For the third straight year, Buffalo State College has received a Higher Education Excellence in Diversity award from INSIGHT into Diversity magazine, leading to questions about the role that diversity currently plays within the Geneseo community. The magazine—which is the oldest and largest diversity-focused publication in all of higher education according to their website—also recognized the entire SUNY system. Buffalo State, however, was the only specific institution to receive the award. The magazine cited its commitment to diversity through social justice conferences, faculty research efforts and partnerships with local communities and programs targeted toward first-generation and low-income students.
According to Title IX coordinator and assistant to the president for diversity and equity and affirmative action director Adrienne Collier, Geneseo has made changes in many of its multicultural programs.
“We have had the president’s commission on diversity since 1998, we’ve had the Promoting Awareness Toward Harmony awards since 1998, we have the president’s annual lecture on diversity, we have Cultural Harmony Week, we have numerous cultural clubs and organizations and we have Real World Geneseo,” she said. “We have a wealth of diversity programming.”
According to Assistant Dean of Students for Multicultural Programs and Services Fatima R. Johnson, issues of climate and atmosphere are still prevalent on campus. “In the residence halls, most of what we see are remarks on whiteboards or offensive comments or jokes,” she said.
Johnson’s primary responsibilities are working with students from underrepresented backgrounds and creating programming that can support a more welcoming atmosphere where all students can feel appreciated.
“You have to have a welcoming climate in order to recruit and retain high-quality faculty, staff and students who feel comfortable living, working and learning in this environment,” Collier said.
Collier emphasized that this is not an issue whose burden lies with any one particular group and that all students, faculty and staff should be able to come together.
“We all have biases. Often times, I think some diversity programming can be put out there as if it’s an ‘us vs. them’ scenario, but it’s important to be self-aware of where you are on the continuum of diversity,” Collier said. “Sometimes you need to recognize that you’re operating from a place of bias and must self-reflect and check those biases. In order to have an environment that is very welcoming, we all have to participate in the process.”
While Collier and Johnson try to produce change from within the administration, students such as Support, Educate & Embrace Diversity co-presidents junior Laura Brown and senior Alex Nealis attempt to actively engage students in the process.
“Students can help by going to clubs outside of their realm,” Brown said. “If you are not black, you can still go to [the Black Student Union] and learn about things that you wouldn’t have realized before. I’m not Latina, but I’m going to [the Latino Student Association] as much as I can because I want to learn about those communities.”
SEE Diversity was inspired by the program Real World Geneseo, which was founded in 2008 and is currently run by Johnson and Susan Norman. Each spring semester, 30 students travel to Rochester where they learn about forms of oppression—including sexism, racism, ageism and ableism.
“We’re going into communities where people are really challenged to think about their preconceived ideas and the way in which they interact with the people there,” Johnson said. “You’re thinking seriously about who you are and who you want to become.”
“I’m really looking forward to collaborating with faculty and any other clubs that wish to see us,” Brown said. She added that she expects to see more collaboration between cultural organizations to produce a larger effect.
“Just because you’re the psych club doesn’t mean that you can’t collaborate with BSU or the Japanese culture club or with SEE Diversity,” Brown said. “The world is so diverse and intersectional and we shouldn’t be afraid to branch out to each other.”