Professor Ramon Borges-Mendez is an Associate Professor of IDCE and of Community Development and Planning at Clark. I had the opportunity to be a part of one of his FYI courses and then later be a Peer-Learning Assistant for the same. He has an extensive background when it comes to engaging and advocating for diversity. His work spans over a myriad of issues such as immigration, Latinos in the U.S. and labour force and workforce development, et cetera.
The Things That Matter team is trying to reach out to the larger Clark community, especially to individuals who are culturally active and around. In this effort I reached out to Professor Borges-Mendez for an interview. This is how the conversation turned out:
- When did you first come to the USA and what were your first impressions?
I first came to the in 1982 as a student to UMass Amherst. While the US wasn’t foreign to me coming from Puerto Rico, my first year here, it was difficult to adapt to the cold and the rural area. I missed just going to the corner shop and grabbing a coke.
- What do you miss the most about home?
The beach. I loved to sit on the beach and write; the water here doesn’t get warm till North Carolina. Beaches and tropical weather is my comfort zone and I miss that.
- How did you start working at Clark?
When I left college, I already had a family. I first moved to Chile for 5 years, followed by Washington D.C. Then moving onto Boston. Back in the day, getting tenure was really difficult. It was almost like Clark chose, I knew some people here, they knew off me and it was like a match made in heaven.
- What Classes are you teaching this semester, or in the upcoming academic year?
I have been on sabbatical this past year but next fall I am teaching 5 classes, Including a First-year Intensive class that I taught you and 4 other classes that range from, workforce and urban development to local and regional food systems. It is a lot on my plate for next semester but I don’t have much to worry about next semester.
- Do you think Clarkies are different from students of other institutions?
Yes, definitely. At Clark, the students are very self-selective; they come looking for specific things such as interaction with the outside world, interdisciplinary studies, potential for interacting with professors etc. They are also not very pretentious and are very authentic, not trying to impress anybody. Another advantage of having such students is that when you’re teaching a class, they actually want to be in the class because they are interested not because they are forced to be there.
- How do you think Clark fairs when it comes to Diversity?
Clark is amazing when it comes to other places I have worked at, but then again there is a generation gap. I think about diversity differently, I like to talk about it from a perspective of empowerment, the baby boom generation was very active about diversity throughout the whole career. There was a big change in ideology with Gen. The millenials, my children including, always have arguments about topics such as how can we talk about fluidity in cultural diversity. I believe that Change begins with you and the extent to which you connect. The millenials need to move beyond social media, to tangible change. There are places where people don’t have access to the things you have. My challenge to the millenials is to use tools but don’t have blind faith in them, connect beyond the medium.
7.How do you think Clark as an entity can improve?
I haven’t seen the use of art and connectivity to forward the idea of equity and diversity at Clark. A lot of activism is driven by a lot of complaining. As a student or leader, one needs to understand that the fight for equity is going to be uphill. The changes happening nowadays have come at the expense of lot of discussion and sacrifice.
8.Have you faced stereotypes/ discrimination?
Oh yeah, in Worcester and on campus, everyday, I just have learnt to deal with it. It’s about not losing the focus and focus on the bigger picture and problems. Once I got invited to speak at an event, in the program all the other speakers were referred to Doctors but they just assumed I wasn’t one. I don’t assume anything; I have been pleasantly surprised in environments, which I was expecting to be bad outcomes from and vice versa. People are afraid of asking the questions. People get afraid and touchy about dialogue, instead of talking about it. It’s about learning and managing assumptions. Create a respectful dialogue. Focus on new forms of embracing diversity.
- On a lighter note what are some of your favourite Clark events you’ve been to?
I go to a lot of events such as Gala, Asian New Year, sports games, all sorts of lectures, academic spree day. I enjoy looking the work students are doing.