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Rutgers set to host Access Week to address disparities in higher education

One of the featured programs is called "Advocating for Educational Equity" and will be a panel discussion featuring New Jersey educational policy experts. – Photo by

Next week, Rutgers is hosting its annual, week-long initiative called Access Week, which provides various programming opportunities for students and aims to create awareness surrounding first-generation, low-income and other underserved student communities, according to the initiative's website.

“Access Week helps to normalize the experience of being a first-generation or low-income student,” said Melissa Wooten, senior director for Educational Equity at the Division of Diversity, Inclusion and Community Engagement. “We get to think openly and together on what we can do to make the University a desirable destination for students from these groups.”

While there are usually public events that alumni or others could attend, she said the programs are typically geared toward students to show them the resources that are available to help them accomplish their academic and career goals.

One program, called "I am College Bound: College Fair & Youth Summit," is going to be hosted by Upward Bound & Upward Bound Math-Science to promote youth development and help educate high school students about college, said Jackasha Wiley, director of Upward Bound & Upward Bound Math-Science.

“Local high school first-generation and low-income students will have the opportunity to interact with university/college admissions representatives, giving them exposure to the process of academic inquiry and the college experience through a series of educational and social workshops and activities,” she said.

Another event that will take place is called “Student Research Presentations,” hosted by the Ronald E. McNair Postbaccalaureate Achievement Program and Louis Stokes Alliances for Minority Participation, said Christina Chisholm, director of the McNair Scholars Program.

She said the presentations will allow students from these programs to demonstrate their scholarship beyond the traditional classroom setting.

“We focus this event specifically on our students, allowing their research and experiences to take center stage,” Chisholm said. “In addition, we want to discuss and provide students, across disciplines, with information on how they can become involved.”

Additionally, the Rutgers Collaborative Center for Community-Based Research and Service will host "Advocating for Educational Equity," a panel that will include four prominent New Jersey educational policy advocates, said Amy Michael, associate director of the Collaborative Center.

“This panel discussion will highlight how educational policies and practices can either include or exclude students on a systemic level and how everyone can use their voice to advocate for anti-racist, inclusive policies in schools,” she said. 

Michael said that hearing from these activists will hopefully inspire and empower students to take collective action against systemic issues.

“Our goal is to foster a commitment to life-long, civic engagement in students that includes examining root causes of disparities and knowing how to advocate for change, in addition to serving directly in the community,” she said.

Aside from the programs mentioned, Access Week will also be showcasing additional lectures, workshops, alumni engagement opportunities and programming, according to its website.

Due to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, Wooten said the team has had to restructure its traditional programming to better work in a virtual environment. For instance, they are incorporating pre-recorded content and changing the format of typically longer events.

She said Access Week originally began as a one-day event celebrating federally-funded access and equity programs but transformed into the week-long initiative seen today. While there are similar programs that exist at other universities, Wooten said Access Week stands out for multiple reasons.

“What makes Rutgers—New Brunswick Access Week unique is that it extends the conversation in time and scope,” she said. “Instead of highlighting a small number of programs on a given day, Access Week uses an entire week to highlight the overall effort to make the campus more equitable and inclusive.”

Overall, Wooten said she is aiming for the event to ultimately raise awareness and help bring the community closer together.

“I hope Access Week causes faculty, staff and students to reflect on their role in moving the campus to a place where it is truly accessible to anyone that wants to come and equally welcoming to students once here,” she said.

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