Assistant Professor Rebecca Davis Receives North Star Collective Faculty Fellowship
"The North Star Collective Faculty Fellowship provides an opportunity for BIPOC faculty to come together and create a community in which we can support one another," says SLIS Assistant Professor and Faculty Fellow Rebecca Davis. "Faculty Fellows learn about professional development and how to maintain a healthy work-life balance. I am also looking forward to hearing about other Fellows' research and engaging and networking with them. Moreover, senior scholars who have fulfilled the tenure-track journey mentor junior scholars who are beginning their journey."
Davis is among the 25 faculty members awarded a fellowship from the North Star Collective. This is a semester-long fellowship for BIPOC faculty members in the humanities and social sciences at New England institutions. The fellowship is designed to cultivate a close-knit community, mentorship, and professional development.
The fellowship program began during the 2021-2022 academic year, and Davis belongs to the second cohort. The name "North Star" refers to the actual north star that enslaved African Americans used to guide them toward freedom. The term is also a nod to the nineteenth-century antislavery newspaper, The North Star, published by abolitionist Frederick Douglass. Accordingly, the North Star Collective is committed to reparative justice and racial uplift.
Faculty fellows participate in both virtual and in-person gatherings. Davis attended the online orientation over Zoom in December. In January, Fellows met in-person for a retreat in North Andover. "We got together and enjoyed community-building activities. We had time to focus on our writing and research together," she says. Fellows will gather together again in March and May for in-person symposia.
Davis and her North Star Collective colleagues partake in a writing group twice a month. Faculty break into small groups of about eight people and take turns acting as the writing group facilitator. "The structure of each session will vary with each facilitator," says Davis. "The first time we met, we spent 20 minutes writing, followed by a short break. This gives us a chance to check-in with each other as we work on our scholarship."
As a North Star Collective Fellow, Davis is focusing on a paper that is part of her findings from her grant project that explores how the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted how African American undergraduates use academic libraries. This project is also being funded by a grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS).
During spring 2021 and fall 2021, Davis conducted 32 interviews with African American college students affiliated with research schools, liberal arts colleges, or historically Black colleges from a variety of geographic regions within the United States.
When Davis interviewed these students, many academic libraries were closed, or were offering reduced hours to help practice social distancing. Davis asked the students about the role that academic libraries play in their lives, as well as how COVID-19 has affected their use of libraries.
Many of Davis' interviewees said that pandemic-related barriers, including masks, limited seating, the absence of group spaces, reduced hours, and no food, influenced whether or not they used libraries at their institutions. Another major concern for African American college students is safety. "As we know, the pandemic impacted Black and brown communities at a higher rate," says Davis. "Many students with whom I spoke were invested in their own safety and taking care of themselves, which discouraged them from using libraries. Students referred to the library as a place of peace and calm where they were free from distractions since many lived in dorms with roommates, and there were limited spaces where they could go on campus. The library provided that space where they could concentrate on their studies."
Davis' findings reveal how decreased access to libraries affected the lives of Black students, socially and intellectually. "One of the participants informed me that they lost a lot of their social life and social interaction because they were no longer gathering at the academic library." Another interviewee lamented the loss of leisure reading and access to printed (as opposed to digital) books while the stacks were closed off to the public. Other students noticed a drop in their grades due to the reduction of available study space.
Davis plans to complete this article by the end of this semester and submit it to a peer-reviewed academic journal in the field of library and information science.
Meanwhile, Davis is working on another research project with Assistant Professor Danielle Maurici-Pollock. Together they interviewed 34 first-generation students about their experience applying to graduate school. "We found that there are not many resources available for first-generation graduate students. We have been creating information maps that show the various resources those students use when applying to graduate school." Davis and Maurici-Pollock are co-authoring a related paper that examines the definitions of "first-generation student" that they encountered on various institutional websites.
Davis' scholarship brings together the academic discipline of library and information science and the crucial issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion. "I want to identify inequities within the field of library and information science that are related to underrepresented groups and proactively address them," she says. Davis emphasizes the need for drastic changes in her area of expertise. "This energizes me and motivates me to focus on underrepresented and underserved groups within my discipline. African Americans are one of the most understudied groups in this field, so we need to pay attention this community. This is what drives my work and my interests."
Davis appreciates the fact that the North Star Collective provides the space and community for BIPOC faculty to focus on their scholarship and provide feedback to one another. "We all succeed by having a supportive community," she says.