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Michael Figueroa: Facilitating community

May 11, 2022 | Kristen Chavez

As an enthomusicologist, Michael Figueroa examines the intersection of music, politics, and religion, with a particular focus on the Middle East and its diaspora. It was the focus of his Faculty Fellowship in Fall 2020, “Music and the Racial Awakening of Arab America.”

His work looks at geography; as he described on an episode of The Institute podcast, “space is material, it is lived in. But it’s also conceived.”

This relationship between people and the places they inhabit is one that translates into his work as the facilitator of the IAH’s Faculty of Color and Indigenous Faculty Group.

Figueroa has led the group throughout the pandemic and noted that the community – much of it taking place in a robust Sakai group – has been different. In the past couple of years, some of the connections made between members have been minimal because of Zoom fatigue, Figueroa admitted. “We’ve come together around certain moments where community is needed to talk through an issue that’s happening on campus,” said Figueroa.

In facilitating such discussions, Figueroa views the group as an opportunity for people to find support networks, whether it’s “to plan initiatives or just get a coffee,” he said. “I want the ethos of the group to scale from the one-on-one to the collective.”

When they do hold Zoom meetings, Figueroa is heartened by the new faces that join – a sign that the FOC/IF Group is expanding as much as an increase in hires of faculty of color and Indigenous faculty across the University.

“It shows that people are dedicated to ensuring that that our campus and institution are safe, productive spaces for faculty, staff, and students of color,” Figueroa said.

Figueroa has now worked with two directors of the Institute, and he said he’s appreciative of the support he and the Faculty of Color and Indigenous Faculty Group have received. While he’ll be stepping down as the facilitator for the next academic year, he will continue participating in the group. Figueroa, who also recently received a Schwab Academic Excellence Award, appreciates having a space that allows him to consider others’ perspectives in a way that’s both affirming and challenging.

“The IAH is a place where I feel valued, and that’s worth a lot to me,” said Figueroa.

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