Dean serves as mentor for students
Walking into Miller Library, one is immediately met by the welcoming face of Associate Dean of Students Joseph Atkins, who posed for a READ poster in celebration of Black History Month. In addition to his role as an Associate Dean, Atkins is also a Visiting Assistant Professor of Psychology and the Coordinator of Multicultural Student Programs and Support.
Atkins came to the College in 2002 as a replacement for a psychology professor who was on sabbatical. "If things had gone according to plan, which in life they never do," Atkins says, he would have come to Colby for a year and then done postdoctoral research elsewhere. But, he says, "the small liberal arts school, once I experienced it, was really where I always wanted to be [and that kept me here]."
Atkins' career is an example of how one seemingly insignificant experience can completely change your future plans. Atkins worked at IBM for 10 years before enrolling as an undergraduate at Vassar College at the age of 40. He began his studies with a concentration in computer science, but after an advisor suggested he speak with a professor in the cognitive science department, he decided to pursue a double major in computer science and cognitive science.
In addition to his role as Associate Dean of Students at the College, Atkins acts as a mentor for students participating in the Posse. The Posse Foundation selects 10 to 12 students in urban cities from a large pool of applicants. These groups train for eight months together to "prepare for college-level academics, to learn to work as a team, to develop leadership skills and to help promote cross-cultural communication," the College's Posse webpage states.
"I wanted to be at a place where I could be a resource for students," Atkins says, and his role as a Posse mentor certainly allows him to do so. He forms close bonds with Posse students and helps them through their four years at the College. Atkins has currently taken on the mentorship of the incoming first-year Posse students, ensuring that he will remain at the College for at least the next four years.
Atkins also holds the title of Coordinator of Multicultural Student Programs and Support. He is the faculty advisor for Students Organized Against Racism (SOAR) and the founder of Colby's chapter of Campus Conversations On Race (CCOR). The two groups have very similar aims and Atkins has been working to merge their efforts.
According to Atkins, CCOR is dedicated to "dialogue, not debate," and students who participate in CCOR talk about race, learn about other students' perspectives and get to know each other as individuals. "We have to get beyond the labels and the only way I'm convinced you really do that is by getting to know people," Atkins says.
These types of conversations are particularly important in the country's present economic climate, when, based on data from the U.S. Census Department, it can be projected that by 2030-2035, 50 percent of the U.S. workforce will be non-white.
"We need to change the way we see race," Atkins says, because it is our generation that will experience this shift. "That's why CCOR is important now."
"Look at the diversity here [at the College] just in terms of international students," Atkins says. "If an American student [goes through College with] a group of core friends that are all white and from the same Boston suburb that they grew up in, they have lost a tremendous opportunity to be prepared for the future," Atkins says.
He stresses the invaluable experience one gains when he or she "gets to know [students of other backgrounds] as people--not just as that kid from Pakistan, or that kid from Africa." Students should "get to know [him or her] as a real person so that the label doesn't mean anything anymore," he says.
Atkins is a vital resource on campus because he is dedicated to widening the perspective of students at the College. "My primary interest has always been to work closely with students," Atkins says, and his involvement on campus with programs like Posse and CCOR is a testament to his belief in the importance of the individual and his commitment to the personal growth of students.
"To me," Atkins says, "the important thing is that we try to understand each other because we all live in the same space."