Commission finishes draft of revised diversity statement, pending comment from public

The President’s Commission on Diversity and Community has created a draft of a rewritten Statement on Diversity and Community. The document is being updated for the first time since 2003, after influence from student activists. 

The first draft of the revised Statement on Diversity and Community is in its preliminary stages. After updates are made based on comments and feedback from the campus community, the draft will be submitted to President Denise Battles and the College Senate for final approval, according to Interim Chief Diversity Office and Co-Chair of the subcommittee tasked with the revisions robbie routenberg. 

“The original statement served its purpose and it was cutting edge, but what’s happened is that there’s a varied understanding of different populations on this campus,” Interim Director and Coordinator of Admissions and Co-Chair of the subcommittee Gabriel Iturbides said. “There are so many unique populations on this campus and we want to make sure that every single person feels this sense of safety and acceptance here.” 

The original statement was approved by the College Senate in 2003, six years into the establishment of the President’s Commission on Diversity and Community, Iturbides said. 

Battles requested revisions to the statement soon after her arrival to the college, according to routenberg. 

“She’s had interest since she got here [and] realized how old it is,” routenberg said. “This past fall, student activism was starting to put publicly this acknowledgement that it’s outdated, so Battles charged the commission last fall to take until Feb. 28 to really have a community process for creating a draft of what that statement could be.” 

Important factors in drafting this revised statement were transparency and the inclusion of students’ and community members’ voices, according to routenberg. 

The subcommittee spent the last few months talking to various people around campus and gaining insight from the community in order to synthesize their ideas into the revised draft, routenberg said.

“What’s important … is that the campus has lots of places to have feedback heard,” routenberg said. “This is a key moment for people to really chime in and to make sure that what’s put forward is how the processes reflect the whole.” 

Issues with the original statement included outdated use of language and exclusion of certain groups on-campus, according to Iturbides. 

“In the first statement, it was something that identified in more general terms and now there are very specific and amazingly unique populations who want to be well represented,” Iturbides said. “All of a sudden you realize that there are other groups who aren’t being represented. I think the language has to change to keep up with the times.” 

The statement is meant to be all-embracing and provide students and faculty with a sense of belonging and safety, according to routenberg. 

“When Geneseo talks about diversity, what do you mean? Do you see yourself in what we mean? That has a very clear impact on a sense of belonging, a sense of safety and protection, a sense of if you are able to feel like you can self-express yourself here in your full authenticity,” routenberg said. “It has a very strong symbolic importance on shaping the way that individuals feel and the collective climate.”

The general response from the community thus far has been positive, according to routenberg. 

“They’re happy with the philosophical shift that moves us into a more contemporary conversation of diversity, equity, inclusion and community,” routenberg said. 

Early childhood education and English double major sophomore Melissa Maliniak felt that the timing was right for revisions, especially in the context of racist messages at SUNY Plattsburgh, in which one message pertained to the lynching of African Americans, that are causing outcry. 

“Based on what’s happening at SUNY Plattsburgh currently, I think it’s a good idea that Geneseo is revising and updating their diversity statement,” Maliniak said. 

The ultimate goal in the revision process is to provide a space for people to feel included and for incoming students to feel that they are a part of Geneseo’s commitment to diversity, according to Iturbides. 

“It’ll remind us, especially because it’s new,” Iturbides said. “It motivates us to be cautious and be aware of all of the populations on this campus … For so many people this is their second home; it should be safe.”