A Mustang Call to Action

November 17, 2015

Earlier today an impressive group of Morrisville students assembled around our Mustang in the STUAC quad. With student leadership from the SGO clubs of ASUBA, CASU, and LASO these students met to demonstrate solidarity with others from across SUNY and our nation. It is clear that events on our college campuses have brought clear focus to the issues and challenges of diversity, equity, and inclusion. I applaud the actions of these students today as they give voice to these concerns and raise awareness of the need for us all to engage in strategic and proactive intervention. Especially at Morrisville, with our small, close-knit, yet highly diversified community, I believe we have both an obligation and an opportunity to affirm these issues as part of our College’s mission and adopt strategies to engage our broader community. How might we accomplish this?

First, as a community we must explicitly identify and be very public about our commitment to being inclusive and promoting equity in our College experiences. We accomplish this in a variety of public statements, as we have in the College’s recently adopted Strategic Plan 2015-2020.

In that Plan, we have identified three broad goals aligned with our first mission theme of Learning Through Experience. Goal 3 in this area simply states, “To enhance cultural competency and promote equity and inclusion”. These are simple yet powerful words, promising an ambitious agenda. While words are certainly important, they make a difference only when we identify aligned strategies and put resources behind them. The current plan has identified four such strategies in support of this Goal. I list them here:

  1. Implement innovative recruitment strategies to enhance campus diversity in all areas.
  2. Leverage the significant diversity of our campus community to strengthen perspectives on individual and group similarities and differences.
  3. Utilize across the academic disciplines a multitude of cultural stories to enhance the curriculum.
  4. Expand campus-based activities and training to enhance inclusiveness and equity.

Second, we must make public our efforts and success in support of our goals and strategies, as that demonstrates commitment with resources. Again, the current Strategic Plan lists three recent accomplishments in support of this area.

  1. Created an on-campus committee in support of internationalization.
  2. Held January 2015 professional development day dedicated to issues of diversity and inclusion.
  3. Hosted the first annual International Fair with MSC partner OnCampus SUNY.

Third, in order to affirm on-going commitment, new strategies and opportunities for improvement need to be identified. The 2015-2020 Strategic Plan lists four such future priorities.

  1. Hire a chief diversity officer and restructure the campus diversity committee.
  2. Increase study abroad opportunities for our students.
  3. Enhance service learning activities.
  4. Enhance diversity and inclusion training for students, faculty, and staff.

While any set of priorities can be implemented only when adequate resources are identified, happily some actions require more energy and passion than dollars and cents. Such is the case with the priority to restructure the campus diversity committee. Earlier this semester, when I asked for volunteers to participate in a new presidential task force in this area, I was thrilled with the response. More than two dozen colleagues, with diverse roles across our campus, came forward to participate. I am pleased to share that our two co-chairs for this task force are Julia Rizzo, Campuswide Advisor, and Devon Branca, Associate Professor of Humanities. They will provide leadership for the new Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Task Force. We have met to discuss their roles as co-chairs and outline a broad agenda that we plan to address in the coming weeks and months. In particular, we discussed how important it will be to have student engagement as we move forward. I am confident that Morrisville will identify effective ways to involve the entire campus community in dialogue and to advance our stated Goal 3: “To enhance cultural competency and promote equity and inclusion”.

I hope this message goes out to affirm a critically important concern and priority for us all. Again, I want to express my thanks to all who participated in today’s event and I applaud those student leaders from ASUBA, CASU, and LASO who helped to organize their peers. Those engaged leaders do us all proud and it is our shared obligation to respond to their action. As much as any other aspect of our learning community, we must be certain that we both invite and celebrate diversity of background, culture, and thought. We must be vigilant in nurturing and improving a supportive and caring environment at Morrisville. We will know we have realized our goal when all who come to Morrisville feel engaged, valued, and affirmed.

David E. Rogers, Ph.D.