IC's Challenge on Diversity and Inclusion
Ithaca College has been one of many institutions affected by student protests this year focused on issues of diversity and inclusion. The immediate impetus for these protests may have stemmed from incidents that occurred on campus this fall, but, fundamentally, they are a result of long-term frustration and anger over persistent shortcomings in the inclusiveness of the campus culture. Inclusiveness is an important value, especially in a tight-knit campus community like that of Ithaca College. All students should feel fully accepted and embraced for who they are.
IC’s student body is significantly more racially and ethnically diverse today than even in the recent past. Our faculty and staff have also become more diverse over that same period of time, but not at nearly the same rate. About a quarter of our students are new to the college each fall, but we hire only about 4 percent of our faculty and 5 percent of our staff in a given year. The result is a growing gap between the composition of the student body and that of the faculty and staff. Our campus culture and institutional practices have not kept pace with the extent of the changes in IC’s population.
Some alumni of color have commented to me that the stories they hear from protesting students are similar to their own experiences. Students of color are sometimes asked in class to describe the views of “their group” on some particular topic. Students of various races and ethnicities are sometimes confronted with stereotypical depictions of their group or culture through costumes at a party or jokes told by classmates. There are moments on campus—some say daily—when students of color do not feel fully welcome, do not feel like they are empowered to be part of the campus community on exactly the same terms as others.
Some alumni have told me they think there is a generation gap in values and expectations. Those of a previous generation can easily conjure up stories of a world that was crueler than the world of today, and cruel to more groups of people. However, the argument that “things used to be worse” carries no weight with today’s students. After all, the ultimate goal should be the creation of a bias-free, inclusive community not only for our campus but for the wider society as well.
We have an opportunity at IC today to move dramatically in the direction of this aspirational vision. The current wave of student activism created the impetus for a set of action items (ithaca.edu/diversity) that addresses both diversity and inclusion. The initiatives bring much needed change to our hiring practices, our training of staff and faculty for cross-cultural competency, and the accountability we all share for an inclusive, welcoming campus.
Equally exciting, is that informal discussion groups have sprung up around the campus to examine the issues of diversity and inclusion both at IC and in the wider society. With remarkable candor and personal vulnerability, many among our staff and faculty have been identifying their own responsibility for establishing the human ties of mutual respect that underlie a truly inclusive community.
Discussions of racism and other forms of bias are never comfortable and are too often avoided. At IC, however, we are now having those discussions. I hope you will join me in looking to a future in which Ithaca College achieves the highest aspirations of creating an inclusive environment in which all students can fully experience the joy and the transformative power of an IC education.