Alyssa Arnell, Chair of the History Department at Greenfield Community College (GCC), was awarded the African American Female Professor Award by the African American Female Professor Award Association (AAFPAA) in a ceremony at Bay Path University on September 26, 2019. The academic and local community gathered at Bay Path’s Mills Theatre to hear a keynote address from GCC President, Dr. Yves Salomon-Fernández. This competitive award celebrates high-achieving African American Female Professors who are under-represented, talented, and committed women in higher education.
Formerly a history teacher at Dillard University and Educational Outreach Coordinator and Historical Interpreter for the National Park Service, Professor Arnell joined the faculty at GCC in 2017. In just two years, she has modernized GCC’s history curriculum, infusing it with a social justice focus and adding courses such as the Legal History of American Civil Rights and North American Indigenous History.
“We are building out a program that incorporates the voices of different people,” says Professor Arnell, “so whoever walks into the classroom can see themselves represented and respected in the narratives.”
Professor Arnell was nominated for the award by Dr. Leo Hwang, GCC’s Dean of Humanities, Engineering, Math and Science. “Alyssa is looking to create the kind of world she wants to inhabit,” shares Dean Hwang. “She does not see the world as only problems, she sees it as something she can be an active member in helping to build and transform.”
For many of Professor Arnell’s classes, she has integrated a public history component that brings her classes out of the classroom and to the lobby of the Main Building where her students give presentations on their projects throughout the day. It is a fantastic way to let other faculty, staff, and students see the kinds of work her students are engaged in, and see the kinds of research that can happen in a history course.
In addition to teaching, Professor Arnell has created programming that reached beyond the classroom with talks on the removal of confederate statues, a lecture on the life Frederick Douglass, a panel discussion with students about the movie Black Panther, and a conversation on immigrant rights. She also adapted a format of Facilitated Dialogues used by the National Park Service to hold a series of conversations about race and ethnicity at Greenfield Community College. She will continue to grow the Facilitated Dialogues series with a community session planned for this August, and additional sessions for faculty, staff and students for the fall and spring.
Professor Arnell is also a core member of Greenfield Community College’s Racial Equity and Justice Institute Team, a part of the Leading for Change Higher Education Diversity Consortium. As part of the Racial Equity and Justice Team, she has worked to learn best practices to support students of color, helped the college identify specific areas where achievement gaps exist, and will continue in the coming year to work to identify specific action steps to try to address those achievement gaps.
Professor Arnell is a true advocate for students. She is dedicated to the integrity of the History Department and its curricular offerings, she is an activist educator seeking to strengthen access and equity in higher education, and she is a true resource for all our students, but particularly for our students of color who seek a mentor and advisor in their journey through Greenfield Community College.
According to the National Center for Education Statistics, of all full-time faculty in degree-granting postsecondary institutions in the fall 2016, just 3 percent were black females. “We are very fortunate to have Alyssa on the faculty,” shares Dr. Salomon-Fernández. “She brings great breadth of experience in her discipline and has added so much to the intellectual vibrancy of the campus. We congratulate her on this achievement and what it means for the students who look up to her.”
The award was presented by Traci Gilbert, Founder and Chairperson of the AAFPAA, who shared the many ways Professor Arnell has embraced diversity as a tool for change and a catalyst for enlightened teaching. “I plan to continue to recognize women such as Alyssa who see the need and appreciate the value around ensuring all students are comfortable and accurately represented in their higher academia learning experience.”