The Clark University Alumni Council’s Diversity and Inclusion Task Force was formed in the summer of 2018 to foster deeper engagement of alumni of color and LGBTQ+ alumni with the University. The experiences of these and other alumni communities are a powerful and immeasurable part of both Clark’s history and its future as a welcoming institution. Perhaps no Clarkie understands the importance of this work more than D&I Task Force co-chair Ishara Casellas Connors ’06.
Casellas Connors has made a career of advocating for diversity and inclusion among college students. Today, she is the assistant dean for diversity and climate for the College of Geosciences at Texas A&M University, but her knowledge and interest in this work began while she was at Clark.
“Through my role with the Black Student Union I was able to gain a lot of insight into the challenges facing students of color,” she says. “This leadership role also allowed me to connect with other students at various institutions throughout Worcester who were doing this work. This provided both a sense of community and also started to highlight some common trends in student experiences.”
Casellas Connors notes that her connection with Clark has strengthened as an alumna. “The friendships I have built, either with people I knew while at Clark or who I met after, are some of my most treasured,” she says. Her work in diversity and inclusion has been heavily influenced by her Clark peers. “Without those relationships, my professional and research goals of advancing equity and social justice wouldn’t be fulfilled.”
As a co-chair of the D&I Task Force, Casellas Connors has taken a lead role in creating more programs and volunteer opportunities for underrepresented alumni. She facilitated several virtual focus groups where she spoke with alumni about their experiences as students and how they engage with Clark today.
Listening to alumni perspectives from across the decades was truly eye-opening, she says. “The opportunity to connect with alumni from the 1960s through 2015 and hearing both the similarities and differences in their experiences was powerful. Many Clarkies who have been trailblazers also have a shared commitment to ensuring that students benefit from their knowledge but also don’t encounter some of the same challenges they did.”
Casellas Connors holds a master’s degree from Columbia University and is working toward her doctorate in higher education from Boston College. She’s worked at UC Berkeley, Tufts University, the Massachusetts Business Alliance for Education, and SEGA Girls’ Secondary Schools in Tanzania.
Casellas Connors says Clark appears to be taking positive steps to address the issues facing students and faculty of color. The work to create enduring change can take years, if not decades, she says. “To truly advance diversity and inclusion we must question systems and structures that have been in place. This is challenging but necessary work. If we can’t change the systems and structures, we will continue to perpetuate inequity.”
Kevin Wesley, Clark’s executive director of alumni and friends engagement, says Casellas Connors’ unique combination of professional and personal skills and experiences makes her invaluable to the D&I Task Force. “Ishara was a leader from the outset,” he says. “She has brought her professional expertise to bear on every aspect of the Task Force, helping lead and inform staff and fellow volunteers. She is the consummate Clarkie volunteer.”
Casellas Connors sees the Task Force’s work as “a starting point that will need to be nurtured and centered as a core element of alumni programming. I am hoping this will help identify where we can come together to address structural and sustained support for students of color and LGBTQ+ students to positively shape the experiences of current and future students.”
Ellin Terrill is the associate director of marketing for Alumni & Friends Engagement & The Clark Fund.