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Celebrating Black female faculty at FIU

Celebrating Black female faculty at FIU

February 28, 2022 at 1:00pm

By Fabio Lopez

With Black History Month coming to a close and Women’s History Month around the corner,  meet 4 faculty members at the intersection of Blackness and Womanhood who are having an impact at FIU.

Carleen Vincent-Robinson is a teaching professor in the Department of Criminology & Criminal Justice and currently serves as the assistant dean of the Steven J. Green School of International & Public Affairs.  

Vincent-Robinson began her career at FIU 14 years ago as an instructor at the Biscayne Bay Campus where she taught every criminal justice course that was offered.   

 “I was the Criminal Justice Department at BBC,” said Vincent-Robinson when describing her early career in the department. “I was the only faculty member there. Everyone else was at MMC.” 

Since joining her colleagues at MMC, she made the most of her time as a faculty member and ultimately became the associate chair.  Some of her stand-out accomplishments include overseeing a dual enrollment criminal justice program that has expanded to eight different high schools and hundreds of students in just a few years, leading an internship program, facilitating prior learning assessment so that police officers can earn up to 15 credits for their professional experience, and creating a teaching practicum for doctoral students.

Driven by a never-ending quest for knowledge, Vincent-Robinson has racked up five degrees in total: an Ed.D. in Higher Education, a Master of Arts in Sociology with concentrations in race and ethnicity as well as criminology, a Master of Science in Criminal Justice, a Juris Doctorate, and a Bachelor of Arts in English Professional Writing. 

Okezi T. Otovo has been at FIU since 2012. She has focused on researching and teaching about Latin American history, in particular Brazilian history, as well as gender and sexuality and the social history of medicine and public health. Additionally, she teaches about the history of people of African descent and race, gender and intersectionality.

Otovo is currently an associate professor of history and African and African Diaspora Studies and an affiliate faculty at the Kimberly Green Latin American and Caribbean Center and of the Center for Women’s and Gender Studies at FIU.

Otovo is heavily involved in community work and outreach efforts that facilitate conversations between Black women of the community who have given birth and medical experts and birthing advocates. She has led several community dialogues throughout South Florida, such as “Perspectives on Black Motherhood and Health,” a discussion group for community members who have experiences with motherhood and health in Florida to converse with clinicians, doulas, midwives, and advocates.

Currently, she leads the “Black Mothers Care Plan,” funded by The Children’s Trust of Miami-Dade County, which focuses on reducing racial bias in obstetric and postpartum care and supporting maternal and infant health. One of her major accomplishments during her time at FIU is the publication of her book, Progressive Mothers, Better Babies: Race, Public Health, and the State in Brazil, 1850-1945.

She also led a program last year that centered around Black women’s health epistemologies, which discusses “women’s knowledge and how to share that knowledge about motherhood and challenges that Black women face.”

Otovo is working on a new book, inspired, in part, by her own experience as a mother during the pandemic, that will center around the history of Black women’s understandings and lived experiences of health in South Florida, and how those understandings and experiences have changed over time.

Donna Aza Weir-Soley has been a Panther for more than two decades, having joined the institution in 1999. She is currently an associate professor of English and an affiliate faculty member in African and African Diaspora Studies, Women’s Studies, and the Latin American and Caribbean Center. Additionally, she is also a literary critic, poet, essayist, fiction writer, and anthologist. She also serves as the director of Professional Development and Mentoring for the Black Faculty Association at FIU.

Weir-Soley’s ultimate vision for what she wants to accomplish in both her personal and professional life would be to “inspire, lead and provide a voice to current and future Black scholars at FIU and create the next generation of Black excellence and governance.” 

One of the many courses Weir-Soley has taught over the years has been a course on the Harlem Renaissance, a topic that fascinates her. In celebration of the 100th year since its inception, she held a creative writing workshop in which students “read poetry from the Harlem Renaissance and wrote a love poem and a social justice poem… They wrote a love quatrain poem with four stanzas and four lines; a Shakespearean sonnet was written with a social justice theme.  

Having been born in Jamaica, Weir-Soley is profoundly committed to work that supports Caribbean countries. She is the president of the Association of Caribbean Women Writers and Scholars, an organization that specializes in promoting and disseminating literature, orature, and interdisciplinary work on the Caribbean. She was also appointed the Butler Waugh Professor in English, which is a professorship that is aimed at assisting undergraduate Hispanic and Caribbean students.

Michelle Bradham-Cousar is a Certified Rehabilitation Counselor (CRC), National Certified Counselor (NCC), Licensed Mental Health Counselor (LMHC) who is translating her experience to make the university a more inclusive place for students with disabilities.

 Bradham-Cousar is an assistant professor of Rehabilitation Counseling, where she provides guidance, direction, mentoring to the next generation of students to enter the rehabilitation services field for people with physical and mental health disabilities.

She has worked in the field of rehabilitation science for more than 16 years. She is currently the Bylaws Chair and a former Southern Region Chair for the American Counseling Association (ACA) with a membership of more than 55,000 counselors.

Having been named “Counselor of the Year” in 2015 for her contributions to the field of rehabilitation and disabilities, Bradham-Cousar’s work mostly focuses on health disparities. This is reflected in her work with the Disability Competencies. Her most recent collaborative work was to uncover and reveal through research, the County Resolution No. F3 “Structural Racism Study: Building Bridges and Supporting Racial Equity” (voted and approved by the County Board). She is currently working on research that relates to students with disabilities within the school system. Also, she is working with various faculty members as part of a collaborative effort to find ways to learn and address how faculty with disabilities are treated within Academia.

Though being relatively new to the University, Bradham-Cousar wants to make a lasting impact within the institution. Since joining FIU in August, she launched Blueprint, a community of counselors which encourages discussions revolving around disabilities and the various ways in which it can impact people and communities.