It’s been over a month since my last day at the IRT, and truthfully, I’ve missed it every single day. I was employed at the IRT for six years, first as the Coordinator for Recruitment and Admissions (later renamed the Recruitment & Admissions Program Specialist), then as the Associate Director and Manager of Programs, and briefly, as the Interim Director. I’ve seen the IRT go through a host of changes in the relatively short time I’ve been there. But through those changes, the organization has also stayed true to a radical re-envisioning of the American education system.
I was hired by the inimitable Dr. Asabe Poloma back in the summer of 2014, and I vividly remember her saying that it would benefit me to attend Recruiters Weekend to get a sense of what the organization was like. I wanted to make a good first impression, so I didn’t tell Dr. Poloma until months later than I ended up cutting my honeymoon short so I could make it back to Massachusetts in time for Recruiters Weekend. And Dr. Poloma was right. Though I’d had a sense of the mission of the organization – of its commitment to social justice in education and the ways in which it supported brilliant scholars in their pathways to Masters and PhD programs- I didn’t understand the scope of the IRT’s work until I sat in a seminar classroom and listened to fifteen IRT interns discussing Derrida and Foucault. Later, at Recruiters Weekend, surrounded by representatives from the forty consortium institutions, I called my husband and said “I think that I joined something big.”
This proved to be a prescient statement, although I didn’t know how much back in July of 2014. I’ve watched the organization grow and expand in numerous ways during my six years here. Under the leadership of Dr. Poloma and then LaShawnda Brooks, I’ve seen the ways that we support students grow deeper, wider, and at the same time, more nuanced and directed as we shift to meet the changing educational landscape. We’ve had new folks join the organization and we’ve all taken on new initiatives to expand our impact while staying true to the original mission of breaking down barriers in higher education. I’m proud of the immense work that the IRT has done in the six years I’ve been there. Especially this year during COVID, our entire team adapted to meet the challenges that our students were facing, thanks to LaShawnda’s brilliant leadership (no, really, she called this months before Fauci did).
But I would be remiss if I dawdled much longer in making the key point – the IRT has been the single most important professional experience in my life.
The IRT cultivated in me a radical and liberatory understanding of what social justice looks like in the educational sector.
It gave me a framework to understand systemic racism, and it prompted me to do the necessary work to try and understand these systems, as well as my complicity in them. My mentors – Dr. Poloma and Dr. Geathers – pushed me to apply for my doctorate in order to explore these complexities, even when I thought that it would be impossible. I’ve met unbelievable scholars and practitioners through my advising and recruiting. I’ve worked with the unbelievable summer faculty for the past three years. And the team at the IRT continues to be the single best team I’ve ever worked with. From our Halloween celebrations to our frequent conversations about astrology to our “Furry Friend Fridays”, I’ve never felt so lucky to be a part of a team that’s comprised of such brilliant, amazing women.
When I accepted my new position at Brandeis, one of the selling points was that I would be able to continue as the IRT liaison. For me, it meant simply that I could stay connected with an organization that I believe in with my whole heart. So, with the closing of this love letter to the IRT, I’ll say simply that this is a “see you later” and not a farewell. Thank you all for being a part of the past six years.
Kate Slater is the Assistant Dean of Graduate Student Affairs at Brandeis University.