Meet Dr. Lisa Petrov, Dominican University

What is your role at Dominican University?
Right now I am the Title V Project Director. Our project is “Strengthening Advising, Teacher Education and Our HSI Identity.” Normally I am faculty in Spanish, and I teach a freshman seminar. I arrived at Dominican in 2008, just at the cusp of it becoming eligible for Department of Education HSI status. Over the years I’ve had the honor of working with many of our Latinx students closely, both in and outside of the classroom. I’ve seen them accomplish amazing things and I have continuously been inspired by their grit and resilience.

How did your college and universities support your success in earning your degrees?
My journey of success in attaining a BA at Oberlin College, an MA in Latin American Studies from Tulane University, and an MA and PhD in Spanish from UW-Madison (specializing in colonial literature) was a long and circuitous one. I arrived at Oberlin at a complete loss for what to do; I had thought I was headed for a medical career while at the Bronx HS of Science; but a summer volunteering in a hospital made clear that I was not suited to the field. I opted for a Spanish major because I wanted to travel, and there are so many Spanish-speaking countries from which to choose! Oberlin helped me succeed by not getting in my way and being a place where radicals are ordinary. However, due to a disastrous first semester freshman year, after four years I left Oberlin eight credits short of the total I needed to graduate! It took me three years to have a job with a schedule that allowed me to take classes. I finally completed my credit hour obligations, thanks to Hunter College (CUNY). I did not return to school for my graduate education until I knew what I wanted to do professionally. Teaching immigrant HS students new to NYC put me on the education path; simultaneously a side gig translating in Guatemala opened the Latin American world to me. Together they led me to Tulane and the University of Wisconsin-Madison. The story gets too long from here! Suffice it to say, it was a journey with the occasional detour and roadblock.

What excites you about equity work at your institution?
Everything excites me about equity work at Dominican. Part of our university mission is to actively participate in the creation of a more just and humane world. I have taken it to heart and made it my mission to do everything I can to work on my small corner of higher education. In doing equity work at DU I get excited to see students succeed who otherwise might not. When I can be instrumental in getting them more access to better support systems (which actually provide them with what they need) I get super excited! It motivates me to see faculty colleagues learn to be more inclusive and culturally responsive practitioners. I get excited to be part of creating systems that help staff understand that equity is not treating everyone exactly the same! The simple act of educating folks to the important differences between equality and equity is exciting to me.

In your role, how do you impact equitable outcomes for your students?
Everything I do in my role as Title V Project Director should impact equitable outcomes for students at Dominican—so I keep that foremost in my mind as I make decisions about how to expend federal funds ($550K/year) and best implement our project to meet the objectives of each part (many of which are precisely to eliminate equity gaps). Title V funding for HSI development is about strengthening the institution and enabling it to better serve all of its students, but especially its low-income and Hispanic students. Dominican’s Latinx students experience equity gaps compared to white students; our African American students suffer the most serious equity gaps. Half of all of our students are Pell grant eligible; but not all equity gaps are a result of scarce financial resources. One of my early decisions was to invest in faculty development and focus on increasing inclusive and culturally responsive practices in undergraduate classes. To me it seemed clear that all students would benefit from redesigned gateway courses across the university. The grant sponsored a Faculty Learning Community that is just wrapping up from last summer, with faculty participants from three of our four schools. Recently a participating science professor said to me that his teaching has been forever changed by the process. I want to leverage him, and the others who also saw positive results in their students’ academic performance in the fall 2018 class they redesigned, to bring even more faculty on board. All this should positively impact equitable outcomes for students as more faculty renew, refresh and share with colleagues their more inclusive pedagogical practices. I am hoping to help promote a faculty culture of continuous improvement. As we say in Spanish, ojalá.