Stony Brook’s Undergraduate Student Government (USG) held its first Diversity Dialogues meeting of the semester in the Student Activities Center on Thursday, Sept. 20.
The meetings give students an opportunity to raise questions and concerns about diversity on campus.
As one attendee put it, “Diversity allows people to feel different from their community, yet not feel like an outsider in their environment… It allows us to not only acknowledge, but also accept our differences.”
Ian Lesnick, the student representative from the Office of Diversity who helped run the event, explained that USG formed the Office of Diversity in response to Donald Trump’s “Muslim ban,” expressing the student body’s intent to support everyone on campus.
The university’s Diversity Plan, which was finalized on May 19, 2016, tries to “address opportunities to take Stony Brook University to the next level in its efforts to enhance student, faculty and staff diversity and to build an inclusive community.”
One student voiced concerns about how Stony Brook’s recent budget cuts may have negatively impacted the school’s alleged commitment to diversity. “When the school was cutting programs, one of the first ones on the chopping block was the languages departments,” the student said. “That predominantly affected people of color, or just in general, foreign professors here from European countries.”
Later, junior English major Matthew Boerleider argued that despite USG’s good intentions, they were failing to adequately promote the Office of Diversity. “[The Office of Diversity] lacks experience managing the on-campus environment, and struggles to recruit people,” Boerleider said. “People need to know they have a voice on campus, but people don’t know about [the USG’s role] specifically … ” To this, Lesnick, a senior Spanish and linguistics major, responded that he tries his best to publicize the organization, but he’s merely one person, and suggested that others “spread the word” as well.
Others shared Boerleider’s concerns, encouraging the Office of Diversity to host more events. Lesnick noted that it’s very difficult to recruit enough student leaders and while the university hosts a Diversity Day, it is often overshadowed by the popular Strawberry Fest, which is held on the same day.
Another student asked which on-campus events the Office of Diversity helps support. Lesnick mentioned that the Office of Diversity primarily promotes collaboration via inter-club interactions, but it supports the Festival of Lights, as well as the Journey Around the World: Multicultural Show and Food Tasting.
The Office of Diversity may also be involved with the university’s potential future implementation of mandatory bias training. Lesnick couldn’t provide specific details about what this bias training would entail, but he said he is aware that the university is taking steps to make the training a reality.
In making her closing remarks, Associate Dean for Multicultural Affairs, Cheryl Chambers, thanked the students in attendance for their participation. “As you go out and connect with friends and, you know, other leaders on campus, especially about issues related to diversity, inclusion, and equity … If you hear anything or anyone has a concern, please do bring that back to USG, myself, and [Chief Diversity Officer Lee] Bitsóí.”
Junior sociology major Louise Willensky said she felt the diversity dialogues provided her, and other students, with a lot of valuable information. “It’s helpful to learn more about what problems and events occur on campus. It’s good to see progress on these issues and hope for future improvement.”