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Community College Dean Makes Diversity a Priority



by Monica Levitan

After aspiring social psychologist Dr. Andra Basu completed a research study with a psychology professor about academia as part of her undergraduate honors thesis, she became interested in working in the “world of higher education.”

“Seeing the work that was possible” in academia while co-conducting the study intrigued her so much that she began studying higher education administration in graduate school and then her career took off from there.

Basu went off to begin her career as a psychology professor at Albright College in Pennsylvania, teaching courses on social psychology, introductory psychology, research methods and statistics and diversity and cross-cultural issues.

She later assumed a leadership position at the college, where she was appointed dean of Adult and Professional Studies and worked in the Albright Degree Completion Program.

The Degree Completion Program was created for returning adult students with two years of previous college experience and wanted to earn a bachelor’s degree, Basu said. Adult students participating in the program attended one evening class a week over the course of five to seven weeks.

Dr. Andra Basu

Basu assumed several different roles while participating in the program.

“When I was a dean I worked really closely with I would say, seven out of the 14 community colleges in the state of Pennsylvania and through doing that, I really got to know the different community colleges,” says Basu.

One of those community colleges was Lehigh Carbon Community College, where she later had the opportunity to first serve as an associate dean, interim dean and now as the dean of Humanities and Social Sciences at its Allentown, Pennsylvania campus.

“I saw that a lot of the work that I do is related to diversity, equity and inclusion and because of that I saw that Lehigh Carbon is really serving the community and serving the students and making education accessible and affordable,” Basu tells Diverse in an interview where she reflected on her career trajectory.

An Allentown-native, Basu, said she is fortunate to be able to work at an institution so close to where she lives.

“So that’s why I got really excited about it. It was in my community, I knew about it from my work at another college so that’s why I decided to come where I am today,” says Basu.

Basu plays a critical role at the college.

For the 2016-17 academic year, Lehigh Carbon served 9,600 credit and 4,600 noncredit students online and across its five campuses – Schnecksville, Allentown, Tamaqua, Jim Thorpe and Lehigh Valley International Airport.

Basu is also the co-chair of Lehigh Carbon’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee that was established in 2016. Working closely with college president Dr. Ann Bieber, the committee – that consists of about 15 faculty, staff, administrators and students – focuses on streamlining hiring process and procedures, diversity training and workshops and community outreach initiatives.

Even though she has moved into administration, Basu is a teacher and researcher at heart. She is the author of Negotiating Social Contexts: Identities of Biracial College Women and has written extensively on biracial identity to social context.

“So when students have multiple racial backgrounds,” Basu explains, “how does their environment impact the way they feel about their environment?”

Her book centered on a qualitative study that focused on recent psychological literature in addition to personal interviews and focus groups with a group of biracial college women. Although identification choices did influence students’ perceptions about their social contexts, other factors such as social barriers, educators and biracial mentors also influenced them, says Basu.

Basu earned a bachelor’s degree from Tufts University, a master’s degree from the University of Minnesota and a Ph.D. from the City University of New York.

The dean, who has now been at Lehigh for a little over five years, says that the college’s ongoing effort to increase diversity on campus is proving to be effective. The college is slated to receive the classification of Hispanic serving institution soon.

“At least 25 percent [of students] at the college” self-identify as Hispanic or Latino, says Basu, adding that 19 percent of those students are enrolled full-time at the school. A total of almost 36 percent of students enrolled at Lehigh Carbon identify as racial minorities.

Increasing and retaining those students has been a passion for Basu, who has been lauded for her diversity, equity and inclusion efforts, and has received several honors and awards.

“Diversity, equity and inclusion are just issues that I feel so strongly about and so I am happy to do the work that we’re doing at the college,” she says.

Monica Levitan can be reached at mlevitan@diverseeducation.com. You can follow her on Twitter @monlevy_