Petition asks that college provide "Cultural Awareness Training," following series of bias-related incidents

The Geneseo Speaks petition, “Make Cultural Awareness Training Available for Students and Faculty” was posted on April 5. Francesca Barlowe, English adolescent education major, created and posted the petition (Udeshi Seneviratne/ photo Editor).

In light of the Snapchat posted by a student referencing blackface, a petition has been created as a response to the Snapchat user and college’s actions. The petition calls for “Cultural Awareness Training” to be introduced within the college community.

The Geneseo Speaks petition, “Make Cultural Awareness Training Available for Students AND Faculty,” was posted on April 5 by English adolescent education major senior Francesca Barlowe. 

As a result of the Snapchat posts, the college has held open office hours for students to start a conversation, facilitated Restorative Justice Dialogues between people who have been impacted by the posts and encouraged one-on-one meetings with members of college leadership positions, according to Chief Diversity Officer robbie routenberg.

Students, such as communication major junior Sarah-Anne Becker, believe that the college has communicated fairly well with the community but recognize that more needs to be done to address diversity issues. 

“They could have handled it a little bit differently, but I believe the coverage it did get raised a lot of awareness to the actual campus,” Becker said.

The desire to create this petition stemmed from talks Barlowe had with several of her professors about the Snapchat incident after she was left wondering how she could make a difference and what else the college could do.  

“Geneseo isn’t really one of the most diverse places,” Barlowe said. “I was trying to find a way to not be accusatory. [The petition] was really just me wondering what I could do.”

Barlowe has since spoken with different members of the college staff, such as President Denise Battles, on what kinds of cultural training could be provided. 

Barlowe’s idea regarding culture training is to implement a reflective essay, similar to the one English majors are required to complete.

“I was thinking about how [English majors] have this self-reflective essay and how we evaluate our place in the major, the world and the community,” Barlowe said. “Why don’t the sciences look at how cultural ignorance has influenced their field, what they can do or how it affects them to affect things like that?”

Barlowe also emphasizes that a self-reflective essay can be about more than just race or ethnicity. Self-reflective essays can also be used to think about how students connect to the cultural changes within their majors.

While there is talk about these essays amongst the staff, routenberg acknowledges other changes that are being made to address diversity, specifically within the student’s first year.

Through past student feedback, the college has begun to implement more diversity training within freshmen orientation and throughout first-year students’ initial few weeks on the college campus, according to routenberg. 

“I’ve been part of some conversations for the last few months about Weeks of Welcome,” routenberg said. “During that first weekend, that Sunday this upcoming fall, there is going to be a part of that programming that’s about diversity or inclusion.” 

In addition to educating incoming students, more efforts are being made to integrate cultural awareness effectively via various workshops and programs on campus.

Expanding upon Kognito Training, meant for RAs and e-boards of clubs and organizations, to include education on cultural awareness could be one way to effectively educate the community, according to Becker.

“Kognitio helps raise mental awareness of people who are in distress and ways to handle that situation,” Becker said. “It’s a training that [at least one e-board member in every club and people in other] positions of power have to go through. I think it would be beneficial if we tacked [cultural awareness] onto that or even part of the training you get as a freshman.”

There is also DICE training, which is a new opt-in program where groups can request cultural awareness training, according to routenberg.

“These DICE workshops, DICE stands for Diversity Inclusion Community Educator, say ‘how do we provide request-based ‘wokeshop’ opportunities, peer facilitated, around other issues of identity or social justice,’” routenberg said. “As that program grows and we train more undergraduate students on having those facilitation skills, it’ll grow our capacity, as a campus, for having different kinds of dialogue with each other.”

Psychology major sophomore Caleb Nans stressed the importance of any kind of culture training. 

“Students at Geneseo come from all kinds of places and not all [of them] have been exposed to the kinds of diversity that you have at college. I think it would be good to kind of supplement the existing programs for that kind of thing,” Nans said. “The college should be doing things like this: implementing programs as need be, doing poster campaigns, etc.”

Ultimately, routenberg encourages students to use their voices and express changes that they want to see. 

“I am a big believer in the student voice and in doing things in partnership with students. I think we need to be working to meet the needs of our students,” routenberg said. “Sometimes the best ways to find out what they need, want and what ideas they have is by speaking either with students directly or through indirect ways such as petition.”

Barlowe stresses just how important it is for students to use their voices to raise awareness. In this case, she is using her voice because of the lack of education about cultural awareness, since those issues affect everyone.

“It’s not just the people of color who are affected. It’s not only going to be the people of color who are bothered by it,” Barlowe said. “It’s really more about how to make sure you’re using your agency … you’re doing things with a purpose.”