Photo by Jolene Almendarez

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ITHACA, N.Y. — The interim Chief Diversity Officer at Ithaca College addressed the recent discord on campus in an open letter released Wednesday.

The letter, which is published in full below, details Roger Richardson’s 15- year experience at Ithaca College, his perspective about inequities on campus, and changes happening at IC to address student concerns.

Some the the changes Richardson mentions include an increased visibility of public safety officers, an ongoing independent review of public safety on campus, student membership on the Council for Diversity and Inclusion and workshops on campus that address a variety of race and cultural issues.

Richardson was appointed as the interim Chief Diversity Officer earlier this month as an effort by President Tom Rochon and college administrators to address concerns by students that led to mass protests and walkouts.

Related: Ithaca College President Tom Rochon: “Resignation has never crossed my mind”

Photo by Jolene Almendarez
Photo by Jolene Almendarez

About 1,000 people attended an event Nov. 11 where students demanded Rochon’s resignation, sat in protest of his leadership (among other issues), and discussed the racial divide among students and faculty on campus.

Related: Confused by turmoil at Ithaca College? Here’s a beginner’s guide

Richardson’s letter can be read in full below: 

(Photo courtesy of Ithaca College)

Greetings to the campus community,

By now most of you are aware of my recent appointment as the interim chief diversity officer. I assumed this new leadership role with mixed emotions as I have witnessed IC students raise serious questions about Ithaca College’s commitment to diversity and inclusion.

Most of you are also aware that the college has made a declaration of numerous plans and initiatives to address these questions, which can be viewed at ithaca.edu/diversity. I will share a few updates on some of those plans below.

When I hear students voice their opinions about the micro and macro inequities that negatively impact their everyday experiences inside and outside the classroom, I am reminded of my undergraduate collegiate years.

Four decades ago I served as president of the Black Student Union at the University of Wisconsin-Stout and articulated many of the same messages. I too was deeply troubled about how systemic racism and individual bias affected my collegiate experience and those of my peers.

That is the reason I chose to go into the field of student affairs. My entire professional career has been spent working in predominantly white institutions of higher education, all the while studying the factors that contribute to underrepresented students’ academic and social integration and creating programs, policies and practices that aid in their success.

During my 15 years working at IC, I have worked alongside faculty, staff and students to increase the access and outcome opportunities for underrepresented students.

What is troubling, given the current climate on our campus, is that our efforts to retain students and create an inclusive environment has not kept pace with our effort to increase the diversity of IC faculty, staff and students.

Because of this fact, ALANA and other underrepresented students have been telling us in myriad ways for far too long that they feel disrespected, unwelcome, and unsupported. And even when they are brave enough to give voice to their experiences, they say many folks in the IC community try to invalidate them.

It is important for the IC community to acknowledge and accept the fact that we occupy spaces on this campus where many of our community members feel unsafe and excluded.

I am deeply disappointed by this fact, and it pains me to see our students having these types of collegiate experiences at IC. Although I am proud of the many accomplishments IC has achieved over the years to increase access opportunities for underrepresented faculty, staff and students, it has become agonizingly apparent the college requires a transformative cultural change to help foster a more safe, supportive and inclusive campus community.

In order to achieve these outcomes, changes in IC’s policies, practices, programming, curriculum, and classroom environments are being demanded.

Although this may appear to be a daunting challenge, these changes can be achieved. When I first came to IC 15 years ago, I was impressed by the can-do and caring culture that existed. I can attest that culture still thrives because I have experienced it, personally and professionally, during my time here.

A few updates:

The Office of Public Safety and the ALANA Student Engagement Workgroup are engaged in conversations about how to build positive relationships between officers and ALANA students. One specific idea being explored is setting up a satellite office on campus to give Public Safety officers a more visible presence.

The outside, independent review of Public Safety is moving forward. A scope plan has been created and reviewed by The Council on Diversity and Inclusion (CODI). The members of the council have provided recommendations that will be incorporated as the plan is further refined before outside firms are asked to submit proposals.

The Council for Diversity and Inclusion (CODI), which was established in September, will soon expand its membership to include four new positions. Two of those positions will be occupied by students. These news appointments will be announced once they are finalized.

CODI is also working with Rankin and Associates Consulting, the firm that will conduct the new campus climate survey next year. A small committee of CODI members will help prepare the campus for the survey by setting up focus groups and developing plans for implementation and completion of the survey. The members of the committee are made up of members of CODI, the ALANA Council, and faculty and staff. We will share specific names at a later date.

Earlier this month, President Tom Rochon and I met with a group of African-American faculty members to discuss ways we can mentor and retain faculty of color at IC. It was a fruitful conversation, and the participants provided good recommendations that I am in the process of following up on. I will share further updates when I have them.

Human Resources has hosted several workshops this semester on topics of cultural competency and awareness, and diversity and inclusion. The most recent, “Interrupting Biased, Bigoted Remarks, Stereotypes, and Negative Assumptions,” was held today (Tuesday).

The session hit the 40-person cap, President Rochon among them, and there is already a waiting list for the next time the workshop is held on December 15.

The session this coming Monday, “Creating Your Own Cultural Awareness ‘Starting Point’” has already been filled, as well. There is also a waiting list for when it’s held again in January.

There will be a workshop on cultural competency on December 7 that still has space available if you are a college employee who would like to participate. HR is adding more programs to the schedule, so please be sure to keep an eye on Intercom for the latest announcements.

On Wednesday, all supervisors will be attending a meeting on these very important topics in Emerson Suites. This is a mandatory meeting for all supervisors.

On the alumni engagement front, our Office of Institutional Advancement is developing plans to expand an existing affinity group, ICUnity, which has existed on Facebook for about a decade. ICUnity is a group of alumni, faculty, staff, and students that is open to anyone but has largely focused on our ALANA community. Plans are in the works to hold regional events throughout the country next year.

Be assured I will keep you informed with more timely progress reports on the Action Plan to Address Racism and Cultural Bias as information becomes available. These updates will also be posted at ithaca.edu/diversity.

We can do this as partners:

Since the announcement of my new role as interim chief diversity officer, I have received words of support and encouragement from many on campus, and I offer a sincere thank you to all. However, the challenge before me is not mine alone: It is ours.

As educators inside and outside the classroom, it is our responsibility to create learning experiences and educational opportunities that prepare all students to become respectful, educated global learners.

The issues connected with race, inclusion, racism, and diversity impact each of us differently. If we are committed to IC’s pursuit of excellence, we must work through our individual fears and differences and engage in meaningful dialogue with one another to make it happen.

Will you join me in partnership for this purpose? We can all make the spaces we occupy daily feel safe and inclusive. All of us operate with some manner of privilege; we should utilize our privilege for the benefit of others.

I believe, if we work in partnership with intentionality and urgency through respectful dialogue, we can achieve the institutional cultural shift necessary for IC and perhaps create a model for higher education.

Sincerely,

Roger

Dr. Roger Richardson
Interim Chief Diversity Officer and
Associate Provost for Inclusion and Engagement

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Jolene Almendarez

Jolene Almendarez is Managing Editor at The Ithaca Voice. She can be reached at jalmendarez@ithacavoice.com; you can learn more about her at the links in the top right of this box.