Campus Reconvenes for First Community Conversation of Semester

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Students, faculty and staff met at Carbone Family Auditorium for the first community conversation of the semester. Photo by Kaitlyn Tambasco

Kaitlyn Tambasco, Special Assignments Reporter

On Feb. 1, students, faculty and staff gathered in the Carbone Family Auditorium for the first community conversation of the semester.

The purpose of the conversation was to provide updates on changes related to diversity and inclusion that have been made or will be put in place, as well as to brainstorm new ideas.

President Laura Casamento opened the conversation by welcoming and thanking everyone for being at the event.

“The reason we’re here is simple, to have a conversation,” Casamento said. “Utica College is not perfect, but we have a very strong community.”

Casamento then shortly remarked on the things that UC has overcome in the last few years as well as reminding everyone the intent of the conversation.

“Change takes time, it’s a process,” Casamento said. “We’re looking to hear and learn from each other today.”

The conversation focused on four main topics: curriculum; life outside the classroom; faculty and staff and professional development and training/messaging.          

Curriculum

The new semester brought some new diversity-related courses like Caribbean Peoples and Cultures (ANT 243), Topics in American Literature: Queer Literature (ENG 306), Topics in History: African International Relations in Historical Perspective Course (HIS 300) and Questioning Diversity: Origins, Speech and Exchange (SOC 300).

Area Coordinator Jeff Percaccianate said that for him SOC 300 seems the most interesting out of all the new classes offered this semester, but feels that there is more to be done with history classes.

Percaccianate then reflected on when he was a student taking a course titled “Asia and the World.” He said that class was interesting but did not really change how he would treat someone.

“What we really need is a course that teaches us about words,” Percacciante said. “We need to learn how to interact with others correctly.”

Freshman Peter Gaughan said even though the college now offers so many diversity courses, all of that does not matter if the students do not have time in their schedules or the extra money needed to take them.

“We as students already pay so much money to go to school here,” Gaughan said. “So stop charging us to take extra classes, it’s just rude.”

Life Outside the Classroom

Assistant Director of Residential Life Derek Pooley spoke on behalf of the Student Government Association, announcing that the group had made an official motion to stop hate on campus, as well as assisting with the Unity Walk that took place at the beginning of the fall semester.

Assistant Director of College Engagement Bethany VanBenschoten pointed to the fact that UC offers students a variety of different organizations to join.

“We make it simple for students to make new organizations that this campus does not offer,” VanBenschoten said. “We have a similar process for our Greek organizations; it is more extensive but we try to make it just as easy and not stressful.”

According to handouts provided at the conversation, the new semester will also offer more students events, one of them being a spring banquet, that will focus on raising awareness about different organizations.

The Utica College Programming Board also plans to showcase artists and performers from diverse backgrounds or with diverse life experiences.

RA training now includes more education regarding diversity, inclusion, acceptance, working with people from different backgrounds and how to build inclusive communities within the residence halls.

Faculty and Staff

Two years ago, a task force was formed to make the search process to fill faculty positions more inclusive as well as increase the potential for recruiting and hiring a more diverse faculty and staff.

Human Resources Coordinator Lesley Wallace said that in addition to the new task force, there is also a diversity advocate that pays attention for aspects of diversity during the interview of a potential faculty or staff member.

“Applicants are also required to upload a diversity statement,” Wallace said. “It’s one of our values, and the hiring process is still a work in progress.”

Assistant Professor of Physics Joseph Ribaudo remarked that his field is dominated by white males.  

“The search panel should be diverse as well,” Ribaudo said. “It should reflect our values, as well as our student body.”

In addition to the more inclusive hiring process, all future job descriptions will have added skills and abilities, such as a strong commitment to diversity and continued work to enhance diversity within students, faculty and staff.

Professional Development and Training/Messaging

Human Resources is currently working on implementing an online training program: “diversity.edu.” The program will be provided by Everfi, which is the same educational company that provides Haven Online sexual assault prevention programs to students. The release of this program is set for mid-March or early April.

The Diversity Committee and Strategic Advisory Committee for Diversity and Inclusion are also in the process of reviewing four different approaches in training faculty, staff and students on various ways to understand issues of identity, power, privilege, equality, different perceptions of each other based on group membership and how they affect individuals’ experiences as well as the nature of community relationships.

Junior Hermina Garic shared some ideas that include “blasting” diversity all over the campus, not just in Strebel Lounge.

“For the MLK celebration, we had the trees up in Strebel Lounge,” Garic said.  “That was cool, but I wish we could reserve a section of an academic building in order to blast diversity.”

Garic feels administrators should come out to support all different organizations.

“I also think that different organizations need to collaborate with each other more,” Garic said. “The bottom line is that they’re just not.”

Other Comments and Upcoming Events

Vice President of Human Resources-Personnel Development Lisa Green also attended the event and past diversity related events for several reasons.

“I do not always get to interact directly with students in my role, at least not on a daily basis,” Green said. “So, I really enjoy the opportunity to be with students and to hear what’s on their mind, and I like to know how they feel about our community and then hear their ideas.”

Green then pointed out that the concept of diversity is important to any organization.

“Everything I’ve learned tells me that having a wide variety of perspectives on any topic increases knowledge of that topic for learners, and to me that is what we’re all about,” Green said. “It makes us a smarter and more informed community.”

Senior and Student Government President Ann Ciancia felt that the event went well but wishes more students would take part. She is also excited to hear more about the diverse classes and reminded others that change does take time.

“After I graduate in May, I foresee a more diverse faculty and staff,” Ciancia said. “I know that students will still be hurt down the road, but progress will make change; one person and one voice can make a change.”

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