Moving Toward an Inclusive Ithaca: College Addresses Racism and Cultural Bias on Campus
For the most up-to-date information on the college’s initiatives to improve inclusion and diversity, please visit Diversity at IC.
To explore news and viewpoints about racism on campus, as well as messages from campus leadership and resources for alumni, please visit the Diversity and Inclusion page on the ICView site.
Our guiding principles at Ithaca College state, “We embrace diversity as an integral part of the educational experience and of the community we create.” While we strive to make that principle a reality, we acknowledge and regret that, for many, their lived experience does not align with the ideals that our community has set forth. We have made strides in recent decades, and progress in recent weeks, but we cannot be content with our efforts until all people feel welcome and safe on our campus.
Just as the nation has taken a long, hard look at patterns of racial and cultural bias, we at Ithaca College have also examined how inclusive, equitable, and welcoming our community is, particularly for students, faculty, and staff of color. There is serious work to be done at the college to address systemic inequality and individual bias. Our campus is in the midst of a very active and passionate conversation about this complex issue.
Diversity and inclusion have long been a concern for our campus community, but a series of incidents during the fall semester served as a catalyst to bring those concerns more clearly to the forefront. During August training sessions for resident assistants with public safety officers, students shared stories and concerns about the degree of racial bias in policing on campus. The reactions by some officers to these conversations left many RAs apprehensive about the safety of students of color on campus, and they expressed their distrust in the form of protests and formal complaints to the college. In October, students who were part of a fraternity unsanctioned by Ithaca College used social media to advertise an off-campus party with a description that contained offensive racial and class stereotyping. That same week, at a campus-wide event that included an alumni panel, two white male panelists used a racially insensitive term when referring to another panelist who is an alumna of color.
Members of the college’s African American, Latino/a, Asian American, and Native American (ALANA) community expressed dissatisfaction with the college’s response to these incidents and stressed the need to address the much larger issue of inclusivity on campus. A grassroots collective called People of Color at IC has become the leading voice on campus for these criticisms and calls for change. The group has led a number of demonstrations this fall to voice its concerns and demand change. One of the most visible events took place on November 11, when approximately a thousand people participated in a walkout that was covered by national media.
Members of the Student Government Association and Faculty Council have also expressed their frustration with campus leadership and have launched votes of no confidence in the president.
This fall at the college we have taken several preliminary steps to improve the campus climate. In early September, President Tom Rochon sent a message to the campus community that shared information about the commitment and efforts related to conducting a new campus climate survey, outfitting public safety officers with body-worn cameras, and creating new employee recruitment guidelines to increase the diversity of faculty and staff.
The Council on Diversity and Inclusion also held its first meeting as an official group. Composed of students, faculty, and staff members, the council is responsible for assessing, monitoring, and initiating recommendations to improve and enhance diversity and inclusion programs, policies, and practices of the college. During Alumni Weekend in late September, a subcommittee of the Alumni Association Board of Directors met with faculty, staff, and students to gain a better understanding of our challenges concerning diversity and inclusion. The first-ever ICUnity Multicultural Social was held that same weekend, and students and alumni discussed issues on campus at length and brainstormed ways to help improve our community.
In late October, the president, provost, vice presidents, and heads of Faculty Council, Staff Council, and the Student Government Association unveiled a number of initiatives to make the college a more inclusive, diverse, and welcoming community for all—regardless of race, sex, religion, sexual orientation, gender expression, disability, or social status. These initiatives summarized our existing efforts and identified many new action items inspired by the suggestions and concerns of faculty, staff, and students.
On November 10, the president announced the creation of a new position: chief diversity officer. The position will provide leadership and accountability for the implementation of the ongoing work to improve the campus's racial climate and build a culture that lives up to our values of civility, mutual respect, and justice. Dr. Roger Richardson, associate provost for diversity, inclusion, and engagement, will serve in the chief diversity officer role on an interim basis. Richardson has been posting regular updates to the diversity site. A national search will be conducted for the position.
The president has put all other high-level strategic initiatives on hold, including any remaining elements of the IC 20/20 plan, to focus efforts and resources on actions that will lead to a significant advancement in the campus climate for diversity and inclusion.
The conversation continues with passion and intensity but so, too, do the regular activities of campus. Classes are in session, clubs are meeting, athletes are competing, and our entire community is focused on the work in front of us: making our campus community a more welcoming, compassionate learning environment for all.