SUNY-ESF works to create a college-wide diversity plan based on community input

Kali Bowden | Staff Photographer

The State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry will be implementing its Inclusion, Diversity and Equity Strategic Plan on this upcoming Tuesday Nov. 1.

SUNY-ESF will implement its new Inclusion, Diversity and Equity Strategic Plan starting this upcoming Tuesday.

In early May 2016, the State University of New York system released that all of its schools would be required to have a diversity plan. But the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry had been discussing creating a college-wide plan since August last year. The Inclusion, Diversity, Equity (IDE) Committee had its first meeting on April 1.

Scott Blair, head of the committee, assumed the role of director of student diversity and inclusion initiatives and coordinator of institutional diversity and inclusion in 2015.

“We’ve had substantial conversations on campus over the last couple semesters and we wanted to make a difference and really start to elevate this on an institutional level,” Blair said. “SUNY’s really paving an awesome path in this work nationally so it’s really great to be a part of that.”

The plan starts out with a brief history of previous diversity initiatives at SUNY-ESF. It goes on to list eight goals for diversity on campus and strategies to make sure they happen. The plan also discusses methods for assessing the goals.

The goals SUNY-ESF has laid out in its plan include:

  • Defining and integrating inclusion, diversity and equity at SUNY-ESF
  • Creating accountability and visibility of diversity, equity and inclusion at the college
  • Integrating inclusion, diversity and equity into the education and research done by faculty, staff and students alike
  • Developing inclusive recruitment and retention strategies for SUNY-ESF students, faculty, staff and administrators
  • Increasing the accessibility of SUNY-ESF to people in and outside of the college
  • Increasing inclusion, diversity and equity at SUNY-ESF with the support and involvement of the school’s alumni
  • Increasing the inclusion, diversity and equity of international students at SUNY-ESF

“When it comes to the development of the plan, the goals and strategies section is so important because that’s the section of the plan that truly speaks to this is what the college needs to do and this is how we’re going to do it,” Blair said.

The framework of the plan is based on both a guide from SUNY and diversity plans from other schools including Pennsylvania State University and Michigan State University, Blair said. He attended a conference in May 2015 where Penn State representatives presented their plan, and brought that information back to SUNY-ESF where they began having conversations regarding their own plan.

Blair said faculty and students have been enthusiastic about the whole process. In September, the committee hosted open listening sessions where members of the ESF community could share what they wanted to see in a diversity and inclusion plan.

“This wouldn’t be successful without the community and we’ve had awesome community engagement over the last two months,” Blair said.

Samantha McVey, a junior environmental science major at SUNY-ESF, represents the college in a student committee of all SUNY schools and has been active in the creation of the plan.

“I work as an RA and when I would hear students complaining about what was happening in class I knew we had to do something about it,” McVey said.

By August 2017, SUNY-ESF will have a full-time chief diversity officer, which SUNY has also mandated. There is no official job description yet, but the officer will help with assessing the plan’s strengths and weaknesses and diversity-related training for students and faculty, Blair said. Although some mandatory training sessions already exist, the plan will ensure they happen more often.

“This will help us bring an underlying issue out into the spotlight so that we can constructively fix it together,” said Michael Klaczko, a sophomore chemistry major, director of association affairs in the Undergraduate Student Association and member of the IDE Committee. “Along with that I think other visible changes will be ones that have to do with the curriculum as well as with faculty and staff training around the issue.”

The plan will be sent to SUNY on Nov. 1, but the committee will continue to make changes if the community says they are needed so the plan can be as representative and supportive of the student body as much as possible.

“I think that there’s a spirit that already exists at ESF but again it’s reframing it and kind of redirecting it and particular aspects of it so that we can be even more inclusive,” Blair said.


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