Ranked the ninth most diverse university in the United States by USA Today in 2020, Stony Brook University (SBU) has come a long way to ensure that they hear the voices of students of color.
With 18,000 undergraduates enrolled, over 67.7% of the current student body identify as non-white.
With approximately 68 cultural organizations on campus, the student body provides unlimited opportunities in ways to connect and celebrate with different cultures. Most, if not all, cultural organizations rely on the leadership and coordination of students.
Organizations like the Undergraduate Student Government are at the forefront of guiding the many cultural clubs on campus and encourage students to explore the variety.
“Especially as a commuter, you don’t want to be complacent,” USG vice president of student life Christopher Jean said. “You want to add to your college experience besides the academic part.”
SBU also engages and promotes the varied cultures on campus by hosting a yearly Diversity Day. Every spring semester during Strawberry Fest, everyone on campus is invited to the celebration of sharing their own cultures and admiring the festivities of others.
“Definitely go to involvement fairs. If your friends are inviting you to GBM, go with them, see what catches your eye. I’m Haitian for example, but I will go to a VSA [Vietnamese Student Association] or a PUSO [Philippine United Student Organization] event to see what’s going on with their culture and see what I’m missing out on.”
While most of the student body comprises people from diverse ethnic and racial communities who are excited about sharing cultures and celebrating diversity, the staff and faculty do not match the school’s reputation of diversity.
According to the SBU Data Warehouse, less than 40% of the employees at Stony Brook University identify as a person of color. This shows a huge disparity between the multiracial student body and the mostly white faculty responsible for leading and inspiring future professionals.
This inconsistency is part of a noticeable trend across the State University of New York (SUNY) system.
The 2015 SUNY Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Policy states, “SUNY aspires to be the most inclusive state university system in the country. We will achieve this goal by striving to ensure that the student population we serve and the administrative staff and faculty we employ are representative of the diversity of our state.”
Despite these efforts, they can agree that they have not yet achieved this mission.
Based on demographics from 2018, SUNY has revealed that there is “a pronounced gap between the racial/ethnic diversity of SUNY faculty members (8.6%) as compared to the diversity of the students they instruct (28.5%).”
According to SUNY, the “gap is expected to grow if SUNY campuses do not take steps to overhaul their hiring practices and methodology.”
In a recent survey conducted by The Statesman, the question with the most consensus was one regarding the teaching faculty, where most students disagreed with the statement, “There are a fair amount of faculty members in my department that look like me.”
Stony Brook University has taken steps to ensure that there are more efforts directed to hiring more faculty members of color, including their involvement with the Faculty Diversity Program.
This program has supported SUNY campuses in recruiting scholars of different backgrounds in order to increase the number of faculty members that come from underrepresented groups in academia.
In addition to a grant of up to “$15,000 to develop competitive start-up packages for faculty appointed under this initiative,” SUNY schools taking part in the Faculty Diversity Program compete for salary support to recruit professors and scholars of color. If hired this academic year, a percentage of the recruited faculty members’ negotiated salary up to $15,000 will be allocated to the respective university campus for three years.
When asked what further steps could be taken by the university to keep staff and faculty members from underrepresented groups, Associate Professor in the Department of Hispanic Languages and Literature, Joseph Pierce said, “You have to hire people and support them, and mentor them so that they get tenure, so that then they can have the security so, when there are issues that matter, they can stand for the communities they represent.”
In addition to taking part in the Faculty Diversity Program, Stony Brook University has implemented several outreach efforts for faculty of color, including the Asian American Faculty Staff Association, Black Faculty and Staff Association, and the Union Universitaria Latinoamericana.
These programs and other efforts by the University show the change to come, but there is more work to be done in order to reduce the drastic disparity in representation between students and faculty.
“The question isn’t so much should the University be hiring more people of color,” Pierce said. “The answer is obviously, ‘yes.’ But how do they hire them, and what are the conditions under which we can work? That’s a very different question.”