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New SOE Faculty: Dr. Rosemary (Rosie) Perez

Dr. Rosemary (Rosie) Perez joined the SOE as an Associate Professor in the Center for the Study of Higher and Postsecondary Education.

Rosemary J. Perez
Dr. Rosemary J. Perez

Perez's scholarship leverages the strengths of student development and organizational theories to explore individual and organizational learning and development in collegiate contexts. Across her program of research and her teaching, she explores the tensions between structure and agency, and how power, privilege, and oppression affect individuals and groups within higher education.

She is committed to empowering individuals and communities as we work toward creating a more equitable and just society, as evidenced by her role on the leadership team for the Education for Social Justice Certificate at Iowa State University. This university-wide certificate provides students the opportunity to engage in thoughtful, rigorous, and sustained inquiry into social inequalities and social justice praxis in P-20 classrooms, schools, and educational systems.

In recognition of her engagement with Students of Color and efforts to improve their experiences on campus, she received the 2016 Faculty/Staff Change Agent Award from the Iowa State University Multicultural Student Affairs office. In addition, she was named an Emerging Scholar in 2017 and Diamond Honoree in 2020 by ACPA-College Student Educators International, a professional association for student affairs educators.

Prior to joining the University of Michigan, Perez was an Assistant Professor of Higher Education and Student Affairs at Iowa State University School of Education. She brings six years of professional work experience in university student affairs divisions to the School of Education.

Q: As co-PI on a project that aims to improve pathways to the professoriate for underrepresented minority STEM doctoral candidates by working to improve departmental and campus racial climates, what have you found to be effective ways to do the hard work of changing institutional climates?

RP: Changing racial climates is difficult work, and in some ways, I’ve learned more about why people struggle than succeed. For example, in many STEM departments, work related to diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) is seen as distant if not in opposition to science. Accordingly, DEI work often relies on the labor of a faculty champion, a small committee, or on graduate students. Furthermore, many efforts to address racial climate in STEM graduate programs are piecemeal – a few workshops here, a mentoring program there, yearly efforts to recruit racially minoritized students without clear plans on how to support and retain them. Departments to do the hard work of evaluating their culture and how it may center whiteness and devalue racially minoritized doctoral students. Concurrently, individuals need to examine their thoughts, beliefs, and practices and be honest with themselves about how they contribute to and detract from racially minoritized students’ abilities to thrive. Changing climate requires reimagining STEM graduation with DEI as core to becoming a good scientist and creating policies and practices that reflect that commitment. Rather than relying on champions or graduate students, meaningful change requires sustained commitment and contributions from all members of a departmental community.

Q: How does your past experience working in a student affairs office influence the research questions you ask or how you perform your research?

RP: My work as a student affairs educator influences what I study and how I engage in inquiry. For instance, working as Residence Hall Director and attending the Social Justice Training Institute shaped my interest in understanding in how people engage across differences in socially constructed identities and how they can disrupt and dismantle systems of oppression. These experiences have informed my research on the development of intercultural maturity and more recently, critical consciousness.

My work in residence life also informed my interest in studying graduate education. I supervised master’s students and new professionals and observed the challenges people encountered as they tried to make sense of what they were learning in their programs and as they navigated their subsequent transition to practice. This led me to start a line of inquiry focused on the professional socialization of graduate students.

Finally, my work in student affairs allowed me to build and to sustain relationships with students. As a longitudinal qualitative researcher, my abilities to create connections, to listen, and to be fully present with students has served me and my participants well. I’m invested in my participants’ lives, and in turn, I’ve found that many are invested in me and my work.

Q: What class or topic are you most excited to teach at U-M and why?

RP: I’m most excited to teach Learning and Development in Higher Education since it draws upon my research and practice as a student affairs educator. In this course, we examine, critique, apply, and reconstruct theories of college student learning and development. I enjoy learning alongside those in the course as we grapple with the benefits and limitations of theory, and the dynamic relationship between research and practice. I learn something new each semester that adds complexity to how I’m thinking about, studying, and supporting students’ development.

In this course, I also love seeing people’s relationship of theory change. Rather than seeing it as something that is distant or created by others, we engage with the material in ways that helps students connect theory to their work and that encourages them to see themselves as theory builders. The idea that we can (re)create theories to better understand and support college students’ learning and development is powerful.

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