From the Chief Diversity OfficerPosted: Thursday, June 18, 2020
A Message to the Buffalo State College Community
As the newly appointed chief diversity officer and someone who has worked in this space for many years, I realize that I am expected to know exactly what to say regarding the social and racial unrest following the tragic and senseless deaths of black men and women at the hands of law enforcement officers. I must admit that I have tried to write this several times, and my words have been plagued by anger, sadness, rage, frustration, and even grief.
From the brutal killings of Ahmaud Arbery, Rayshard Brooks, George Floyd, and too many others before them, to the disgusting racism directed at Christian Cooper and others just for being black, these videos haunt our thoughts and pervade our sensibilities with horrific images reminiscent of the Jim Crow era. In the words of actor Will Smith, “Racism is not getting worse; it’s getting filmed.” These videos also force us to admit that racism is still a perpetual affliction in America today, reminding us that bias and prejudice can be found at every turn.
Our community is exhausted. Along with the daily fatigue that comes with being a woman of color—a black woman in America—I have grown weary of seeing my brothers and sisters killed, beaten, or harassed simply because of the color of our skin. I am beyond tired of reading statements recognizing the systemic and institutional racism in which the same banalities are recited time and time again, with only the names of the victims and the cities changed.
So in the midst of all this unrest, here I am, the newly appointed chief diversity officer for Buffalo State College, wondering what to say to our wonderfully diverse community–a community that is at once afraid, concerned, eager to help, ready for change, unsure of what to do, and yes, even those who are seemingly unaffected. Here is what I can say with certainty: an inclusive and welcoming Buffalo State College is a shared responsibility. We are all expected to commit to being and bringing our best selves to our work every day, and especially during this time. To quote President Conway-Turner, “This racist storm is not a new one, but we must remain calm and thoughtfully plot our course of action in response to the events before us.”
At Buffalo State, we are well positioned to weather this storm. Diversity is infused in all we do. Inclusion, while embraced, is still a challenge, but one that must be met. Equity is what we strive for. Everyone is valued. Make no mistake about it—Black Lives Matter here. I am proud to continue the work of Dr. Karen Clinton Jones, under whose leadership much was accomplished. I am also honored to have been chosen by President Conway-Turner, who is proud of the many things for which our campus has been recognized:
- For seven years in a row, Buffalo State has been recognized as a national leader in diversity and inclusion as a recipient of INSIGHT into Diversity’s Higher Education Excellence in Diversity (HEED) award.
- Last year, Buffalo State was named a pilot institution for SUNY’s Promoting Recruitment, Opportunity, Diversity, Inclusion, and Growth (PRODI-G) initiative, bring three new faculty members to campus from underrepresented groups.
- In coordination with PRODI-G and in response to student interest, we launched a bachelor’s degree program in Africana studies in 2019. The new program is composed of 14 courses in political science, philosophy, anthropology, sociology, and English, including African American Literature to 1940, the Sociology of Race and Ethnicity, Race and Progress, and Hip-Hop Culture.
- We celebrate diversity through our Diversity Dialogue Speaker Series; the Beyond Boundaries: Dare to Be Diverse film series; the Anne Frank Project and its annual social justice festival; and our inclusive student clubs such as Pride Alliance, Caribbean Students Organization, and Adelante Estudiantes Latinos, just to name a few.
- Our University Police Department values diversity, is trained and implements fair and impartial policing practices, and works in lockstep with the campus under our shared community policing philosophy.
- We are uniquely positioned in SUNY and in New York State as a majority-minority institution with African American, Hispanic, Asian, and multiracial students making up nearly 55 percent of our undergraduate population.
- Buffalo State ranked 32nd nationally (out of 1,458 colleges and universities) in CollegeNET’s 2019 Social Mobility Index, which ranks four-year colleges according to how effectively they enroll economically disadvantaged students and graduate them into well-paying jobs.
- And most recently, President Conway-Turner established the George Floyd Memorial Scholarship at Buffalo State to lift up future African American leaders who support racial justice and equity efforts in their communities.
While we have much to celebrate and build upon at Buffalo State, we must recognize and be committed to the hard work that still needs to be done. Difficult conversations will need to take place, and we will all have to take part in them, as individuals and as an institution. We can no longer turn a blind eye to circumstances as they are. We must work collaboratively to create circumstances as they should be.
These last couple of weeks have been filled with utter trauma and pain, and the protests and riots are manifestations of such. As campus leaders and members, we are obligated speak out against the unjust, ruthless, and inhumane atrocities that we are bearing witness to today. Additionally, we must stand with members of our campus community who are outraged by what is playing out on the world stage.
One of my favorite quotes belongs to the prominent abolitionist, journalist, suffragist, and social reformer William Lloyd Garrison, who said, “I have need to be all on fire, for I have mountains of ice around me to melt.” In my new role as chief diversity officer, I will work tirelessly, together with others on campus, to melt the mountains of racism, inequity, and discrimination, taking advantage of the diversity we have, to make our campus community more welcoming and inclusive. I can only do this with your help. I look forward to joining together with you in this important work.
With thoughts of comfort and strength for us all,
Crystal J. Rodriguez, Esq., LL.M.
Chief of Staff to the President and Chief Diversity Officer