Campus & Community

Assistant Dean Gary Bailey: This is Not the Time to be Silent

Dr. Gary Bailey, Assistant Dean for Community Engagement and Social Justice at the College of Social Science, Policy, and Practice, Professor of Practice of Social Work, and Director of the Urban Leadership Program, was named co-chair of the new President’s Advisory Council on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. We spoke with Dr. Bailey about the plans for the new Council, the expertise he brings to this role, and his advice on what you can do to support Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) efforts.


What is your role at Simmons?

I’m the Assistant Dean for Community Engagement and Social Justice at the College of Social Science, Policy, and Practice (CSSPP), Professor of Practice of Social Work, and Director of the Urban Leadership Program. I’m also now the co-chair of the President’s Advisory Council on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. In that role, along with Dr. Sharron Credle, we are the advisors to the President on DEI at the University and are a part of the leadership team.

How long have you worked at Simmons?

This is my 21st year at the University — it might actually be a bit longer because I started as an adjunct professor.

What do you hope to achieve with this new Presidential Council?

Since joining Simmons, I’ve been involved in a number of the University’s DEI efforts. DEI work isn’t a “stop and start.” To me, it’s really more like seasoning — when I cook, I add the onions and season them, then I add celery and season that because I’m building the flavor. So I’m looking at this work similarly; it is an iterative process — everything we’ve done has led us to this moment. We’re not starting from zero at a time of crisis. We’re not starting where we may have wanted to be, but we’re further along than 20 years ago as an institution. Has there been slippage? Could we have done more? Absolutely. But at this time of intersecting pandemics, COVID-19 and racial inequity, Simmons is in the perfect place to provide the kind of leadership we need to get through this. But it’s been an iterative process, and we’re in the right place with the right leader to help us move forward.

So with the President’s Advisory Council, among my goals are to make inclusive excellence front and center in all that we do; and to work to ensure that we become a leader in the DEI space in New England. Our mission is to create an environment that not only says we’re welcoming to students, particularly ALANA students, but to really live that, so we’re creating an environment in which being your authentic self is valued and celebrated. I firmly believe that as we make a Simmons that is welcoming to first-generation and ALANA students, we will make a Simmons that is welcoming to ALL students. That’s where the benefit lies with DEI work — it raises the bar and improves things for everyone. I’m really excited about this opportunity.

What do you personally bring to this effort?

I’ve been a first-generation college student, so I know the feeling of that experience. I always say with a smile, “I’ve been Black my entire life,” so I also know what that means in terms of the power of race, for dreams and aspirations, both in terms of how race can sometimes act as an anchor and in the same way it can help you soar. So those are lived realities that someone doesn’t need to tell me — I know it.

I also bring my social work training. I strongly believe that what I’ve been trained to do is really listen, and in that listening, to really “hear.” When hearing, you begin to develop, unpack, and respond to not only what people are saying, but what they truly mean.

As Assistant Dean, DEI has been a part of my portfolio in one of the University’s largest programs. These are all things that I bring to the table: my lived experience, the ability to listen and to “hear,” and my social justice and equity lens that is a part of my personal and professional value base. Being the co-chair of this Council legitimizes everything I’ve been doing at Simmons since I’ve been here.

What will be some of the first priorities of the Council?

We’re in the process of establishing the Council. We have begun first with identifying the skills and talents we need to have in the participants. We want as many people at the table as possible — our goal is to really have this owned by our colleagues in the University. It’s not only about who we’re inviting; it’s saying, if you want to be a part of this change, please join us.

We also have a lot of ideas and plans surrounding programming. One of the first programs I’m excited about is the fall Community Read, What the Eyes Don’t See: A Story of Crisis, Resistance, and Hope in an American City by Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha. We’re encouraging all students, faculty, and staff to read this book collectively, and we’ve invited Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha on October 8 for a community conversation and Q&A.

We’re also excited to do some programming with each of the colleges. Straight out of the gate will be something around the election with The Gwen Ifill College of Media, Arts, and Humanities. This election is as much about who’s going to be President of the United States as it is about the values around DEI — who are we going to be as a nation going forward?

What can each Simmons community member do to support DEI efforts?

I’m a firm believer that silence in times of crisis is complicity — this is not the time to be silent. Even if you don’t know what to say, just say, “I don’t agree.” That in and of itself short-circuits the negative. If you stay silent, people take that silence as complicity — that you agree with white supremacy, you agree with misogyny, patriarchy etc. It’s so important that you say what you disagree with.

I believe that people can lean into being brave versus safe. We default to safe, but change doesn’t happen in safe — change happens in brave. That doesn’t mean we have to take huge risks, but it does mean that we sometimes have to trust ourselves and go beyond where we’re comfortable and what we know.

I learned a valuable lesson while spending time in Upstate New York for a week this summer. Every morning I would wake up and go for a walk on the very hilly country roads. One day I avoided walking on one hill because I believed I walked better on a flat road. In actuality, I just didn’t feel like walking up that hill. But I got lost on my journey, and the only way back was to climb this hill. I didn’t want to get overtaxed (and exhausted) by doing it all at once, so I decided to approach it incrementally. I walked up a certain amount, stopped, caught my breath, then went up another amount. By the time I had figured everything out, I was already at the top, and the rest was downhill.

This taught me how fear will stop you, and the anticipation of being uncomfortable will stop you from doing things. We can approach challenging situations in increments instead of doing it all at one time. When you get to the top of what frightens you, the view is amazing. You’re so afraid of the process that you don’t think about the endpoint. Right now, we’re all-consumed in this space around race and inequity. We forget what it will look like when we go through this moment to a place that can look, feel and truly be different, where we can actually live the promises of the Bill of Rights, the Constitution, and our belief in democracy and equality. What happens when we finally live in a way that all people are equal is so empowering and exciting — but it’s not going to be easy. I believe that the leadership work that Simmons has done and will continue to do will help people figure out how to get up these hills.

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