Capability of inclusivity outreach programs debated by campus community

Geneseo held its first “Cultivating Community” session on Tuesday Feb. 28. The session focused on developing strategies to make Geneseo a more inclusive environment. Pictured above is Assistant Dean of Students for Multicultural Programs and Services Fatima Rodriguez Johnson, who spoke at the program about the conditions necessary to allow individuals to feel comfortable on campus. (Ash Dean/Photo Editor)

Geneseo hosted its first “Cultivating Community” program on Tuesday Feb. 28 to reaffirm the value of inclusivity on campus by focusing on how to make Geneseo a home for everyone. Students, faculty and staff have varying views about the effectiveness of such a program in creating a welcoming environment for the campus’ diverse population. 

The idea for the series emerged during the last academic year and the need for such a program was reinforced by the number of bias related incidents that occurred last semester, according to President Denise Battles. 

There will be two more sessions in the “Cultivating Community” series, each with another theme relating to inclusivity. During these programs, speakers with expertise on these topics shared their knowledge and faculty and staff are given time to discuss how to foster diversity on campus. 

“I’m hoping, too, that people will be motivated to act if they gain an appreciation for issues they were previously unaware of, and if they increase their knowledge in skills around topics, that when they’re in a situation where they can be not just a passive bystander, but take positive affirming action,” Battles said. 

Multiple attendees at the first “Cultivating Community” session voiced their concerns about attracting a variety of perspectives to these programs in order to engage in a productive dialogue, according to Facilitation Workshop Coordinator and professor of psychology Jennifer Katz. In addition, some students are wary that these discussion sessions will not lead to action taken by the administration.

“The problem is that people keep discussing and discussing and discussing and then no action gets done. We’ll have a few meetings and then people will stop because people have exams or people have other things to do, which is understandable because we’re all here for our education,” Black Student Union treasurer sophomore Meagan Centeno said. “But at the same time, I’m not going to be able to focus on my education if I’m worried about not being comfortable in a class.”

Series Coordinator for “Cultivating Community” and associate professor of communication Meredith Marko Harrigan hopes that these discussions will lead to the creation of a plan of action for the college to take in order to promote inclusivity more effectively. 

“We want this to be a sense of personal and professional development for all of us,” Harrigan said. “But we are also looking for insight, thoughts about steps we might be able to take at the college as a whole and just visions for what that might look like, what it is that we need so that ideally we can continue to foster a more inclusive environment.”

Some of the potential changes attendees discussed during the first “Cultivating Community” session to promote inclusivity on campus include a diversity training program required for all campus members and a change in the humanities curriculum permitting students to choose from more diverse course options. 

Latino Student Association treasurer sophomore Emilie Porter—as well as Centeno—said that they would like to see the administration hire more professors on campus who represent students of color in order to continue to create an inclusive environment. 

“I think definitely building outside with students is important, but building inside with faculty and staff is also important,” Porter said. “If you see a black man who’s a professor, then you can go to him and feel more comfortable talking to him than a white professor. The white professor can talk about it, but he doesn’t have a firsthand experience with it.”

Other students, such as Student Association Representative for LSA sophomore Andrea Pineda, said they hope that the administration continues to convey that discriminatory actions against any group of people will not be tolerated; she also hopes in the future that the college holds those who commit these actions accountable. 

Assistant Dean of Students for Multicultural Programs and Services Fatima Rodriguez Johnson—who spoke at the program about the necessary conditions to foster an inclusive environment—said that students are mainly concerned about the campus remaining a respectful and open-minded place. Rodriguez Johnson commended them for the forums and programs they themselves promote to engage in these discussions. 

“The students have been really good at just saying that they want to talk about this stuff, even if it’s just that they’ve organized a rally and they’re on campus together in solidarity and support for individuals who are facing a lot of different challenges right now as marginalized people,” Rodriguez Johnson said.

Associate news editor Malachy Dempsey and staff writer Tyler Waldriff contributed reporting to this article.