Published June 28, 2018
UB’s efforts and issues regarding diversity and inclusion on campus were the focus of an Open Conversation on Campus Diversity last Tuesday presented by the Professional Staff Senate’s Inclusion and Diversity Committee.
The event was designed to provide an opportunity for UB staff members to gain insights into students’ attitudes and needs regarding issues of diversity and inclusion so that staff can help foster a welcoming environment at the university. It opened with a presentation of the results of the UB Inclusion Survey conducted last semester by the Intercultural and Diversity Center (IDC).
The goal of the survey was “to provide a space for students to talk about some of the issues they were having,” said Terri Budek, associate director for the IDC. “We also wanted to know what students wanted from the diversity center to help guide our future programs and workshops.”
Of the 527 individuals who responded to the survey, nearly 80 percent were undergraduate students, while the remaining 20 percent were graduate students and faculty.
Almost 80 percent of respondents said UB was an inclusive campus, but many identified key diversity and inclusion issues throughout the university.
When asked which issues were most prevalent at UB, more than 50 percent of respondents said mental health is a widespread issue. Other issues that registered responses from more than 25 percent of those polled were accessibility, sexual harassment, racism, alienation based on national origin, food insecurity and LGBTQ+ issues.
In a follow-up question, many of the respondents who said these issues were prevalent also said they were being inadequately addressed, with 43 percent indicating more needed to be done in regards to mental health issues and 30 percent identifying food insecurity as an issue that was not being addressed. Many noted the need for a stigma-free food bank on campus.
Respondents also were concerned about accessibility at UB. Many indicated that a lot of buildings on campus aren’t accessible for people in wheelchairs, and that sidewalk conditions often are dangerous during the winter. It was also noted that some faculty members don’t know what to do when students in their classes request accessibility resources.
Despite the concern for accessibility, students praised the staff in Accessibility Resources, feeling they genuinely cared about students’ needs. The Office of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion also was singled out for doing a great job.
The survey results provided a springboard for discussion. Although faculty and staff members agreed the survey offered a good snapshot of issues at UB, some said the survey sample wasn’t representative of the UB population, noting the white demographic was overrepresented while the Asian demographic was underrepresented.
Very few faculty and staff members who spoke said they were surprised that mental health was a big concern for students. Many cited the current political climate and the amount of information people have to process in a social media age as being extremely difficult things for students to navigate, along with the typical stressors of being a college student.
Some also pointed out how mental health has increasingly becoming part of the national conversation, especially with the recent death by suicide of celebrities Anthony Bourdain and Kate Spade.
Discussion moved from the survey results to how staff can make students from diverse backgrounds feel more welcome on campus. Staff members noted that while it’s important to create a welcoming environment for those seeking help, it’s also crucial to establish two-way communication, where staff can be sure students are in a good place, physically and mentally.
Budek pointed out that the results of the UB Inclusion Survey already have been put to use, with the IDC, undergraduate Student Association and Graduate Student Association holding a joint town hall meeting on May 7. Approximately 55 students attended the meeting to voice their opinions on diversity and inclusion issues at UB, she said.
In addition, the IDC will use the data to make adjustments to its programming model for the upcoming academic year, Budek said. The center plans to host weekly “tough topics” meetings, and more collaborative programming will be added that reflects students’ concerns.
Complete results of the UB Inclusion Survey can be found on the Graduate Student Association’s website.
A couple of years ago, in "spring" semester near the end of one of Buffalo's long winters. I felt a particularly blue mood descend in a mid-sized class of otherwise capable undergraduates. Because I make it a practice to hold required face-to-face, one-on-one conferences at least a couple of times a semester, especially near the beginning and the end of term, I discovered that about 1/5 of these students were clinically depressed and had sought and were receiving some sort of counseling or medication. But those were just the officially diagnosed.
As this very partial UB Inclusion Survey and my own experience suggest, I think that youth mental health is a huge issue in these stressed and angry times. We can refer our students to the Wellness Center or to counseling, but what else is an "untrained" person to do?
I would simply suggest as much individual caring as possible, including strong advocacy of the value of their own peer friendships, project-based learning and co-curricular activities that blend their classroom learning with "real-world" experiences.
Students need to experience their own positive ability to make and to do something good. Without sacrificing a jot of our own rigor, we can direct our teaching and our mentoring continuously in those directions.
Barbara J. Bono