On Sunday, an unauthorized art display appeared at our University, including graffiti within the inner courtyard of Harder Hall and flyers posted throughout campus. The works consisted of derogatory and offensive slurs, the use of which is inconsistent with our University’s values and our mission to foster an inclusive environment.
Dan Napolitano ‘93, our chief diversity officer, has spoken with some of the artists responsible. The artists—members of the groups identified with the slurs—sought to express their frustrations of feeling unheard and/or unwelcome within a predominately white and heterosexual art community. Their intention was not to offend fellow students but rather to be heard and respected. They hoped that their art would lead to discussion and ultimately improvements for marginalized voices.
While the art has been removed, the need for recognition and respectful conversation must be recognized. We all share the responsibility to continue to improve the level of respect and inclusivity at our University.
Over the last three days, the University has initiated dialogue on the issue, seeking input from the artists and fellow art students, as well as the broader University community. The President’s Committee on Diversity held an open forum yesterday afternoon in Nevins Theater, Powell Campus Center. The matter was discussed yesterday evening at a meeting of our Black Caucus, where members discussed formulating an action plan and ways to assist students in need; at an art community forum this morning; and at another open forum this afternoon. The discussions brought forth important issues facing not just the art community but also our University as a whole, some of which we may already have been striving to address, and some to which we need to direct greater attention.
For example, in recent years, we have taken important steps to foster greater inclusivity on our campus. In June, 2018, Dr. Brian Saltsman was appointed Alfred University’s first-ever director of student diversity and inclusion. That fall, we introduced Common Ground, an extended orientation program for all new undergraduate students on our main campus. Common Ground has two central objectives: to help our students better understand the different backgrounds, perspectives, and aspirations that they bring to our campus; and to arrive at a set of common values students are willing to commit to living by as citizens of our University community. This year, Common Ground became a required course for all new undergraduate students on our main campus.
The unauthorized art display illustrates that our goal of providing an environment for learning that is accepting of all students, regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, and sexual orientation is far from accomplished. With that in mind, our University—taking into account comments and suggestions made by students, staff, and faculty at this week’s meetings—will take the following steps:
· Continue our commitment to identifying and hiring a more diverse faculty and staff;
· Create a senior-level diversity officer position, and launch a search to identify and hire the best candidate;
· Create a more inclusive and welcoming environment in our classrooms and residence halls by promoting greater inclusivity and student engagement through the Student Senate, Student Activities Board, and our Institute for Cultural Unity, as well as by enhancing the opportunity our students have to discuss issues and concerns with faculty and staff privately;
· Increase opportunities for staff and faculty education and development focusing on inclusiveness, acceptance, and student engagement; and recognition of student disengagement indicators and necessary responses and referrals; and
· Review our Common Ground course, with a focus on enhancing its curriculum, facilitation, and impact.
We look forward to ongoing dialogue, input, and concrete actions on these important matters. While the mountain we are climbing, in terms of promoting inclusivity at our University, has no top, we remain intent on making the ascent.