your own and also other people’s abilities, and find ways to compensate for your own or for others’, “dis” or impairments. The other thing is to learn how to be a self advocate, or an advocate yourself to request for yourself, or to grant others, reasonable accommodation for the “dis” if or when needed. That’s the point. Focus on your abilities, compensate for the “dis,” request for yourself and grant others reasonable accommodation and access, if the “dis” is needed. 

The university administrators were not always happy with me about the new law. They didn’t want to spend much money — $50,000 for one elevator for one student, or one employee? That was the sort of thing that I had to deal with. And I had to explain that for many students and employees with both permanent disabilities, and also temporary ones like pregnancy, for many years into the future, these elevators would be so important, and many of you are probably still using elevators installed in the 1970s and 80s.

In 1984, after I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, a disabling neurological condition, I realized that I was not frightened. And the reason why — because the students and employees I thought I was helping, had been really my role models and mentors by being resilient and persistent in requesting accommodations, including permission to bring into class a dog guide to move safely around classrooms and across the street. They had taught me how to become more resilient and persistent. 

And, speaking of persistence for other problems, here’s one. There was a woman student named Paula whose career goal was to be an athletic trainer, a person who’d provide immediate care to injured athletes — usually males injured in contact sports like football or hockey. The problem for Paula was that our director of athletics, in the 1980s, Westy, was opposed to having a woman care for partially dressed male student athletes, and he was the boss of the university’s athletic trainer who was quite willing to let Paula serve with him as an intern. So I went to talk with the trainer after learning that he’d played as a quarterback in college football. I reminded him that good quarterbacks are good strategists and I told him, you have an advantage, because you have a cooperating faculty appointment in the college of education. Since Title IV requires that female students have the same access to classes and programs that males have, I asked, would you like to offer Paula a three-credit independent study class in athletic training. All you’d need is Paula’s request and the approval of the dean of the College of Education. Once you get both of those in writing, the athletic director cannot stop you, since this would be an academic class. Well, as you can imagine, the athletic director was furious with me, but he couldn’t stop that class. After her experience at the University of Maine Paula went on to a career as an athletic trainer. Advocacy worked again.

So now we go back to advocacy needed for faculty and other employees. After salary inequities had been dealt with pretty well, I took on both Title VI and Title VII advocacy. That was more difficult and controversial. Annual spreadsheets enabled me to figure out which women of any race or ethnicity, and which men of another race, ethnicity or national origin, would be considered, and in which department, and school or college, for tenure and or promotion in the fall of each academic year. That’s when people came up for tenure or promotion.

If I found, looking at my spreadsheets, or after talking — the spreadsheets helped me to figure out who was coming up. I would talk with the chairman and find out whether or not any of the people that I had thought might have had inequitable treatment, if I found there was reason to think there had been inequitable treatment, I’d go to the dean, and all the deans at that time were men.

In advance of the dean’s decision-making, so he could save face if possible by overturning the department’s decision, I followed the same procedure of potential face-saving conversations with the vice presidents and, finally, with the president. So that at each level, there would be people overseeing and potentially overturning the potentially inequitable decision. I’m very happy to say that the numbers of female faculty tenured and promoted increased by 33 percent, and the male faculty of diverse color or national origin tenured and promoted to associate professor increased by 45 percent from 1974 to 86. The number of women promoted to full professor increased by 50 percent and the number of male faculty of diverse color or national origin promoted to full professor increased by 75 percent from 1974 to 86. Of course, when I’m talking about women, I’m talking about women also who were diverse in terms of color or ethnicity or national origin.

I knew that educating faculty and staff, as well as administrators, about the reasons why they, and not just I, should promote equity, diversity and inclusion was very important, so I worked with about 10 faculty members and with President Silverman to design a small pilot project — which, of course, a small project is always less threatening than a big project for change. And the “Women And The Curriculum” project enabled faculty to apply for small grants that would allow a woman and a man to co-teach a mainstream academic class, not a women’s studies class, in which they would include, quote, “research by and about women,” into the class. The words “feminist research” would have killed it, of course, in that era, so that’s why we called it “research by and about women.” And I have to give credit also to the people at Wellesley College where that was first started as an approach.

That would be not women’s studies, but that would be infusion of feminist research into mainstream classes. The pilot project with men and women co-teaching four classes in the College of Arts and Sciences and in Education excited everyone, including the dean of the College of Engineering. I hadn’t expected Engineering to be one of these colleges that we get all excited, but the dean was terrific and, in many cases, would initiate the activities that would provide more equity.

And after the pilot project, then faculty colleagues like Nancy McKnight, Ann Schonberger, Sandra Haggard and Paul Bauschatz, to name just a few, helped to start weekly brown bag lunches where one or two faculty or students would lead discussion about a feminist article or book. Approximately 28 to 30 men and women attended every week to these brown bag lunches. Not only because they liked the material that we were talking about, but also because they so loved interdisciplinary discussions which occurred nowhere else on the campus at that time.

After getting a $240,000 grant from the United States Department of Education, I hired a couple of professionals to help me launch a leadership and educational equity project which included faculty at seven campuses, including Dartmouth and the University of New Hampshire, as well as the University of Southern Maine, our university and three other University of Maine System campuses. When the project was finished, I wrote a report to the Department of Education and I later expanded that report into a book, “Toward Excellence & Equity: The Scholarship on Women as a Catalyst for Change in the University.”

My view and theme was that equity, and also excellence, will be achieved only when staffing patterns and institutional policies, as well as academic and professional curricula, demonstrate respect for the needs, contributions and values of women and men of diverse races, nations, gender orientations and diverse mental and physical limitations and abilities. I felt that it was important for other administrators, not just I, to be promoters and advocates for diversity and inclusion, and I knew that that was really starting to happen when the College of Engineering initiated a plan to hire a married couple to share one position. This was something that women were talking about among themselves, but it seemed like this would never happen until that was the College of Engineering, who really wanted to hire women, and discovered that this was a good way to do it, since it was a qualified couple who were both qualified in engineering to share this one position.

However, I’d like to say that the struggle was over, but I can tell you, it was not. The struggle was not yet over.

My longest and most difficult advocacy effort involved the lack of equity in the classified employees job categories. University of Maine had adopted a classification system used nationally in most universities and the wages paid in each job were weighted so that they were male biased. An administrative assistant, or executive secretary to the president or to a vice president, made lower hourly wages in many cases than men who worked in the boiler room or elsewhere in the physical plant. And the reason was because stress and hazard were weighted if they involved strictly physical danger or carrying physically heavy weights. No such significant classification weights for wage purposes were given to the administrative assistant or the secretary who had to exercise extraordinary interpersonal skills and tact if, for example, dealing with an angry major donor or, and I remember this case, with a parent who happened to be a State Senator but whose daughter was flunking out of the university. So just think of a hazard to the university, and not just to the administrator or the employee, if that so-called clerical employee made a serious mistake.

I have no more time to go into detail here, but let me just summarize in a few words. Advocacy did finally work after 14 years. At my farewell party, the president of the classified employees union gave me the new classification manual. The manual with the classified jobs was reworked so they would be sex and gender equitable. And that was an exhausting but very satisfying accomplishment. And it was not just because of me, it’s because I worked also with the president of the union, and even gotten — the president and the system even threatened to fire me or have me fired, if I persisted in talking to the person and the union. Anyway, that was life in the fast lane then.

Many thanks to all of you for listening to some of my reflections on the history of diversity, equity and inclusion at the University of Maine.

Thank you all.

Sandra Haggard: Thank you, wonderful.

Kimberly Whitehead: Thank you so much JoAnn, we really appreciate you being here with us this evening and sharing that history of diversity, equity and inclusion in your work at the University of Maine. If you have questions, what we’re trying to do is manage those through the chat so you can put those in the chat and we will facilitate asking those questions for you.

Okay, so we do have a question. Someone who has put into the chat that they’d like to hear about how JoAnn started the Children’s Center.

JoAnn Fritsche: Oh yes, the Children’s Center. The president of the student council came to me, I think it was in, I don’t know if it was 1973 or — I think it was 1974. She came into my office and she said the students had raised $2,000 to try to start a childcare center for students, for the children of students and employees at the university. And being very naive about what was involved in starting a daycare center, I accepted the money and said, I will do my best. I very quickly found out that this project would involve all kinds of licensing regulations that we, you know, not just do we have to get a building, but it had to be one that could be licensed for hot water and cold water, and it was just ridiculous. When I was in trouble, I called an advisory committee, and I did that with “Women And The Curriculum,” and I figured, this is the best time, I needed this, certainly. So I called a couple of women who were pillars of the community, including Madeleine Freeman and another woman who had been around quite a long time, plus the wife of the vice president for public research and public affairs. The wife of the vice president found a building. All of us went, first of all, to the Department of Human Services, or whatever it was called, in Bangor, to find out what we had to do, and I thought, “oh geez.” And I found out then that the $2,000 wouldn’t cover, would just barely cover the cost of one child, for one year.

So anyhow, with a lot of help from my advisors — as I said, the wife of the vice president got us a building and we worked together. I went to the town council of Orono and the town council of Old Town and they each of those cities gave us a small amount of money also, and the president’s office gave us $2,000. So I had something like $6,000, $8,000, but it took quite a while. But, I forget what year it was now, ’84 or ’85 when we started, the Children’s Center actually opened up. And I was so happy and, unfortunately, at that time it housed only 15 children, but I think it has grown since then, I hope.

Any other questions.

John Maddaus: Yes, I have a question. You mentioned that you were able to get increases in the number of faculty who are people of color.

JoAnn Fritsche: Yes.

John Maddaus: Tenured, promoted to full professor.

JoAnn Fritsche: Right.

John Maddaus: Right we’re still in a situation where we have very few faculty of color. I’m wondering what specific things you learned from those experiences that might still be applicable today in terms of increasing our numbers of faculty of color.

JoAnn Fritsche: That’s an excellent question, and it was not easy. It turned out, in one particular case, there were two people. A husband and a wife, who were from India, and of course Asian Americans were covered as were Hispanic Americans and African Americans and Native Americans. But I certainly found it difficult, it was not easy, and we did not have very many African American applicants. But we did what in that day was called affirmative action. Because there had been an executive order passed back in 1964, to take affirmative action, not just equal opportunity, but affirmative action to seek out, actively seek out, and try to recruit people of color. It was affirmative action and I had to do advocacy, and I must say that there were a number of department chairs, and some people in the audience will remember about this, some department chairs, some deans and vice presidents regarded me as a real pain in the tush. Or much worse than that. Because I was constantly on the wrong side of the people who had the power. I was on the side of the people who didn’t have the power. But I would say, you need to identify organizations that are professional organizations — there are professional organizations that I can’t reel them off right now, that work on advancing and promoting, getting women, not just women, but people of color, regardless of gender, promoted in various fields. You look at the particular fields you’re looking for in that professional organization. You try to find people of color who are there, find out if they have friends or contacts, or are that they would recommend, or they themselves might be interested in coming to the University of Maine.

And then you do your advocacy and have someone there who’s keeping an eye on,

just as I had to keep an eye on, the departments. And pressure. And I don’t know what else to say other than that. It’s still hard, I know it’s still hard.

John Maddaus: Well, thank you for doing that and, yes, it’s something we still need to do.

JoAnn Fritsche: I wish you good luck and if there’s any way — I can give you my email address — I’m sure that Laura Cowan and possibly Kimberly have my email address. So if you want to get my email address I’ll be glad to send it to you or directly, or you can ask one of them for my email address and I’ll be glad to talk with anybody or write to anybody about things that they might want to try. 

John Maddaus: Thank you.

Susan McKay: JoAnn, I see a question in here in the chat, asking how did you keep working in the midst of people telling you no, or turning you away, what kept you focused and going through all this?

JoAnn Fritsche: I had good friends that were a support group. Friday nights I would go out and talk to people who could just let me yammer sometimes. But generally it was exciting to me and I hate to say this, makes you sound like a terrible person, but I didn’t mind. I actually enjoyed handling grievances. They energized me, because I was fighting for something that I thought was right, it kept me energized.

Susan McKay: Here’s another one that’s shown up in the chat. During the ’70s and ’80s, there was a lot of sexist language and behavior in the classrooms. How did you and others address this?

JoAnn Fritsche: There definitely was. I can think of one in particular. The person taught physical education. And he was a friendly guy, okay? And he liked to make jokes also. And so,

I got some complaints from students in his classes about the so-called jokes that he told, and also that he seemed to be a little too friendly at times, that he’d been a little too friendly with certain students. And so I went to talk to him and I said, you are in danger yourself of being embarrassed and perhaps having charges filed against you, if you don’t pay attention to stopping the jokes, stopping making demeaning comments about the girls and women in your class — he called them girls, of course. And, I said, and stop the touching, no matter how friendly you feel. They don’t see you patting the men on the back or the head or wherever, on the shoulders or arm, and if you are not treating the women equitably, you must stop it or bad things will happen. I’ll have to report you to the dean, and, if necessary, to the president. Anyway, that stopped that with him, this kind of joking stuff. And oh yeah, there was a chemistry professor, who said — there was a student in the class, I think she was the only woman student in the class as a matter of fact, at that time, very early on. And the professor said, well ordinarily at this point in my presentation I would tell you a joke, but I guess since we’re in mixed company I can’t do that. And so after this happened for the second or third time in two or three successive days, the woman who was an engineering student and the daughter of an engineer, she was not going to be put off by this kind of nonsense so she turned around and she said to all the guys in the class, okay you guys, you leave, I want to hear the joke.

But you know, one could go on and on, with that kind of thing. But I did have to get more aggressive. I mean, where there was something that I had to tell; I talked of course to that professor, as well as to some others that were just using demeaning language, or whatever. But actually, infusing the feminist research into some of the classes helped because, and this was one of the points in my book, “Toward Excellence and Equity,” that it’s important to not just change the curriculum, but also make people conscious of the inequities that they’re engaging in, that are being engaged in, perhaps unconsciously, because of one’s long-held attitudes toward women, girls, whatever, or people of color and, at the time, there was less. I did have concerns about a Penobscot reservation resident. And there were some issues relating to the Penobscots, and I would be happy to talk about those too at some point, if you wish to hear them.

But most of the challenges came from the women.

Susan McKay: Here’s another question that I think ties in. People with disabilities often get forgotten in our conversations and in efforts for equity. Have you experienced this and how can we help disabled students more at UMaine.

JoAnn Fritsche: I think one thing you can do is make sure that the students and the faculty who are there shouldn’t be embarrassed to talk to the person and say, is there anything that you hear in this class, or anything that any of us are doing that makes you feel that you’re being treated differently. Don’t be embarrassed to acknowledge that they have a disability. I know that I have experienced, when I have been on a wheelchair or a scooter, either people knock themselves out to help me — and when I’m in a scooter I don’t need half as much help as I need when I’m on my feet — but people are either embarrassed, or they say things like “oh, you’re so cute! You’re so cute!” When I’m in a wheelchair — I mean, get real. I’m not cute, you know.

But I think being comfortable talking about disabilities — if you notice that a person is having a little struggle, like I struggle with, and I’ve been struggling today with my papers, because it’s hard for me to turn pages. And if you notice if somebody is having trouble writing and taking notes — God knows, I have that problem — you might want to say, is there any way I can help you, you seem to be having a little trouble with your hands, can I help you pick up this. Or if a person’s always dropping their pencil or pen or whatever. They probably need a little help. And say, would you mind, but don’t just do it, say, would you like me or would you mind if I picked up your pen for you, would that be okay, so that you’re asking their permission and not simply assuming that they are needing help.

Susan McKay: It sounds like great advice. We’d like to come back and hear more about what were the situations involving the Penobscots that you alluded to earlier.

JoAnn Fritsche: Yes. I guess it was, I was there for about two years, and I realized that there was one particular person on the campus who was a Penobscot. He had a master’s degree in education and everybody, all the university administrators, regarded him as a spokesperson for the Penobscots, especially those on the reservation. And when I talked to people on the reservation, they did not see him as a spokesperson, he was very different from them. He had an education, they didn’t have that kind of education, and furthermore, in the tribe, we’re talking about a group of people who are acting with a lot of consensus building. You don’t have one person speaking for the group, and that was an attitude, and I had to tell the president and others, the dean of the college and some other people, that this guy does not speak for the Penobscots. So it’s not good for him to be put in that position with his own tribal members, and it’s demeaning for the people on the reservation to have people project an attitude that the only people that we care to talk to, are the ones who have bachelor’s and master’s degrees.

I did a lot of meddling, as you can imagine. I not only meddled at the university, but I also meddled sometimes because I realized that we didn’t have any Penobscots in the student body, period, except for this one master’s degree student. And so I wanted to find out a little bit, so I went over to the reservation and I talked to people there. I heard about how the students felt in school when they transferred from the Catholic school on the reservation, to the public high school. The bells ringing, about being here on time, and all the time stuff, was something that was not really all that embedded in the Penobscot culture. The whole time thing, and the bell ringing and all that stuff, that was very, very intimidating.

And also, there was the way that people, the students, were treated. So I went to the high school counselor to try to find out what her views were. And I was horrified that she said that a lot of them just seem to have Penobscot time, Indian time. They show up whenever they feel like it, and not on time for class, not when we’re supposed to be here. And also, some of them have parents who get drunk all the time. These guys go to the bars and they get drunk and then they beat up their wives or their kid or whatever, and violence stuff, terrible stuff and this is what you encounter with these people, with those people, you know, those people. And I also found out from her what she thought about the girls and the boys and other ways. I said, do you have any girls taking Shop and she said, heavens no! The boys take Shop and the girls take Home Ec. I said, what about a boy who would like to take Home Ec and a girl who would like to take Shop? Well, it just isn’t done! And I said, well, there have been new laws passed, and there’s Title IX now, and you need to provide access. I said, I can’t tell you to do this. I’m just telling you as a friend, as a neighbor, as a person in the community, that maybe you need to reconsider some of these points of view about both the Native American students, and also about the girls and boys in their access to classes.

Susan McKay: Great. Thank you very much JoAnn.

We really appreciate your being our inaugural speaker in this series, and we look forward to hearing more from you as you attend the subsequent lectures. I also want to thank the members of the DEI Council who are here tonight. All of us feel as if part of our responsibility and our role in the council is to learn, and we’ve certainly learned a lot from you, JoAnn, in your remarks this evening.

Finally, I’d like to thank President Ferrini-Mundy for her commitment to DEI and for forming the Council, and for really recognizing that this is an ongoing, standing need on our campus. And lastly I’d like to thank everyone for being here, for submitting questions. It’s been really a wonderful inaugural session for all of us. Thank you. Good night.

JoAnn Fritsche: Good night. Thank you.