Moreno still a Latina trailblazer in her 80s

Puerto Rican singer, dancer and actress Rita Moreno delivers the keynote speech to begin Carolina’s celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month. The first Latina to be recognized as an EGOT (Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, Tony) winner, Moreno was brought to campus by the Carolina Union Activities Board, The Carolina Latina/o Collaborative, Scholars’ Latino Initiative, Teatro Latino, and the Latina/o Studies Program. Photo by Jon Gardiner.

The average 84-year-old doesn’t wear a black leather jacket, skinny pants and boots studded with silver, the same color as her big hoop earrings and short hair. But Rita Moreno – one of only 12 entertainers to win competitive Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony awards – is no ordinary 84-year-old.

“The leather surprised you, didn’t it?” she said, after receiving a standing ovation from about 200 fans in the Student Union’s Great Hall. Moreno, a Puerto Rican-American, came to Chapel Hill on Sept. 30 to deliver the keynote address kicking off the campus celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month. The talk was sponsored by the Carolina Union Activities Board in collaboration with the Carolina Latino/a Collaborative, the Scholars’ Latino Initiative, Teatro Latino and the Latina/o Studies Program.

For the next hour, Moreno shared stories of her personal and professional life, always going for a laugh even when talking about her struggles as an immigrant in New York City and a Latina in mid-century Hollywood. Twice she broke into song.

“Dream when you’re feeling blue. Dream – that’s the thing to do,” she crooned, after telling the audience how, as a child, she liked to go out on the fire escape to listen to the radio and pretend.

‘My blanket is like a magic carpet’

“My blanket is like a magic carpet, and when I close my eyes, I can go anywhere and be anybody,” she said.

At the time, she and her mother were living in poverty in New York. They had emigrated from Puerto Rico in 1936, when Moreno was only 5 years old and thought Lady Liberty’s torch was “the biggest ice cream cone I’d ever seen.”

Her mother worked as a “sweatshop seamstress,” but dreamed of better things for her talented daughter. She sent Rita to dance class, sewed costumes for her and allowed her, as a teen, to travel with a group of entertainers as their “Spanish dancer.”

A talent scout spotted her and arranged a meeting with movie mogul Louis B. Mayer of MGM Studios. Moreno and her mother spent hours before the meeting trying to make Moreno look like the current exemplar of feminine beauty, actress Elizabeth Taylor. Moreno straightened her “Puerto Rican curls,” cinched in her waist and powdered her brown face.

“She looks like a Spanish Elizabeth Taylor!” Mayer declared. Recalling the moment, Moreno pumped both fists and shouted, “Yes!”

But once Moreno arrived on the MGM lot, she said, she found herself cast only in minor ethnic roles, a “dusky maiden” of any nationality who was “ignorant, uneducated and morally bankrupt.”

It wasn’t until Gene Kelly cast her in 1952’s Singing in the Rain that Moreno played a non-ethnic role, Zelda Zanders. But not long after that, MGM didn’t renew her contract and she found herself starting over again at 20th Century Fox with ethnic bit parts.

She persevered. “Hope is an essential part of my DNA,” Moreno said. And in 1961, she got the role she was born to play, fiery Anita in the musical West Side Story, a Puerto Rican-American but not a stereotype. She received an Oscar for her performance.

“I was 27 years old and I had never played that kind of part,” she said. “That role would change my life and career forever.”

But not in the way she might have expected. Even with the Oscar, she was still offered mostly minor ethnic roles in Hollywood, so she turned to the theater. She also got involved in political causes, sharing the stage with Martin Luther King Jr. at the March on Washington.

And she got married, to “the most wonderful man in the world,” Jewish cardiologist Leonard Gordon, who didn’t know she was a famous actress when he asked her out. They had a daughter, and Moreno turned her focus to television, working from 1971 to 1977 on the PBS children’s show, The Electric Company. She also managed to win a Grammy (1972), a Tony (1975) and a couple of Emmys (1977, 1978).

After 1981, Moreno didn’t make another movie for the next 10 years. When she was finally invited to audition for a film, the first Latina to win all four major entertainment awards was devastated to discover that the part wasn’t a major role, but a brothel madam with two lines of dialogue in Spanish.

“I was stripped of every ounce of dignity,” she said. “I was 6 years old again.”

She continued to work in television, with occasional roles in movies or onstage, and is about to launch a new series on Netflix, a reboot of the comedy One Day at a Time, this time with a Cuban-American family. Moreno plays Lydia, the grandmother.

In a question and answer session after her talk, Moreno was asked about the status of women of color in today’s Hollywood. “The door is really open now. Now we’ve got to get the important roles. What we really need, I think, in the film industry, is writers who will write those roles.” Audience members snapped their fingers in agreement.

In closing, Moreno encouraged the Latinos and Latinas in the audience to develop a positive image. “Understand that you have value and that you have worth,” she said, eliciting more finger snaps. “Nobody should allow anybody to tell you what is good for you. That’s the dream.”

By Susan Hudson, University Gazette
Published October 3, 2016

Freeman wins 2016 Inspiring Women in STEM Award

Ashalla Freeman has received the 2016 Inspiring Women in STEM Award from INSIGHT Into Diversity magazine, the largest and oldest diversity and inclusion publication in higher education.

As director of diversity affairs in the Office of Graduate Education at the School of Medicine, Freeman manages diversity recruitment efforts and monitors the admissions process for underrepresented applicants to the biomedical PhD programs at Carolina.  The award honors women who work to make a difference in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. Freeman will be featured, along with 65 other recipients, in the September 2016 issue of INSIGHT Into Diversity magazine.

“We know women in STEM fields are not always represented or recognized for their success, dedication, and mentorship to others,” said Lenore Pearlstein, owner and publisher of INSIGHT Into Diversity magazine. “We want to honor those who are inspirations to their colleagues, their community, and to young girls everywhere who may be interested in a future career in STEM. We are proud to honor these women as role models to all.”

Freeman, who has been an integral part of the School of Medicine’s initiatives to increase faculty diversity, and student recruitment and success in the biosciences, greeted news of the award with humility.  “I’ve just never thought of what I do as something that I might be recognized for,” she said.  I want to help diversify STEM – that’s been my interest and passion since I was an undergrad.  I love my job because I am able to achieve that goal in more ways than I ever imagine.  It never occurred to me that I was thought of so highly or that I am influential!”

Indeed, her involvement has been vital to student success and lasting change in scientific culture at UNC-Chapel Hill – and elsewhere – for a variety of reasons:  She’s established credibility and trust with faculty and serves as a resource as they make admissions decisions; she enhances the education and professional training of our students through participation in our first year graduate student curriculum; she provides insights to students and faculty at other universities regarding strategies for gaining admission to and succeeding in graduate school through her recruitment and outreach efforts; and she’s been able to connect faculty and students with opportunities and resources for success in graduate school and beyond through trans-university and national collaborations.

Her work continues with her recent acceptance into the BRIDGES Academic Leadership for Women program for this semester.  “I’m thrilled,” she exclaims, of this opportunity to broaden her influence.  “With BRIDGES training, I hope to expand the skills and knowledge that I’ve developed to shape institutional policies and practices, particularly in the areas of graduate education and diversity.”

In spite of the great strides that she has made in moving towards a diverse and equitable culture in the STEM fields for women and minorities, Freeman still sees challenges that need to be tackled.  “There is a widely held idea that diversity equals inclusion…which it does not.  We must have both,” she points out. “We need people with different experiences and perspectives to be present and seated at the table of innovation and change and we also must respect and engage these people, value all that they can contribute, and eagerly incorporate their values and ideas in all that we do.”

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Women’s Equality Day Proclaimed in NC

Governor McCrory has proclaimed August 26, 2016 as Women’s Equality Day in the state of North Carolina.  The Proclamation reads as follows:

WHEREAS, in 1971, the United States Congress designated August 26th as Women’s Equality Day, in recognition of the passage of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution which granted all women voting rights; and

WHEREAS, members of the North Carolina Council for Women Board are appointed by the Governor to address issues such as the health and well-being, education, and employment of women in North Carolina; and

WHEREAS, the mission of the Women and Girl’s Initiative is to embolden and equip women and girls with courage, confidence, and competence to achieve leadership roles in our community by collaborating, networking, and creating supportive environments; and

WHEREAS, women in North Carolina have made significant social and economic advances in recent decades; approximately 30.5 percent of those working in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields in North Carolina are women, compared to 28.8 percent nationwide; and

WHEREAS, the State of North Carolina encourages citizens to seek opportunities to learn more about the history of Women’s Equality Day, and to educate themselves on the contributions women have made to North Carolina and its communities;

NOW, THEREFORE, I PAT McCRORY, Governor of the State of North Carolina, do hereby proclaim August 26, 2016, as “WOMEN’S EQUALITY DAY” in North Carolina, and commend its observance to all citizens.

IN WITNESS THEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand and affixed the Great Seal of the State of North Carolina at the Capitol in Raleigh this third day of August in the year of our Lord two thousand and sixteen, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and forty-first.

Pat McCrory, Governor

Resources after recent shootings

The senseless murders of two black men in Minnesota and Louisiana, and five police officers in Dallas, have had a strong impact on many in our community.  As we offer our deepest sympathies to their families and communities, Diversity and Multicultural Affairs wishes to advise that those individuals on campus who may be personally affected may be in need of support.  Many of you may have read the Message from the Chancellor, regarding resources available at Carolina to help us deal with the great emotional impact of these awful events.

UNC-Chapel Hill offers a number of resources for faculty, staff, and students.  As we all grapple with the shock of these latests attacks on innocent people, we urge anyone in need to reach out to the following outlets:

  • Counseling and Psychological Services – James A. Taylor Building, 320 Emergency Room Drive, 919-966-3658 (during regular business hours), 919-966-2281 (after hours),
  • Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer (LGBTQ) Center – SASB North, Suite 3226, 919-843-5376,
  • Equal Opportunity and Compliance (EOC) Office – 137 E. Franklin Street, Suite 404, 919-966-3576,
  • Employee Assistance Program – 877-314-5841 (24 hours a day),

This message is sponsored by Diversity and Multicultural Affairs, a division of Workforce Strategy, Equity and Engagement.


First Years and Transfer Students Invited to Jumpstart Year with ACE

Diversity and Multicultural Affairs will host Achieving Carolina Excellence (ACE), a pre-orientation program designed to welcome first year and transfer students to Carolina, August 18th-20th.  Designed to be the “big splash first event for underrepresented students,” according to Dr. Ada Wilson Suitt, Director of Inclusive Student Excellence, the program features a variety of activities geared towards easing students’ transition into a new campus environment as a Tar Heel.

Several hundred students will attend a full schedule of events that will provide them an opportunity to build relationships with award-winning faculty, as well as staff, and student leaders; bond with each other; and, engage in fun, interactive activities.  Items on the agenda include a classroom and building tour, a culture show, a campus scavenger hunt, field day, and a cookout.  While most events are centered solely on the students, there is a special session for families and each student is allowed to bring up to two guests to the opening session and luncheon at the Loudermilk Center’s Blue Zone to hear Dr. Damon Williams, Senior Vice President and Youth Development Officer at the Boys and Girls Club of America, speak.

“It is hard to identify one distinct part of the program as a highlight event because they all have value,” notes Wilson Suitt.  “For example, the keynote lecture is designed to spark academic curiosity and instill a culture of high expectations.  Similarly, the academic achievement session (this year hosted by Candice Powell from Undergraduate Retention) will provide students with the skills they need to thrive in and out of the classroom.  The culture show, field day and cookout offer students an opportunity to develop deep connections with current UNC students while also showcasing the rich diversity of the Carolina Community.”

For some students, this may not be their first exposure to campus life.  There are some who have also participated in either Project Uplift or North Carolina Renaissance, two Diversity and Multicultural Affairs summer institute enrichment programs designed to increase leadership strength and promote academic success in high school students from underserved populations who are contemplating higher education.  The high school to university pipeline set in place by Diversity and Multicultural Affairs is notable for its positive results.

ACE sets into motion a sense of continuity as a Tar Heel.  “Current and incoming students benefit from this special time to build bonds among peers and cultivate a community of support with faculty and staff,” notes Wilson Suitt.  “Many students maintain strong relationships with their ACE counselors throughout their first year.”

Now in its 20th year, ACE (initially called “Pre-Orientation” until its more upbeat name change two years ago), is supported by campus partners, who donate services towards ensuring that students feel part of the larger Carolina community.  Among the partners who will be hosting programs during the experience are the Center for Student Success and Academic Counseling, New Student and Carolina Programs, Academic Advising, Department of Housing and Residential Education, Undergraduate Retention, and the Department of Public SafetyIf you are interested in becoming a community partner, please contact Dr. Wilson Suitt at

The program is free, but registration is required.  Click here to register (deadline is July 29, 2016)

Related Links:

Previous ACE features: 

Resources in the Aftermath of Orlando Tragedy

In light of the recent tragedy in Orlando, Florida, Diversity and Multicultural Affairs acknowledges that individuals who may be personally affected by the horrible event may be in need of support.  Many of you may have read the Message from the Chancellor, regarding resources available at Carolina to help us deal with the shock in the aftermath of this awful event.

UNC-Chapel Hill offers a number of resources for faculty, staff, and students.  As we all grapple with the emotional impact of this latest attack on innocent people, we urge anyone in need to reach out to the following outlets:

  • Counseling and Psychological Services – James A. Taylor Building, 320 Emergency Room Drive, 919-966-2281,
  • Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer (LGBTQ) Center – SASB North, Suite 3226, 919-843-5376,
  • Equal Opportunity and Compliance (EOC) Office – 137 E. Franklin Street, Suite 404, 919-966-3576,
  • Employee Assistance Program – 877-314-5841 (24 hours a day),


This message is sponsored by Diversity and Multicultural Affairs, a division of Workforce Strategy, Equity and Engagement.

MSRC Internships Available

Numerous Minority Student Recruitment Committee (MSRC) work opportunities are available for current students:

  • Campus Visitation Coordinator (CVC)
  • Excellence and Initiatives Coordinator (EIC)
  • Latina/o Programs Coordinator (LPC)
  • Media and Public Relations Coordinator (MPRC)

if you are interested in any of the above positions, please click here to apply.

Diversity and Multicultural Affairs Office Operations

The following message was sent to campus diversity liaisons, UCIED members, and IDIC members by Felicia A. Washington, vice chancellor for workforce strategy, equity and engagement:

I am writing to follow up on Taffye Benson Clayton’s message to our diversity partners about her transition from Carolina to pursue another leadership opportunity.  We are grateful for Taffye’s years of service and her efforts and accomplishments in pursuit of the DMA motto: Enriching the Journey.  I know you join me in wishing only the best for her.

During this transitional period, DMA will continue to focus on the University’s commitment to fostering a welcoming and inclusive place for all in our community. In the near term, the work of the office remains focused on several time-sensitive summer programs and deliverables. Please continue to reach out to the DMA directors who lead the following areas:

  • Our many summer pipeline and welcome programs – including Project Uplift, Uplift PLUS, Achieving Carolina Excellence (ACE), and others – remain a highly visible sign of Carolina’s commitment to access and engagement.  Please direct any questions on such programs to Ada Wilson-Suitt ( Director of Inclusive Student Excellence.
  • Our campus diversity liaisons are currently compiling important information and data on diversity programming within schools and units, which will be used to complete the annual Diversity Plan Report to be released this fall. Please direct any remaining submissions or questions on the assessment to Xiaowen Qin (, Director of Diversity Research, Assessment, and Analytics.
  • Planning and staging for fall diversity educational offerings and programs, including THINKposium, continues.  Please contact Marco Barker (, Senior Director for Education, Operations, and Initiatives, with questions, requests, or suggestions.

We will also take this opportunity to evaluate diversity and inclusion efforts across campus and determine the most effective ways to lead and serve our campus community moving forward. As the process unfolds, we will invite the campus diversity liaisons and our faculty, staff and students to be part of those conversations. Stay tuned for more information.

In the meantime, if you have questions or need assistance outside of the areas listed above, please contact Becci Menghini (, Sr. Associate Vice Chancellor for Workforce Strategy Equity and Engagement, who serves as my chief of staff, to ensure that your requests and needs are appropriately managed. Further, if you’ve not already done so, I invite you to subscribe to Diversity in the News, DMA’s monthly newsletter, to stay connected to diversity and inclusion happenings at Carolina.

4th annual Diversity THINKposium comes in August

On August 17, 2016, from 9:00-3:00 PM, the 4th annual Diversity THINKposium will be held at Friday Center, UNC Chapel Hill. The THINKposium is meant to be a non-conventional approach to addressing diversity, inspiring action, and facilitating the solution-making process.

The day-long program is designed to allow participants to explore and understand the nature and impact of microaggressions in the higher education enterprise. Participants will explore language, behaviors, policies and practices that impact the classroom, workplace and educational experiences for students and faculty/staff at Carolina. The discussions and keynote should help them reflect on their own practices, understand the concepts and behaviors that perpetuate oppression of marginalized identities; and, be part of facilitated conversations to develop capacity and skill to address the issue within their own units and departments. The program will include a keynote and concurrent workshops focusing on strategies for responding and positively disrupting in teaching/learning and the workplace.

This year, the keynote speaker will be Dr. Damon A. Williams, Senior Vice President for Programs, Training, and Youth Development for the Boys and Girls Clubs of America (BGCA). Dr. Williams is a scholar, leader, and educator passionate about making organization’s inclusive and excellent for all, creating equitable educational outcomes, and activating learning, youth development, and leadership in ways that are transformative and inspiring of new possibilities. He has authored or co-authored dozens of books, monographs, and articles and, is widely considered one of the nation’s most dynamic and innovative leaders, winning the 2013 National Association of Diversity Officers in Higher Education (NADOHE) Inclusive Excellence Award for Leadership, and serving as invited keynote speaker and thought leader to more than 300 institutions globally.

Prior to joining the BGCA, Dr. Williams served for five years as associate vice chancellor, vice provost, chief diversity officer, and member of the educational leadership and policy analysis faculty at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.  There, he founded the Division of Diversity, Equity, and Educational Achievement (DDEEA) a vertically integrated portfolio divisional infrastructure that includes one of the nation’s largest pre-college to college k-16 scholarship based pipeline development program (n=1300 students), the world’s only hip-hop urban arts scholarship program learning community (Office of Multicultural Arts Initiatives/First Wave), innovative campus-wide partnerships to enhance STEM achievement, leadership development of intercollegiate athletes (Beyond the Game), faculty diversification, research centers (Wei Lab), and a four-city partnership with the National Posse Foundation.

In addition to the keynote speaker, the day will also feature UNC faculty and staff who will share their efforts to addressing the issue within the classroom, clinical settings and in the workplace during the lunch “Diversity in Action” segment.

The THINKposium is free and registration is closed at this time. Refreshments and lunch will be provided. We will update with more information as we come closer to August. You can also follow the latest updates and learn more through the facebook page (, or the website (

The Diversity THINKposium is hosted by Diversity and Multicultural Affairs in collaboration with the College of Arts and Sciences and the Center for Faculty Excellence, and with financial support and contributions from multiple campus partners.

UNC-CH Ranks in Top 10 National Public Universities for African Americans

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill – a top public research university with a strong focus on access and affordability and high graduation rates – ranks ninth among the nation’s best public universities for African Americans, according to MONEY and Essence magazines. The publications collaborated to analyze more than 1,500 four-year colleges and universities to single out the ones that offer the best value for African-American students.

To determine the 50 Best Schools for African Americans, the methodology focused on colleges and universities that offer both high value and a supportive environment measuring factors including graduation rates, affordability, earnings potential and representation. Among both national public and private institutions of higher education, Carolina ranked 23rd overall.

We are pleased to be acknowledged as one of the top institutions of higher education for African American students,” said Taffye Benson Clayton, associate vice chancellor for Diversity and Multicultural Affairs and chief diversity officer. “As the nation’s first public university, with a distinct southern history and a global footprint, we are gratified by the growth and important milestones achieved in matters of race, diversity and inclusion at Carolina. We are encouraged by this recognition and aspire to accomplish even greater successes for African American students and all students on our campus.”

U.S. News and World Report has ranked Carolina in the top five of national public universities for 15 consecutive years and Kiplinger’s Personal Finance has ranked the university first among the 100 best U.S. public colleges and universities that offer high-quality academics at an affordable price 15 times. The University also features 325 study abroad programs in 70 countries and it ranks among the nation’s most successful public universities in attracting research funding from federal agencies.

Additionally, Carolina provides outstanding access and affordability through signature programs like Carolina Covenant, UNC-Chapel Hill’s over a decade-long promise to low-income youth who earn admission that they can graduate debt-free with help from grants, scholarships and work-study jobs.

The university’s Carolina Firsts program has also created a pathway of opportunity for the almost 20 percent of UNC-Chapel Hill undergraduates who are the first in their family to attend college.

About the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, the nation’s first public university, is a global higher education leader known for innovative teaching, research and public service. A member of the prestigious Association of American Universities, Carolina regularly ranks as the best value for academic quality in U.S. public higher education. Now in its third century, the University offers 77 bachelor’s, 113 master’s, 68 doctorate and seven professional degree programs through 14 schools and the College of Arts and Sciences. Every day, faculty – including two Nobel laureates – staff and students shape their teaching, research and public service to meet North Carolina’s most pressing needs

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