Published May 4, 2018
UB administrators, faculty and staff will need to act with intentionality and university-wide coordination to integrate diversity and inclusion more deeply into all aspects of university operations.
That proposal was a focal point of the keynote panel discussion at UB’s inaugural Inclusive Excellence Summit held Tuesday in the Student Union Theater on the North Campus.
Prior to the discussion, Despina Stratigakos, interim vice provost for inclusive excellence, told audience members the summit represented an opportunity to showcase UB’s position as a national leader in inclusive excellence.
“The ideas, goals and strategies that are being discussed today in workshops, breakout sessions and conversations among members of the UB community are just the start,” Stratigakos said.
“Adopting inclusive excellence as the center of our diversity and inclusion strategy challenges UB to employ the principle as a strategic framework.”
In welcoming remarks, President Satish K. Tripathi told the audience that, as an academic community, exploring topics from multiple perspectives is a key part of who we are and what we do.
“And we bring the totality of what we have learned, experienced and lived — in all its richness and complexity — to what we study, debate, explore and create,” Tripathi said.
“That is why it is critical that we continue these conversations in a safe and inclusive environment in which all of our members feel respected, valued and heard.”
Serving as moderator, Stratigakos posed the first question to panel members: “UB’s three campuses were all built at different times and each expresses different social ideas.
“What challenges regarding inclusion does this represent?”
“Accessibility is a big one,” said Sharon Nolan-Weiss, director of the Office of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion. “The campuses were not just built in different locations, but in different eras.
“If something is inaccessible to individuals who are living with disabilities, that sends a very important message to everyone,” said Nolan-Weiss, who also serves as UB’s Americans with Disabilities Act and Title IX coordinator. “The larger message of accessibility for all is one of inclusion. We need to be intentional about it.”
“When we promise the type of environment that we do, we must deliver on that,” said Lee Melvin, vice provost for enrollment management. “We also have to be cognizant of what the three different campuses represent: What does it mean to be a member of each of these communities?
“We draw students from all over the world,” Melvin said.
“This campus is in Amherst, a suburb; the community around South Campus is different, and downtown different still. To be inclusive, we must make students feel welcome when they leave the island of that campus, to go into the community.”
Robert Shibley, dean of the School of Architecture and Planning, and UB campus architect, noted the campus master plan asks these questions. “The overall point here is that we do not do ‘to’ our communities. We do ‘with’ our communities,” Shibley said. “We build the structures and, also, the trust that we need through ongoing conversations with residents on the impact of our moves and renovations.”
Speaking to a question regarding the importance of inclusion to students who are not yet here, Melvin said, “We have created this environment — there is a pipeline, and the students are coming. They will change our campuses, and our culture, for everyone.
“As we move toward becoming a truly global university,” he said, “it is important to create a more welcoming and inclusive environment for international students, as well as opportunities so they can succeed. And, yes, we must be intentional about this”
Being intentional is key, added Nolan-Weiss. “If international students look at our student, faculty or leadership profiles, not seeing diversity sends a message,” she said.
“Building diversity among all three of our campuses is vital,” said Margarita L. Dubocovich, SUNY Distinguished Professor and senior associate dean for diversity and inclusion in the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences. “Without inclusion, diversity is unsustainable. You can successfully recruit individuals who diversify your department, but if they don’t feel valued and respected, they won’t stay.”
Peter F. Biehl, professor of anthropology and associate dean for international education and enrollment of the College of Arts and Sciences, said competition for international students may never have been greater than now.
“There is a change coming in the numbers of international students,” said Biehl, who is also chair of the Council on International Studies and Programs (CISP). “Canada is seeing a 40 percent increase in the numbers of students they are attracting. Integrating inclusive excellence into all aspects of university operations should include inclusion and engagement for all international students at UB.”
Regarding a question focusing on political speech and related issues, Nolan-Weiss said adopting inclusive excellence requires UB to be honest and clear about identifying challenges and issues related to diversity and inclusion. “This is so UB can come together as a campus community to address them,” she said. “For example, #MeToo has changed the way we talk about sexual harassment.
“And when we have a controversial speaker come to campus, my office always gets lots of calls,” Nolan-Weiss said. “The questions are not always easy to answer. Free speech is part of who we are as an academic community. We are not insulated from what’s going on around the country.”
“When we meet with potential students and their families, we always let them know they should bring their ideas from their communities — whether small towns or big cities,” Melvin said.
“We welcome this and we tell them this is who we are as a global university. These are important conversations to have.”
In a brief closing summary, Charles F. Zukoski, provost and executive vice president for academic affairs, thanked panel members for their participation and ideas.
“From what has been said here today, it is clear that to meet our commitment to diversity and inclusion, we have to be welcoming.
“We have to behave and act with intentionality. Issues encompassing diversity can move quickly, but the pace of change is often slow and leads to frustration,” he said. “We must internalize why it is good for UB as a community to pursue diversity and inclusion — why we need it.
Zukoski also said UB will not be able to reach the goal of becoming a more diverse community unless diversity is also valued by hiring committees. “By fostering a culture of shared responsibility for equity and inclusion, we can encourage the entire university to work toward inclusive excellence,” he said. “Sending that message is vitally important.”