Dear Siena Community,

Last November – after several listening sessions with students, faculty, administrators, and staff – I identified eight areas that would require particular focus in order to realize our promise of Strengthening the Bonds of Racial Justice at Siena College. There is still a tremendous amount of work to do, but in one year’s time, I’m proud of the meaningful progress we’ve made in all eight areas: Student Recruitment, Faculty and Staff Recruitment, Education and Training, Criminal Justice Studies Major, Curriculum Reform, Damietta Cross-Cultural Center, Campus Programming, and Recognition.  

 Recently, I called together the President’s Advisory Council on Diversity and Inclusion (PACDI) and received updates on all fronts. I’m providing for your review, below, a snapshot of the advancements and developments in each key area. Also, I’ve introduced three new action items to support the initiatives already underway.

New Action Items: Provost Margaret Madden and Vice President for Enrollment Management Ned Jones will take the lead on a priority action focused on Student Experience. Using data from the Noel-Levitz Student Satisfaction Inventory, their team will analyze results among different student populations and address potential discrepancies along racial and ethnic lines. Those actions will directly influence a new key area designed to strengthen Student Retention, particularly among minority students. I’ve also dedicated staff support to Supporting Our Vision, an action item related to identifying and securing funding for our initiatives born out of the new and existing areas.  

Student Recruitment: This year’s freshman class is the largest and most diverse in College history, and once again the Admissions team has made the recruitment of diverse populations a focal point to this year’s cycle. Specifically, the Admissions team has formed a partnership with Green Tech High School in Albany that will establish cross-campus internship opportunities for the high school students. Meanwhile, the Strategic Enrollment Management Committee (SEMC) – a cross-functional group of 23 faculty and administrators – has identified 17 action items tied to recruitment.

Faculty and Staff Recruitment: Staff recruitment across all industries has been challenging during the pandemic. However, the College has made two recent hires in facilities and administration from underrepresented communities as well as two minority faculty hires. Additionally, the Task Force on Diversifying the Faculty has recommended relevant training of faculty leaders to minimize the impact of bias in recruitment, hiring, and retention. We will also develop a diversity hiring guidebook to provide guidance on all aspects of hiring and retention and establish clear and aggressive diversity goals.

Education and Training: The Task Force on Faculty Development on Diversity Issues has recommended a series of new, targeted workshops based on feedback from faculty. The task force also recommends a new hire to coordinate existing efforts and explore new opportunities for development. I will work with the Provost to identify funding to support a new position. Meanwhile, Matt Grimes ’12 led a training session for staff and administrators on October 14 that focused on strategies to intervene when witnessing situations of bias and discrimination. The Council of Administrators organized the session – it was the second workshop for staff and administrators facilitated by Grimes this calendar year.

Criminal Justice Studies Major: Siena’s criminal justice studies major is with the Board of Instruction and a vote is forthcoming. Once approved, the proposal will be converted into an application and submitted to the New York State Department of Education. We’re optimistic approval will happen relatively quickly. Criminal justice is among the top five most searched majors on our website, and we currently have 75 criminal justice minors in the psychology department. A justice-oriented program will capitalize on student demand and provide the College an opportunity to graduate agents of change into law enforcement fields. 

Curriculum Reform: Five grants were initially awarded to departments for initiatives to diversify curriculum or pedagogical practices. Faculty in departments of political science, international relations, English, philosophy, and psychology put forth the selected initiatives. A sixth grant has been awarded to social work. Their programs are being implemented this year and will be shared with other College faculty.

Damietta Cross-Cultural Center: Full funding was restored to The Damietta Center last year, and the Center has applied the resources to programming, training, and improvements to their physical space. The Center hosted diversity training for Saints, Community Assistants, and Commuter Transition Specialists in August. Matt Grimes ’12 facilitated the workshop of 154 community members. In October alone, the Damietta Center sponsored the Dia de la Raza concert and dialogue and Café Euphoria – in celebration of Latinx Heritage Month and LGBT History Month respectively. Many more events are scheduled for the current academic year.

Campus Programming: Fr. Dan Horan, O.F.M. – the Director of the Center for Spirituality at Saint Mary’s College in Notre Dame, Indiana – will be on campus this week for multiple events geared toward themes from his new book, A White Catholic’s Guide to Racism and Privilege. Meanwhile, the Spirit of ’68 committee will be hosting the 10th annual Capital District Feminist Studies Consortium Conference on campus in February. The event is open to anyone, and it’s expected that a wide variety of disciplines contemplated by feminist and gender studies scholars will be represented.  

Recognition: Siena will continue to use its platform to recognize and celebrate individuals and organizations nobly advancing our shared ideals of diversity, equity, and inclusion. On January 27, Martin Luther King III will attend various campus events throughout the day and then serve as the keynote speaker for our Martin Luther King Jr. and Coretta Scott King Lecture Series on race and nonviolent social change. Martin Luther King III will also receive an honorary degree from the College at the event. As you know, Dr. Condoleezza Rice provided the keynote for Commencement 2021 and we were proud to recognize her life’s work with an honorary degree.  

Strengthening the Bonds of Racial Justice isn’t an initiative to be accomplished, it is the framework to meaningful and everlasting change. It requires ambitious goals, but a methodical approach. Periodically, we must take stock of our progress, celebrate our gains, and acknowledge the work that still needs to be done. One step at a time, we are creating a more inclusive community and improving the student experience for everyone.