Commission to revise statement on diversity following criticism

The Commission on Diversity and Community has commenced a redrafting of the college’s statement on diversity and community. The current statement has been under scrutiny for being outdated due to its initial creation in 2003. 

The commission’s decision to revise the statement stems from a Nov. 27 charge President Denise Battles made. Under the charge, the commission will put together a subcommittee to work with the campus community in drafting a new statement. 

“Our role is convening an ad hoc subcommittee … to get a revised process,” Commission Co-Chair and Interim Chief Diversity Officer robbie routenberg said. “We don’t have a methodology yet, but some of [President Battles’] language [encouraged us] to be mindful of, and align with, the college’s strategic plan and the strategic diversity plan. She asks explicitly that the commission provide opportunities for input by college constituents, including Student Association.” 

The subcommittee will work with students and other members of the college community to draft a new policy by the end of February 2018, according to routenberg. From the commission, the statement will move to Battles and the college senate for a vote before returning to Battles for final approval. 

Commission member senior Samira Salha felt that the re-examination of the statement is important, given its obsolescence.

“I think that this is a demand that is completely rational, especially given the circumstances, regarding [Sorbello],” Salha said. “A diversity statement that was last updated in 2003 is completely outdated given the changes that have happened both at the school and socially across the world.” 

Commission Co-Chair and Assistant Director of Access Opportunity Programs Gabriel Iturbides emphasized the cooperative nature to the redrafting process.

“My favorite part about the charge is the collaboration piece,” Iturbides said. “The goal of the commission is to really be clear and open and have everyone have a say in what’s happening. Collaboration brings that community aspect to the statement on diversity and community.” 

The decision to reopen the statement on diversity and community developed from recent campus conversations surrounding sensitivity, which followed a presentation by adjunct professor of sociology David Sorbello. The commission also worked on updating the statement during the 2015-16 academic year, but didn’t complete the process, according to Battles, who spoke at the December college senate meeting. 

At this stage of the process, routenberg is unsure how thoroughly the subcommittee will rework the statement. 

“Our preference is not to start a process from a place of being closed,” routenberg said. “Everything is on the table when we start, so that’s where input and collaboration are important. One possibility is that we scrap it completely and start over. Another possibility is that we decide the structure is decent and just update the language. Any of that can play out.” 

The subcommittee will likely be formally created and may convene before the end of the semester, according to routenberg. 

Salha felt that the subcommittee had specific areas that it could improve when considering revisions. 

“I remember looking at the statement and thinking that it was incredibly short,” Salha said. “Diversity is really fully encompassing and there are so many things that are included in diversity, that mean diversity, especially to a small place like Geneseo. If people want to be accounted for and felt for, they have to be included in something like a university statement. I think it just needs more thought and it needs more input from student voices.” 

The commission hopes to elevate the role of the statement in the college community, according to routenberg. 

“If this statement is literally some text on a website that shows up in print occasionally, that’s not doing justice to what it can be,” routenberg said. “This statement needs to be something that we all see ourselves in, take pride in and see as a vision for what this campus can move toward. The process needs to resemble that vision.”u