As many of you know, this week has been charged with racial incidents in U.S. higher education. Students at the University of Missouri protested in dissatisfaction with the college’s response to several years of racially charged and biased incidents. Students and faculty at Yale University have reacted to the use of racially or culturally insensitive costumes during Halloween. The student newspaper at SUNY Plattsburgh apologized for its publication of a racially insensitive cartoon, spurring discussion among faculty about practical techniques to open dialogue with their students about topics like race and discrimination.
Diversity and inclusion are struggles for many colleges and communities across the country; the University of Missouri, Yale, and SUNY Plattsburgh are surely not the only institutions to be faced with these challenges. Indeed, New Paltz has seen instances of racial bias in its history and we too have faced challenges in understanding and addressing those events. There can be no denying or excusing the behaviors or actions that lead to racial discrimination or bias. And there can be no denying or dismissing the impact of such incidents on the lives of students of color and the broader campus community.
We must also understand that beyond the overt acts such as those noted above, micro-aggressions and biases play out in our everyday human interaction. We must continue to prepare our students, faculty and staff to bring these issues to light, and continue to learn ways that we, as leaders and educators, can work toward creating a campus where these complex human dynamics can be discussed and understood. Educating ourselves and each other to better recognize these acts and their impacts, and to have language and tools to talk about them, is a primary purpose of the work that we have been engaged in with consultant Dr. Steven Jones since spring 2015. Dr. Jones holds a Ph.D. in industrial/organization psychology and has over 27 years of experience as a national leader in diversity and inclusion initiatives.
These are the first of several steps and actions we are taking as we plan the appointment of a Chief Diversity Officer and develop a broader campus diversity and inclusion plan that includes strategies for student recruitment, retention, and completion; administrative, faculty, and staff recruitment and retention; and evaluation of our progress. We commend the faculty, staff and students who are planning such discussions for our campus community, such as the Diversity Dialogues panel discussion on Tuesday, November 17, from 5 to 7 p.m. in Old Main 1907 Room, on “The Intersection between Race and Education.”
We recognize that many within our community are seeking safe spaces or other outlets to discuss these events. We encourage all faculty to create a safe space, perhaps a few moments of class time, to check in with students and offer them the opportunity to exchange ideas or sentiments. In doing so, we ask that all members of the community engage in respectful and professional dialogue, even as these conversations can be difficult. We also want to encourage students who may be having difficulty with these events to seek the assistance of a trusted faculty member, Student Affairs staff member, the Office of Compliance and Campus Climate, or counselor.
Talking about these issues can help us educate each other about the complexities of these events, and can be powerful in building individual connections and deeper understanding of one another.
Executive Director of Compliance and Campus Climate
Donald P. Christian