College seeks to improve inclusivity, fight ‘microaggressions’

‘Out of sync’

Submitted photo Pictured is Jahmad Canley, Keynote Speaker for the 2018 Men of Color Summit held earlier this year. The summit is one several of several programs under the newly formed Department of Intercultural Programs & Services.

At a recent college council meeting, Dr. Bill Boerner, chief diversity officer, and Ms. Khristian King, executive director of intercultural programs & services, provided the council with a diversity update. Although diversity on campus has increased during recent years, the pair expressed their concern that the college is not nearly as inclusive as it could be. Unfortunately the stakes are high, as retention, particularly among students of color, continues to suffer, according to King.

Boerner opened the meeting by explaining that diversity today means many different things. “We think of diversity in lots of different ways, not just a race or ethnicity perspective, but lots of different identities that our students are coming to campus with,” Boerner pointed out. He included sexual orientation, religious backgrounds, socio-economic statuses and disabilities as just some of the identities that fall under the umbrella of diversity on campus. “Certainly we have definitely seen large growth in students coming from minoritized populations and specific underrepresented racial populations as well,” he explained. “With that growth, we have not necessarily seen a change from an inclusivity perspective. How inclusive of a campus have we really become?”

Although Boerner and King believe that the campus has a host of classes, programs, initiatives and individuals who are supportive of all students on campus, Boerner believes the college can and should be more intentional about including students from any and all backgrounds. “Anytime that we have people from different backgrounds and identities in a space together, it creates dissonance,” he said. “It creates cultural clashes. It creates drama, as I like to refer to it. Our inclusivity is a little out of sync.”

Boerner points to the campus’ dissonance as a reflection of society as a whole, and also pointed out to the council that SUNY Fredonia is not unique in this situation, as these are issues that many other campuses of Fredonia’s size and demographic face. He named various kinds of “microaggressions” including bias, stereotypes, oppression and discrimination, which are backed up by student opinion surveys that expressed concerns about racial harmony and prejudices surrounding sexual orientation and gender identity.

According to Boerner, by the numbers, SUNY Fredonia students are

¯ 42 percent male and 57.2 percent female

¯ 22 percent first-generation college students

¯ Four percent accessing disability support services

¯ 2.8 percent identifying as Asian

¯ 8.8 percent identifying as black

¯ 10.2 percent identifying as Hispanic

¯ Three percent identifying as two or more races

¯ 72 percent identifying as white.

Campus-wide initiatives towards inclusivity include the college’s Global Perspectives & Diversity program, which requires all students to take two courses within this theme as part of their general education requirement. The 30 courses include English 247: Social justice and the written word, History 152: Global politics and Political Science: Democracy across societies. Boerner also reported that the campus received a $55,000 grant from the SUNY Performance Improvement Fund to sustain diversity training on campus. The funds will be used for an organization that will train trainers on campus including students, faculty and staff to be diversity educators, who will then be able to lead trainings for various departments, divisions and units on campus.

Boerner went on to highlight Title IX training that he and Julie Bezek, a member of the counseling center staff, are receiving. “We will have trained about 3,000 faculty, staff and students by the end of the year around Title IX, which includes sexual assault and sexual harassment training,” Boerner stated. He went on to add that he and his staff are working on bias incident reporting to ensure that there is more training in this area, streamlined procedures and more transparency about what is happening in bias incidents.

King, who has served in her position for two years now, reflected on the many changes her department has undergone. Two years ago, her department was called the Center for Multicultural Affairs and housed six student groups; now the department she oversees has been named Intercultural Programs and Services, which is comprised of the intercultural center, international student services and veteran support services. She was pleased to report that the department now oversees 14 student groups, which include the Black Student Union, Caribbean Student Union, Fredonia Feminists, Japanese Club, Pride Alliance and more.

“The reality is that retention has been difficult for students of color,” King explained. “One of the things that we are now looking at is taking a good look at ourselves and saying, ‘How are we supporting the students and are we really giving them what they need?’ Because of that, there are programs that are no longer a part of this list because students were not needing that anymore. Do we have a full picture yet? No, there’s still a lot of work to be done to determine what students need, but we are spending a lot of time across the board examining all of our programs.”

King was pleased that Veteran Support Services now falls under the umbrella of her department and shared statistics from last year’s student population. Last school year (2017-2018), the campus employed 41 veterans, had 21 veterans enrolled as students and had 55 students that received VA entitlements (including relatives of veterans).