President Samuel L. Stanley, Jr. vowed to make Stony Brook University a center for diversity and inclusivity on Wednesday afternoon, when he and eight other panelists presented the university’s Equity, Inclusion and Diversity Initiative.
“I don’t need to tell you that these are troubling times right now,” Stanley said to a crowd of about 500 at a town hall meeting in the Charles B. Wang Center. “Many people have concerns. I think it’s more important than ever that Stony Brook University be a place where we value all members of our community.”
Throughout the hour-long session, the panel stressed that not all discrimination is conscious and that efforts are underway to make the university faculty and community aware of implicit bias.
Robbye Kinkade, an African-American professor of health science, serves as the director for the Responding to Equity, Diversity and Inclusion, or REDI, Project. The initiative educates the staff about implicit bias and provides the opportunity to take part in periodic diversity seminars.
“We are trying to broaden our definition of diversity,” Kinkade said. “It’s not just about race and ethnicity. It includes gender identity, sexual orientation, military status and so on.”
Stony Brook is looking to broaden its diversity, particularly among African American students, Stanley said. The percentage of black students at the university has decreased from 8.8 percent of the student body in 2005 to 6.5 percent in 2015.
The school will increase its efforts to encourage black students to attend Stony Brook, with outreach programs at regional high schools, especially in the Bronx and Brooklyn, Stanley said.
The initiative also seeks an increase in underrepresented faculty, to establish a culture in which “Stony Brook is the place to be,” for prospective employees, said Stella Tsirka, Ph.D., the co-chair of the initiative’s Faculty Working Group.
“We need to establish Stony Brook as a welcoming hub for underrepresented professionals,” Tsirka said. “A good way to do that is to establish workshops nationally … annually or biannually.”
The university has allocated between $750,000 and $1 million in funding for the diversity initiative, Stanley said. The president added that Stony Brook has created the new administrative position of chief diversity officer. A search to fill the position is underway.
At the undergraduate level, five subcommittees have been created as part of the initiative, Timothy Ecklund, Ph.D., dean of students, said. The committees are Recruitment and Admissions; Student Engagement, Involvement and Retention; Curriculum; Training; and Campus Climate.
The proposed programs Ecklund spoke about include a one-hour orientation course on diversity and gender for incoming students and the implementation of programs for international, non-English speaking students to aid with the acclimation process.
The forum featured two student speakers — senior Dwayne Moore and junior Sydney Gaglio — who spoke on behalf of the undergraduate body.
“The thing that really hits me deep in my heart was that it’s not just about diversity, but about inclusiveness,” Moore, the president of the Black Student Union on campus, said.
“It’s making sure that if you’re a woman who’s black and identifies as LGBTQ, and your major is dominated by white men, that you don’t feel different,” he continued. “You have to feel like you have the support of your staff, your classmates and your university to push you forward in your endeavors.”
At the event’s conclusion, during a Q&A session, an audience member asked Stanley specifically about President-elect Donald Trump and the discriminatory rhetoric that has come from some of his supporters.
“What we’re doing now has never been more important,” Stanley replied. “In a world that seems to be retreating in ideals more than ever, it is important that Stony Brook University stands — stands for what is right.”