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Dr. Dawn Culpepper is the Associate Director and an Assistant Research Professor at the University of Maryland’s ADVANCE Program for Inclusive Excellence, leading faculty development programs, education and training initiatives, and research related to creating a more diverse and inclusive academic workplace. She focuses on policies, practices, and resources that foster equity, disrupt bias, spur organizational effectiveness, and create conditions where faculty from historically minoritized groups can thrive.

Culpepper is a member of the fourth ARC Network Virtual Visiting Scholar (VVS) cohort. The VVS program provides a unique opportunity for select scholars across disciplines to pursue research meta-analysis, synthesis, and big data curation on topics crucial to STEM faculty equity.

Culpepper’s career, which began in the nonprofit space and then moved to higher education administration before joining the ranks of faculty member, has been marked by an interest in change. “Differences in context, such as disciplinary/field differences, shape change efforts and especially equity work. I'm more broadly interested in how we can change higher education to be equitable and just, and how that change process might look different in STEM as opposed to other fields/disciplines.”

Her VVS research focused on bystander interventions and the broader idea of allyship as a way to enhance equity in academia, interests rooted in questions she had when doing workshops on bystander and ally development on her campus.

“UMD ADVANCE, like many other campuses, initiated an allies/bystander workshop designed to give faculty members skills that they can use to intervene, but I often received questions how being a bystander differed based on the intervener's identity or how things might look differently depending on appointment type. I wanted to be able to ground my responses in the literature and that's what motivated my project.”

As a VVS scholar, Culpepper was able to deepen network connections within the ARC community and to connect with others doing similar work on training faculty as bystanders/allies/advocates. Informed in part by her VVS research, Culpepper has been facilitating a group of faculty/staff who serve as equity coaches and lead workshops on inclusive hiring and equitable faculty evaluation, a collaborative experience she hopes will generate change on her campus.

She has also worked on a research team focused on examining equity in faculty hiring, including how search committees use rubrics and how search committees’ perceptions of risk become intermingled with social bias to filter candidates from historically minoritized groups from the hiring process.  

Culpepper hopes people come away from her research with the understanding that careful thought is necessary when engaging in bystander development and allyship efforts. “Efforts to engage everyone in equity work as bystanders and allies are important, but we need to make sure we consider the unintended consequences. You don’t want to reproduce the very dynamics you’re trying to mitigate.”

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