New Assistant Dean Patricia Birch Invites Students to Find Home at Harambee House

A Zoom photo of Patricia Birch inside Harambee House
Author  Shannon O'Brien
Published on 

Patricia Birch, Wellesley’s new assistant dean for intercultural education and advisor to students of African descent, is looking forward to using videoconferencing a bit less in the forthcoming academic year. “I’m very excited about engaging with students in person and not just over Zoom meetings,” she said, “and to have the opportunity to host programs on campus."

Birch is Wellesley’s new assistant dean for intercultural education and advisor to students of African descent. Prior to joining the College in March, she was the director of inclusive excellence initiatives at Framingham State University. She has over 10 years of experience in student affairs, academic advising, social work, career, and diversity education.

She said she is glad to join a team that is doing diversity, equity, and inclusion work with the students, and to be part of Harambee House, a space designed to offer academic and social support to students of African descent. “I heard a lot about Harambee House even before getting here,” she said, and she is happy to be building on the work of all the people who have overseen Harambee House through the years. She attended the 2021 commencement ceremony, at which Massachusetts State Rep. Elizabeth “Liz” Miranda ’02 served as the commencement speaker, and Birch was moved by Miranda’s memories of the space that also offers educational and cultural activities. “I want to continue to provide that same type of homey feeling,” Birch said. “A place where students really feel comfortable to engage with one another, have deep conversations, and develop deep friendships and relationships.”

Birch looks forward to having the students get to know her, too. She has two children, ages 9 and 11, who participate in a number of activities that keep the family on the move: violin lessons, piano lessons, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, basketball, and gymnastics, to name a few. She is an avid reader and recommends So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo; The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson; The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander; and How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi. “I’ve listened or read that book four times now, and I’m listening to it again because I feel like I'm constantly learning something over and over,” she said. Also, she has a mini goldendoodle named Ginger and a cat named Lyla — and described both as “sassy.”

Birch is planning heritage programming for students, including a celebration of Black History Month. She also wants to develop programming centered on career development and financial management, with the hopes of instilling in Black women the importance of building both cultural capital and financial capital.

Most importantly, she hopes students will find their community at Harambee House — to feel welcomed when they walk into the building and to connect with people from across the world who are part of the African diaspora. “I hope they feel the same feeling that I felt,” she said about entering Harambee House for the first time. “I felt a sense of home, comfort, and peace. An opportunity to relax and be myself. That's what I'm hoping the students will experience once they enter the house.”