Cara Takakjian Named HFA Associate Dean of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion
Cara Takakjian, senior lecturer, undergraduate program director and chief undergraduate advisor for Italian Studies, has been named associate dean of diversity, equity and inclusion for the College of Humanities and Fine Arts (HFA) by Dean Barbara Krauthamer.
Takakjian, who began her career at UMass Amherst in 2015 in the Department of Languages, Literatures, and Cultures, will lead the college’s equity initiatives to support underrepresented undergraduate students, including its Saturday Scholars and Opportunity Scholars programs.
Takakjian earned her B.A. from Georgetown University and her Ph.D. from Harvard University in romance languages and literatures. Her principal research interests are Italian comics and graphic novels and contemporary youth and popular culture.
“I have been engaged in social justice activism both personally and professionally for many, many years. Working for positive change, especially around issues of inequity and racism, is intrinsic to who I am and what I do,” Takakjian says. “When I was approached about this role, I almost couldn't believe it because it was exactly what I wanted to do. This opportunity aligns perfectly with my belief that equity is not just something we can hope for, it’s something that can exist.”
Takakjian will succeed former Associate Dean of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion TreaAndrea Russworm.
“Last year, Cara worked closely with TreaAndrea on Saturday Scholars and was a natural fit, getting high school students invested in the humanities,” says Krauthamer. “Her passion and dedication to equity is inspiring. I’m thrilled to have her join the HFA leadership team.”
In partnership with Upward Bound, the Saturday Scholars program introduces local high school students to university life and invites them to explore HFA programs first-hand, so they can learn what it’s like to study theater, practice an instrument as a music major, create art within the on-campus art studios, or debate philosophical questions in the classroom.
“These students experience what it’s like to study or be involved in some of the humanities and arts fields,” Takakjian says. “Programs like Upward Bound have a strong history of introducing students to STEM fields and encouraging students to apply for and attend those programs, but the humanities haven't had as strong of a record, so this collaboration helps to bridge that gap.”
For her first session of Saturday Scholars, Takakjian organized a day of languages, literature, and cultures with her colleagues in LLC that featured a cooking class, arts and crafts, and a language lesson that taught students to say ‘hello’ in 8 different languages. Her follow-up class focused on Italian Studies through an immersive combination of music, food and other cultural activities.
“It was mostly focused on teaching students about Italian language and culture through cooking for about two hours one evening. We made bruschetta and gnocchi from scratch! That was fun for them,” Takakjian says. “What I loved was that some of the students I had met during the first session actually came back [to the second Saturday Scholars event] and remembered some of what they learned. They saw me and shouted ‘ciao’! I was so happy to see the impact and potential of what this program can do.”
Takakjian explains this setup where students can participate in multiple Saturday Scholar events will allow students from grades nine through 12 to get comfortable on the UMass Amherst campus and continually be introduced to new HFA programs.
In addition to Saturday Scholars, Takakjian will oversee Opportunity Scholars, a multi-year college readiness and success program in HFA that promotes personal and collective empowerment, scholarship, leadership, community engagement, and connection.
“Opportunity Scholars fosters the skills that students need for college, and it also helps them to succeed during their years at UMass,” Takakjian says. “It gives students the chance to form a community, get to know each other, and then support each other as they move throughout their college career.”
First-year students in the program are connected to a cohort of historically underrepresented and/or first-generation students, all of whom take a seminar together in their first semester. Through this class—which Takakjian will be teaching—students gain access to peer and faculty mentoring, alumni networking events, field trips, arts and cultural experiences, and other opportunities to build community.
“I really want to make sure the first-year students connect not just with faculty and each other, but with graduating Opportunity Scholars, too. That sort of relationship is crucial,” Takakjian explains. “UMass is so big. I think creating ways for students to connect in these smaller, more intimate ways can be invaluable.”
To learn more about HFA diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives, visit umass.edu/hfa/diversity-equity-inclusion.