University News

CWB Senior Scholar Millie Rivera Works at the Intersection of Well-Being, Diversity, and Inclusion

by Whitney Hopler, Communications Manager

Diversity and inclusion are a vital part of well-being, and as our culture grapples with social justice issues, our center’s Senior Scholar Miliagros (Millie) Rivera, Ph.D., is leading positive change.

Rivera, the Director of Faculty Diversity, Inclusion, and Well-Being in Mason’s Office of Faculty Affairs and Development (FA&D), helps recruit and retain diverse faculty while also working for well-being for students and employees alike through Mindful Mason MomentsMason Chooses Kindness, and the Rx Racial Healing Circles program.

“Diversity, equity and inclusion work is vitally important to the future of this country and this university,” said Rivera. “Also, because the stakes are so high and we face veiled (and sometimes not so veiled) resistance to change, it can also be exhausting. So, attending to the well-being of all our faculty, staff and students (but especially those from underrepresented groups) is critical.”

Rivera’s prior experience leading a department at the National University of Singapore that had faculty from many different countries showed her “how important inclusion was to the sense of belonging, well-being and success of my very diverse department.” Even years later, she sees the positive impact of that work continuing. “I hear regularly from my ex-colleagues and former students, many of whom are in leadership roles around the world, and they all speak about how the experience of being in a welcoming, supportive (and yes, a loving) environment that supported both their academic work as well as their well-being has shaped who they are as leaders.”

At Mason, CWB, “is my happy place, where I connect and collaborate with like-minded people who know how important well-being (in a very broad sense) is to the success of anything involving human beings,” Rivera said.

The Mindful Mason Moments program, in which Rivera serves as a facilitator for mindfulness sessions, “was one of my first points of connection with the work of the CWB, and it holds a special place in my heart. I think most of us are ‘on’ all the time – colleagues, supervisors, children, and the people we care for need something from us. If we don’t slow down, nurture ourselves and find time (however brief) to just be, we will eventually find ourselves burned out, with little or nothing to give. This is why no matter how busy I am, I do all I can to contribute to the Mindful Mason Moments. It may look like I may be doing something to support others, but I am also doing something for myself – a brief, mindful break.”

Rivera also helps facilitate racial healing conversations during Rx Racial Healing Circles, which are a collaboration between our center and Mason’s Campus Center for Truth, Racial Healing, and Transformation (TRHT). “We just started with this work in mid-February and I love the opportunity to bring our Mason community together by providing a space where we can all connect in our shared humanity,” she said.

Through the Mason Chooses Kindness (MCK) well-being movement, Rivera is serving on the Faculty/Staff Engagement committee. She encourages everyone in the Mason community to connect with each other through MCK. “I think that a life without kindness is harsher, more difficult and perhaps even more isolated and lonely,” she said. “I feel connected to many people even though I know very few people in Fairfax and have only a handful of friends in the area. That sense of connection comes from interacting with others from a space of kindness. And as I share myself in kind ways with others, I get back way more than I give out. And this can even be brought into the classroom. I cannot think of anything we can do in the classroom that can promote more of a sense of inclusion and belonging than being kind to our students, and through our modeling, teach them to be kind to one another.”

Despite the strong foundation of diversity, inclusion, and well-being work at Mason, there’s more to be done, said Rivera. “This is something I love about Mason – many colleagues I deeply respect at University Life, for instance, are working very hard to offer services that support student well-being. I feel we need to do more to extend those kinds of well-being services to faculty and staff so they can unburden their load, even if just for one hour, and speak about their experiences, challenges and frustrations. We all need to connect with others in spaces that offer safety, empathy, and kindness. So, in my work for FA&D, we are offering faculty well-being support to develop resilience, self-compassion and other well-being skills through the 3Cs Well-Being Circle (3Cs stands for Coffee, Connection and Community). We are also in the process of creating an affinity group for Black, Latinx, American Native and multiracial faculty, the most underrepresented groups at Mason. I am also working with CWB and FA&D to create a well-being leadership program for department chairs, who also need to be supported. I want to do so much more; we need so much more!”