Institutional Rebounding

Edgewood College’s Tony Garcia Talks about New Edgewood Initiatives

Part 1 of 2
By Jonathan Gramling

Almost two years ago, Edgewood College pretty much bottomed out in terms of its reputation as it related to race relations on its campus. Former Dean of Students Tony Chambers had gone public about the difficult conditions that people of color faced on the campus. Chambers statements had been echoed privately and publicly by Edgewood students of color.

Capital City Hues

Tony Garcia has been engaged in diversity, equity and inclusion issues at Edgewood College for the past 10 years.

During the reverberations from the expose, the president and some other staff and faculty left. And Tony Garcia, who had worked on diversity issues on the campus for the past eight years, contemplated leaving Edgewood College. It seemed that everything in Garcia’s life was up-for-grabs and when the COVID-19 pandemic hit last March, Garcia wound up taking care of his two-year-old daughter at his family’s home in Waukesha and continuing to work for Edgewood remotely and virtually.

“Prior to this semester, I have not been on campus but for a handful of times after hours because I have responsibility for a two-year-old here,” Garcia said. “I was living with family as well, my parents and my grandmother who was 93-years-old. I was being very mindful of putting myself into a position where I could possibly contract the corona virus. And so I’ve been working remotely until this semester. I’m still working from home, but I am starting to move into campus and get back into the office a little more regularly. Every other week, I am beginning to show back on campus and work from my office. That being said, it’s great being on campus.”

Last spring and summer, Edgewood College operated virtually.

“It was a hard transition for everyone, not only not knowing what was going to happen, but also virtually moving all classes from in-person to a virtual environment and trying to continue to ensure that students felt engaged and that our faculty and staff felt equipped with technology and best practices to serve our students virtually,” Garcia said. “So there was definitely like everywhere else a learning curve.”

Last summer also brought a change in leadership to Edgewood when Dr. Andrew “Andy” Manion was hired as president of Edgewood College. The fall semester began the long transition back to bringing everyone back to campus.

“In the fall, this current academic year, we made a commitment to continue to be safe as a community,” Garcia said. “And our employees, both faculty and staff, have been given options to work from home synchronously or asynchronously. And students have had the same option. Our residence halls are still open. We still have faculty who are teaching inperson. We’ve leveraged student assistants for those faculty members who are teaching from home. But there are students in class experiencing the lecture and engaging. We’ve had student workers and teaching assistants who are helping out with technology. For a faculty member to teach from home and have students in a classroom and students on a computer screen as well could be challenging. So we’ve had student teachers and assistants who have helped out a lot. It’s been a challenge, of course, to really embrace our values of community and doing that in a virtual environment. That’s been tough. Zoom or Webex screen-time fatigue sets in. We’ve heard from our campus — faculty, staff and students — that folks want to stay connected.”

And as Edgewood tested the waters and paid close attention to the science, they decided to come back to campus completely.

“And recently, the Edgewood College leadership team made a decision,” Garcia said. “They committed that if all goes well, in the fall, we will be inperson. Our students and incoming freshmen or folks who are new to the Edgewood community can expect to be on campus come fall semester, taking classes. We’ve been encouraging our workforce right now to get the vaccine. There are a lot of options for folks. And so we are pushing that right now. We’re hopeful that our faculty and staff take advantage of all of the accessibility to the vaccine in Dane County and the Madison area. And then in the fall, we’ve made a commitment to be in-person.” But while the Edgewood College community will be coming back to its Madison campus, that doesn’t mean that it will be coming back to life as normal. It will be coming back to Back to Better, which means becoming an antiracist institution under the leadership of Manion and his leadership team, which includes Garcia, who was named interim associate vice-president of diversity, equity and inclusion in January. And since he assumed his duties last summer, Manion has been taking actions and instituting initiatives to effect change at Edgewood made possible, in part, to the pause created by the pandemic and a recommitment to its Dominican antiracist values.

Next Issue: Change at Edgewood