Fredonia Creates ‘Dialogues on Diversity’ Programming

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State University of New York at Fredonia Interim President Dennis Hefner announced a series of regular programming to drive positive and impactful communication about race issues.

“Over the past few days, I have heard from a number of students expressing concern about the current state of racial injustice in this country and their hopes for the future,” Dr. Hefner said in an email to campus. “Some wrote about how they are routinely treated negatively because of the color of their skin. The anger and frustration they feel is genuine, and the stories they tell are compelling. The campus needs a systematic way to ensure these stories are told, and direct the current outrage toward action that will make a positive difference on campus and beyond.”

Dr. Hefner authorized Dr. Saundra Liggins, Interim Chief Diversity Officer, to organize the regular series of campus-wide programs, called “Dialogues on Diversity.” The goals of these regular sessions will be:

to initially provide a venue for discussing and evaluating the systemic roots highlighted by the recent tragedies,
to provide factual information on the social and economic inequities caused by racism, and,
once armed with this knowledge, to identify ways for people on the campus to begin addressing the inequities.

Programs will be a mixture of panel discussions, faculty presentations, audience discussions, visits by state and national politicians, and outside presenters. Dr. Liggins will be reaching out to seek input and assistance as the details of the series is developed.

“This program, coupled with other initiatives that are likely to arise, will help focus our energies to support former President Obama’s call to begin turning the anger and passion people are feeling into actions that will create positive and lasting change,” Dr. Hefner said. “Education can be a powerful tool. We need to utilize our educational resources toward making this a better country for everyone.”

Interim Chief Diversity Officer and Title IX Coordinator Liggins offered this message to the Fredonia campus:

“Over the past few months, the annual recitation of the names of high school and college graduates has been replaced, first by the solemn roll call of the over 100,000 victims of COVID-19 and then by another somber list. Atatiana Jefferson. Sandra Bland. Botham Jean. Christian Cooper. Breonna Taylor. Ahmaud Arbery. George Floyd. And still more names that we don’t know or that might not as easily come to mind. All these names represent instances that have highlighted yet a different type of pandemic: individual, systemic, and institutional racism.

This past week, I have received two emails – one from an incoming SUNY Fredonia student and one from a Fredonia alumna – each expressing concerns both about the current racial and cultural climate that the above names symbolize and about SUNY Fredonia’s role in addressing these issues.
So what IS our role? In approximately three months, we will welcome new and returning students to if not our physical campus then our virtual one. Faculty and staff, diligently working this summer to prepare for how the campus can function in the midst of a medical pandemic, will (hopefully) be fully back in their offices in three months as well. All want to be part of a community where they can learn, be challenged, and be respected and included.

The goals of diversity, equity, and inclusion can be reached through several paths. Marches and protests offer one path. Voting and policy changes are also avenues to a more inclusive and equitable society. Education is still another. None of these efforts are as successful alone as they are together. And education is not passive. It requires that we, as individuals and as an institution, ask hard questions of both ourselves and of others and that we respond with perhaps even harder answers.

If you are a Fredonia graduate, maybe these difficult times have made more relevant something that you studied during your time at SUNY Fredonia. A book that you read years ago that resonates with you now more than before? Or a lecture you remember from a history or political science course that is helping you to make sense of what’s happening now. Perhaps a piece of art that you studied that is reflective of the pain or hope that this moment evokes.

If you are an incoming student, bring your knowledge and experiences, your anger, and your optimism to campus. Find out who the chairperson or advisor of your major department is and ask them what classes you can take in your major that reflect, or maybe even challenge, your values. Join organizations that support your interests. Stop by the office of a professor that seems to share your concerns. Do a little research on campus clubs and organizations to meet like-minded people.

If you are a faculty or staff member, get ready. Students returning in the fall will be wanting more than protection from COVID-19. Students did not need COVID-19 to highlight the disparities that exist along race and class – among other – lines. But instances of discrimination and racialized violence, both recent and not so recent, have further challenged this nation’s college-aged population. The challenge isn’t just theirs, it is ours too. Encourage your students to share what they’re thinking and share with them. Be open to their lived experiences that may be different from yours.

The author James Baldwin said, ‘The paradox of education is precisely this – that as one begins to become conscious one begins to examine the society in which he is being educated.’ SUNY Fredonia and the Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion remain committed to being a place where the societal examination that Baldwin speaks of can take place. If you have questions or concerns, I can be reached at diversity@fredonia.edu.”