President puts forth challenge for random acts of inclusivenessTweet
The first of three presidential forums on varying topics was held Sept. 20 in the Chenango Champlain Collegiate Center. This forum, which focused on diversity and inclusiveness, brought more than 50 people together, including many leaders of campus student groups.
President Harvey Stenger set the tone by reminding the group how complicated diversity and inclusiveness issues can be, yet how important it is to talk about. “This is not just a conversation about an incident, but something we can build upon to create a starting point for making us the premier public of the 21st century,” he said. “Your input tonight in a structured program is going to be really helpful to me as we move forward.”
The two-hour forum was facilitated by Affirmative Action Officer Valerie Hampton and EOP Director Randall Edouard, co-chairs of the Diversity and Inclusiveness Road Map team – one of the nine teams involved in the University’s Road Map strategic planning process currently under way. “The information we’ll be gathering this evening from you will play a critical role in our Road Map team for diversity and inclusiveness,” Edouard said. “Thank you for being here and for your willingness to partake in this very, very important process.”
Hampton echoed Edouard’s comments and set the ground rules for the evening’s conversation: Participants were to choose one of five tables where they gather to discuss a question about diversity and inclusiveness. After 15 minutes, each person would move to another table to discuss another question. “The specific things we must do,” Hampton said, “are to answer the questions, be open to new ideas and thoughts so we can have some conversation, write things down and have fun!”
Patricia Ingraham, dean of the College of Community and Public Affairs, was one of several administrators who participated in the forum. “There were some terrific insights,” she said. “The only question that seemed to stop everyone cold was, ‘What is diversity?’”
The questions and feedback:
1. How can people with varying traditions, beliefs and values learn to live together in the same community?
Discussion centered on the willingness to be open, to learn about others’ cultures and other people and to take an invested interest in them: find common ground, don’t focus on differences, be sensitive and listen ‘with thick skins’ when learning about someone else as they learn about you.
2. What role has diversity played in your college career?
Discussion spanned a broad spectrum: that at Binghamton people can experience things they never had where they came from, that we are diverse on paper, that different groups focus on different things but when do they come together to bring a sense of community to campus?
3. How do we perceive campus culture at Binghamton University?
Discussion indicated a lot of diversity within groups and student organizations, but at the same time a lack of crossing over, very segregated with no mingling. The student body lacks cohesion and multicultural organizations are not taken seriously. There is big potential to come together on issues of identity, but no foundation to make that happen.
This table asked a second question: What can we do to change this?
Discussion included having groups be required to collaborate and considering ways to bring others into the discussion, emphasizing why diversity is important in the first place and what it gives us, sharing individual stories and figuring out how others can identify with them, and keeping this dialog going.
4. What can you do to learn more about others’ beliefs and values and the ways they are different?
Discussion began with the need for better communication and talking, but went to a deeper question of how can the entire campus communicate and how can this conversation move beyond the forum and continue involving both students and the institution? The desire to work together to set a vision and obtainable goals was expressed, as was the need to make it fun. Different people need different things to get to the point where they are open and can learn about other people, so what steps can we take together to make people feel comfortable. We can’t be afraid to communicate with other individuals/organizations. Take the conversation outside of the forum, but also bring it back to expand on the dialog and address ways to bring an overall cultural awareness to the campus.
5. What is diversity?
Discussion was about the different definitions of diversity and how can that be navigated, as well as accountability and responsibility. The answer is everyone is accountable and responsible and what we say to each other is more influential than who is saying it. Take the opportunity to have a conversation that takes you completely out of your comfort zone and push boundaries a little at a time. This group also talked about institutional issues like financial aid, curriculum, admissions requirements and the effects of policies on different groups and what institutional decisions are made and why. There are repercussions for everyone.
Moving forward, Hampton said she and Edouard will feed this information back to the Road Map team on Diversity and Inclusiveness, but the conversation will continue and she plans to bring the forum participants back together for more dialog. “Our dual track with the Road Map team is what we’re doing here that we need to move forward,” she said. “You are all the choir members now and you need to bring someone with you to the next choir meeting.”
Stenger wrapped the forum up by challenging participants to do a random act of inclusiveness. “Go out of your comfort zone, step out on the edge,” he said. “Be the majority walking into the minority or the minority walking into the majority…and tell us about it. I think this can grow.
“How many random acts of inclusiveness can you do in a semester and next semester, and tell a friend and then they tell a friend to do the same?”he asked. “Could we do 100? Or 1,000 by the end of the year? Or 10,000? Can we have more random acts of inclusiveness than any other university in the country in one year? See if you can do one tomorrow. I’m sure we’ll be hearing more from you.”