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SUNY Chancellor addresses concerns at Brockport

by Kari Ashworth - Executive Editor
Thu, Mar 5th 2020 03:00 pm
SUNY Chancellor Kristina Johnson held a press conference on Thursday, March 5, at The College at Brockport. Photo Credit: Kari Ashworth/ Executive Editor
SUNY Chancellor Kristina Johnson held a press conference on Thursday, March 5, at The College at Brockport. Photo Credit: Kari Ashworth/ Executive Editor
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SUNY Chancellor Kristina Johnson visited The College at Brockport’s campus on Thursday, March 5, holding a press conference and meeting with a group of students. 

Johnson spoke to the press around 11:30 a.m., explaining she had the opportunity to meet with faculty, students and staff to learn more about Brockport and the issues the college is facing. 

“I’m here to show the support of the State University of New York for Brockport for all our faculty students and staff and to continue the process to move forward,” Johnson said.

Johnson discussed the five point action plan she helped work on for the campus, which includes training on campus for administrators, restructuring the bias reporting system and providing external support to the college through SUNY Oswego’s Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer (CDIO) Rodmon King, Ph.D., who arrived at the college Wednesday, March 4, and will assist the campus for the next three months. 

“[King] is one of our most experienced chief diversity officers,” Johnson said. “[He was brought here] in order to start a process of mentoring and advising the president and the whole campus about how we can move forward to be more inclusive and diverse and equitable campus moving forward.” 

Johnson also met with Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren on Wednesday, discussing how SUNY can better utilize its campuses to foster a diverse environment.

Johnson also said the revamped bias reporting system is a top priority, as well as more training.

“The second one is to go back to a bias reporting system where we can get in place all comments, all voices heard and take action when there are incidents of bias and bigotry. So that was very important. Another one, and I heard this today from faculty and students, is that we need more new training around diversity, equity and inclusion..”

For SUNY campuses across the state, there is a difference in the makeup of students and faculty. Underrepresented students make up 42% of SUNY students, yet underrepresented faculty only comes in at 9%, according to Johnson.

“We’ve already made progress; we've already hired 75 underrepresented minorities or women in STEM faculty,”Johnson said. “We have a goal to hire 1,000 over the next decade, but more than that, what we put in place is a different way of recruiting our faculty going forward. One that we talked about is creating a cohort faculty, where we put in place a pipeline of graduates, undergraduate students, graduate students, working together to become new faculty.” 

From what Johnson had heard from students prior to the press conference, many are concerned about their futures.

“They would like to see the advising, they would like to see the campus become more inclusive,” Johnson said. “I heard from the faculty, that the faculty of color in particular talked about wanting to be intentional around mentoring and to make sure that the fact that they progress through the assistant, associate, full professor ranks. I heard about communication, that we need to be more intentional about communication, that when incidents of bigotry or hate happen, we need to immediately come out and call them out and talk about what we're going to do going forward.”

Following the press conference, Johnson sat with students and listened to their concerns. A key concern revolved around transparency and lack of communication on the college’s part, such as  a meeting with Johnson that occurred at 9 a.m. on Thursday few students were notified of. 

“We’re just going to have to work harder to be better communicators,” Johnson said. 

King was also in attendance at the conversation, standing in the corner until someone asked when he would be coming to campus. King had previously met with the cultural council Wednesday night. 

“I am here to work in support of Dr. Acker and the diversity equity and inclusion office,” King said. “I am here to support the ongoing efforts of students, faculty and staff and other stakeholders who have been doing this work well before I came to SUNY.”

Mcinley Mentor, who is visiting his brother Mcarthur, has been seeing the diversity issues unfold throughout the semester.

“What I realized for the entire longevity of this is, is everyone is being heard,” Mentor said. “It's just actions aren’t taken.” 

Mentor also discussed the difficulty of Brockport’s situation. 

“We all come from a struggle and we come to this school asking for a change,” Mentor said. “We come here because we believe that is going to make us better. And this is what we gotta go through?”

Mcarthur Mentor reiterated this, saying being a college student is stressful enough and this situation futhers that stress.

“We come here, we do the work, we try, we get no sleep,” Mcarthur Mentor said. “We gotta worry about stress back home, and we now we gotta worry about stress here. Stress from being a college student. Stress for being black. Stress for being in our age right now because everything is changing.”

Mcarthur Mentor also noted how Brockport is not a relaxing place for him anymore.

“School’s supposed to be my peace,” Mcarthur Mentor said.

Men of Color Director of Communications Justin Crawford was in attendance at the cultural council meeting Wednesday night as well as the post-press conference conversation and said he is hopeful for the future of the campus as long as “the right people are at the table.” Crawford explained it is about finding students that represent the different groups that need help on campus. 

“If we're able to have the representation there, I think that will work just because the students who are there, they will know their underrepresented groups’ needs, and personally for me, there's many people who live my reality as a black and brown student, students of color. So it all comes back to who sits at the table.”

Many students at the conversation voiced their concerns about who is coming to help, saying they do not have a problem with King but do wish in the future they can be involved in who aids students in the future. Crawford voiced these same concerns.

“We have the Chancellor’s CDO [King] coming in,” Crawford said. “I don't have a problem with it; I just wish that the students will have a say in exactly who comes to help us. Because we believe that they're accomplished; they have the work to do it, it's just, will their work impact what we really need happening?”

Despite this, Crawford is remaining positive about the future and King’s tenure at the college.

“I'm very hopeful that he will see the real problems on campus and help the underrepresented groups, especially the black and brown,” Crawford said.

Johnson is expected to return to Brockport prior to the semester’s end.

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