After a meeting held via Zoom with students today on the reporting of bias on our campus, Saint Rose President Marcia J. White sent a message to the Saint Rose community to outline action steps. Saint Rose is committed to making each one of our students feel at HOME on our campus, and we will keep you informed as changes are made in the weeks and months to come.
Although the bias reporting system and non-discrimination policy are under review in order to make necessary changes, students and employees who wish to file complaints in the meantime should still do so using this form.
Today’s message from Interim President White:
Today, I held a Zoom meeting with students and other College leaders to discuss incidents of racial bias experienced in our classrooms and on our campus that were shared recently on social media. There were many voices that we heard today, and we know we need to hear more. We will hold more meetings with students at different times, and will keep in ongoing communication as we move forward. What will be different after today is that we are no longer going to just talk. Students will see change.
Although I only recently began my role as interim president, I am an alum and longtime Saint Rose Trustee, and I want to say I am sickened that Saint Rose has not lived its values as an institution. I have listened to many of our students’ experiences and read the social media posts. We talk about Saint Rose as HOME, but I realize now that Saint Rose has not felt like home to all of our students. Some of our students have experienced real pain, and we have not always proven worthy of the investment they have made in us. We have heard that:
• Some of our students have experienced racism, bias, discrimination, and mistreatment in our classrooms and on our campus.
• In some areas across campus, students have experienced poor customer service and micro-aggressions when seeking supportive services in administrative areas.
• Students are calling for a curriculum that reflects a diverse world view, where the scholarship and experiences of people of color and their contributions to their disciplines are represented.
• Students want to see employees of color within every level and category of hiring, including faculty and mid and senior administration.
• Students are frustrated with the slow pace of change in higher education and at Saint Rose. And so am I.
Racism in all its forms is antithetical to the founding values of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet. Our Sisters, who serve as my guideposts and prayer partners every day, believe that racism is an egregious sin against God. Those of us who are white Americans and College leaders need to examine our complicity.
Whether it is individual or institutional, racism has a harmful and dehumanizing impact on us as a community. While racism sometimes occurs as a result of unconscious bias, I worked in government for a long time. I understand that racism stems not just from individuals, but also from the laws, policies, and practices of government and of institutions — including Saint Rose.
I am new as your president, and am looking at this with fresh eyes. I can’t talk about the past. But I can tell you that any policies at Saint Rose that do not combat and challenge discrimination with every word are going to change. I have reviewed the policy on non-discrimination and am committed to changing it. It does not meet the needs of students, and it is completely inadequate. It is not a criticism of the designated officials; the policy is broken.
While we cannot tell you the exact words of the new policy yet, I am committed to creating one that is fair and just, as well as accessible and transparent. One aspect of the rewrite is certain: Rather than a single investigator, a team of people will review, investigate, and determine the outcome of bias reports. I am creating a Bias Response Team that would have members from across the institution with at least half of the membership being people of color.
I asked myself why, with Title IX, all faculty, staff, and administrators are mandated reporters. There is no similar requirement here for reports of bias, and no requirement that bias reports are brought to the attention of the president, as is the case with Title IX. In Title IX, teams of investigators from other departments do confidential objective investigations. Before the start of the fall semester, a new policy will be in place. We will seek your input, and communicate our progress. This will be done quickly.
Aside from the policy, even though we are in a hiring freeze and some employees are furloughed, I am committed to hiring a Director of Diversity and Inclusion. I have asked Dr. Shai Butler to work on a hiring process that will include students.
We are in challenging financial times, so hiring new faculty and administrators is going to be limited. In cases where we can hire new employees, we will make the hiring of diverse persons a priority, and having a diverse pool of candidates — mandatory.
We will continue to follow through on the action steps recommended by the Diversity and Inclusion Task Force, a group of employees and students that convened last year and produced extensive recommendations. We will also work with the new group of community members that grew out of the racial injustice discussions we held earlier this month.
There are many more steps we need to take. I can tell you that making systemic change in this area is going to be my calling as president. I can also tell you that I have heard from faculty, staff, and administrators who are as committed to that work. Actions, not words.
One of the founding values of Saint Rose is to create an inclusive community. Starting today, we will not just celebrate our diversity, but will be relentless in making sure all students are treated fairly and with respect. We will not stop this work until we live our values and everyone in our Saint Rose community feels at HOME.