Commitment to become an anti-racist campus

A message from President Christian and the President’s Cabinet sent on June 30, 2020

To the SUNY New Paltz Community,

We have received the recent letter from alumni, students, faculty and staff, and others cataloguing incidents of racism and social injustice experienced over the years and all too recently at SUNY New Paltz. To undergo experiences of ongoing bias, embedded racism, and daily microaggressions not only undermines educational ideals. It insults, injures, and traumatizes those who absorb repeated assaults on mind, body, and spirit. It is painful to hear and thus we hurt for all who have been subjected to such experiences. We know that vicarious pain does not come close to the direct pain and humiliation of those targeted by racist behavior.

Hearing from you reaffirms our commitment with greater clarity and urgency to the work we still have to do to live up to our long-espoused values of equity, inclusion and social justice for students as we strive to become an actively anti-racist institution of higher education. We know people are tired, we know there is frustration and even distrust in dialogue without concrete tangible action. We recognize the sense of urgency felt by students who have just four years on our campus. We hear loud and clear the call for accountability and action to stop these experiences from continuing to harm current and future generations of our students.

We do not pretend that we will get to the right answers immediately and we know that we will not get to durable changes without remaining in dialogue with you and with all who seek reform. Thus, we commit to finding further ways we can make meaningful change that are within our respective and collective power to make.

Complex changes to eradicate embedded racism require a coalition of people at many levels to be engaged together at many levels. Coalition creates more, not less, accountability; it draws us to common ground faster and exposes the spaces where we must do harder and more honest work. Coalition allows a systemic approach to a systemic problem rather than fracturing the energy across competing ideals. Hence, we seek your partnership in making progress, and doing so at a faster pace than in the past.

Here are action items that are underway or that we commit to undertaking as we build on other work:

  • Establish a Bias Response and Support Network
  • Request Faculty Governance to Undertake Curriculum Reform
  • Diversity and Inclusion Council Re-Design and Climate Study
  • Support Black Lives Matter in School Initiative
  • University Police Department (UPD) Continuing Improvement
  • Continue Support for Black Studies Department
  • Continue to Diversify Faculty, Staff and Students
  • Expanding Mental Health Support
  • Continue Support for Scholars Mentorship Program (SMP)
  • Continue Town Hall-style Dialogues and Discourse

Further detail about these items is provided below:

Bias Response and Support Network.
We will be launching this fall a bias response and support process to formalize avenues for all members of our community to report experiences of bias or racism, seek support to understand appropriate redress, and receive support for their continued growth and success at the college. This is surely an appropriate area for inclusion of restorative justice programming.

Curricular Revision.
Campus and academic leaders support and embrace the calls for curricular revision to better educate and inform New Paltz students about historical and contemporary dynamics of race, racism, and inequity in America. Curriculum change is primarily in the purview of the faculty and we stand ready to support proposals for change as led by the faculty. We strongly encourage faculty to find ways to engage students in that process.

Diversity and Inclusion Council Re-Design and Climate Study.
We are developing a new model for our Diversity and Inclusion Council to involve more students and integrate the work of this group more deeply into each of the schools. The Diversity and Inclusion Council will undertake a campus climate survey, likely in spring 2021. That process is delayed by the reality that our campus is (and may continue to be) scattered due to COVID-19; we want the instrument to provide the most accurate information possible.

Support of Black Lives Matter in School.
Campus administration supports the ongoing and dedicated work of a group of faculty, staff and students on “Black Lives Matter in School,” while respecting their expressed interest in having this work be primarily a grass-roots initiative. We stand ready to participate in these efforts where this group feels appropriate.

University Police Department (UPD).
UPD leadership has worked to build relationships across our campus community and well beyond with particular attention to diversity. In the fall the Student Association and UPD co-sponsored a discussion with a focus on students of color. About one-quarter of the 22 sworn officers that make up UPD are people of color. UPD has and will continue to commit to trainings specific to race, implicit bias, and duty to intercede; more than one-quarter of the 47 hours of mandatory training last year was focused on diversity and inclusion.

We will continue to look for ways that UPD can improve, while we recognize that the history of policing is steeped in the enforcement of racist laws. An officer in uniform has a stimulus effect that may have a disproportionate negative impact on people of color. We will work to reduce the situations for which UPD is called. In particular, we are sensitive to the enforcement of public health policy in the midst of our current crisis. We call on our community members to hold each other accountable and resist calling UPD unless absolutely necessary. We will examine the circumstances in which UPD is called and whether we can transition to other types of responses to calls.

Black Studies Department.
We will support the Black Studies Department through its upcoming program review, following the earlier 2015 review. This review, which is conducted with the assistance of external faculty in this discipline, will give the Department and the campus insight into the successes the program enjoys, reform that may be desirable, and how to prioritize those needs. That will be one of many pieces of information that will guide tangible actions.

We offered a large space within the newly remodeled Old Main for the Black Studies Department.Department leadership at the time did not see that space as fully meeting needs of the department. However, then as now we continue to work on identifying a space for this program to thrive. New and improved space for Black Studies is a priority in the work of a new space planning committee that will address the College’s longstanding space deficit of more than 500,000 gross square feet of non-residential space. Our goal is to identify and implement a solution this year.

We share the interest in diversifying our community.
Following a charge from campus leadership and a concerted community effort, one-third of our new faculty this fall are people of color, and we will have hired 15 faculty of color in the past five years. We are developing approaches based on best practices to be sure that new faculty are mentored, supported, and welcomed as they join our community – even in the wake of COVID-19. We have participated in a variety of programs that support recruitment and retention of scholars of color, the most recent of which is SUNY’s PRODiG (Promoting Recruitment, Opportunity, Diversity, Inclusion, and Growth) initiative. It bolsters our own efforts by providing support and funding to increase the representation of historically underrepresented groups among the faculty. Diversity is a priority for all hires, and there has been an increase in hiring people of color among key staff as well, notably in Residence Life.

All faculty and staff now must complete training on cultural competence and implicit bias. We will review and augment this training to further our anti-racist goals. The original deadline for completing this training was June 30th, now extended to October 31, 2020, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Faculty and staff serving on search committees must complete a series of trainings that address bias in recruitment and hiring and best practices for more inclusive recruitment practices.  We seek other ways to support anti-racist actions in our work to recruit, hire, and retain employees. In addition, a module on implicit bias as well as a companion workshop will be provided to student orientation staff and incoming students through the orientation process.

We have created the new position of Assistant Director of Intercultural Relations within the new Center for Student Engagement to provide direct support to students from diverse backgrounds, individually and through cultural and ethnic-interest student organizations. The Intercultural Coordinator will provide diversity and inclusion training for students, including mandatory training during orientation. The position will assume oversight for the award-winning Stepping Into Diversity leadership development program.

We recognize the imperative to improve equity and success in K-12 education to further diversify the students who pursue a college or university education. Our new Dean of the School of Education, Dr. Rene Antrop-Gonzalez, is an expert in urban education and will provide strong leadership for this work.Mental Health Support.The reorganization of Student Affairs, effective July 1, was driven by a need to be more responsive to student mental health needs. The reallocation of time and resources bolsters outreach and prevention and allows the Psychological Counseling Center (PCC) to focus on intervention. The PCC is exploring ways to specifically support the mental health of students of color, including a trauma processing group.

We are launching this year, thanks to the support of concerned donors, a new “Student Psychological Resilience” program in which trained student ambassadors will support fellow students at times of duress and stress.

Scholars Mentorship Program (SMP).
We identified and renovated a new space for SMP, to open this fall. This new space is located in the HAB/SUB corridor, near Educational Opportunity Program (EOP). EOP was moved to an expanded, renovated, more prominent location three years ago. This new space for SMP, with its adjacency to EOP, will enhance both programs’ presence, offerings and growth to support our students. Town Hall Discussions. We have launched a series of town hall-style discussions in collaboration with student leaders, students and alumni, to continue this summer and fall, to learn more and to prioritize needed change; we will share information about the next events shortly. Future town hall events in development include:

  • A small group of Black alumni who have committed to organizing a conversation on race and racism where students can share intergenerational experiences and actions for future change.
  • A conversation about free speech and anti-racist work.
  • A conversation about curriculum as part of anti-racist work to educate and inform students about historical and contemporary dynamics of race in America.

Three years ago, we responded to the call of students who expressed that living and dining in buildings named to honor slave-holding founders were essentially daily oppression and reminders of marginalization in their own community. This change took time, but the change occurred. Its success stemmed from community dialogue, intentional work at every level, and the creation of a collective voice that emerged around what we wanted to see for our campus.

The goal of our town hall discussions is to build on that successful model of who we are and what we are capable of achieving.We recognize the changes that have taken place do not address all needed change, and we cannot rest on those achievements. The work in progress and the commitments enumerated above point to our potential for learning, caring, and changing, and what we can achieve together. We will continue to listen to our community and work on matters where, as a campus, we can make changes. As stated above, we believe that change can only come and be sustained with coalitions, working together across all levels and through the range of issues. Only together can we activate changes now and move toward long-term and sustained changes that help us realize the potential of our campus now and into the future. We stand for you; we stand with you.

Sincerely,

Donald P. Christian, President
Stephanie Blaisdell, Vice President for Student Affairs
Tanhena Pacheco Dunn, Associate Vice President for Human Resources, Diversity and Inclusion and Chief Diversity Officer
L. David Eaton, Vice President for Enrollment Management
Michele Halstead, Vice President for Administration and Finance
Barbara Lyman, Interim Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs
Erica Marks, Vice President for Development and Alumni Relations
Shelly Wright, Chief of Staff and Vice President for Communication