Dear Siena Community,
As we finish the fall semester, I want to provide an update on our critical call to Strengthen the Bonds of Racial Justice at Siena College. For Siena to truly reach its full potential, all of our students must be flourishing, and to that end, we know we can do better — and we will do better.
After several listening sessions — including community and student town halls, and many individual and group meetings with students, faculty, administrators and staff — I have identified eight areas where we need to focus our efforts to achieve meaningful progress this year.
In late September, I called together the President's Advisory Council on Diversity and Inclusion (PACDI) and assigned action items across the College. The first full status report from this group will be provided during our January meeting, but I want to update you on the encouraging headway that has already been made.
1. Student Recruitment: We welcomed our largest and most diverse class in history this fall, yet we must strengthen our commitment to ensure our community reaches its full diversity potential.
a. The efforts of the Strategic Enrollment Management Committee — a cross-functional group of 23 faculty and administrators — is focusing its work this year exclusively on improving our recruitment and retention activities to better attract and graduate students of color.
b. My first hire, Presidential Actions Officer George Christian, is working with the Admissions team on grassroots actions to increase the number of students of color on campus, particularly Black students. Among these efforts: organizing a series of college workshops for students in the Capital District YMCA Achievers Program, and partnering with the local Sponsor-A-Scholar college access and support program. In addition to his work with Admissions, George’s duties include mentoring students of color and assisting in the coordination and collaboration of the College's diversity and racial justice initiatives.
c. The Siena admissions application has been updated with the goal of improving the application completion rate for students of color.
d. Charter trustee John Nigro has offered the support of his foundation to assist with creating additional pathways to Siena for students of color.
e. Enrollment leadership has met with a Franciscan friar who is interested in joining our community to improve and advance all issues related to access and equity, while working to further develop strategic community partnerships.
2. Faculty and Staff Recruitment: Increasing the presence of faculty and staff of color on campus is a top priority.
a. The Task Force on Diversifying the Faculty has been formed and will be charged with thoroughly examining our hiring protocols. The goal is to enact systemic change that can increase the diversity of candidate pools and ultimately the successful hiring of diverse faculty. Dr. Madden and I believe there are opportunities for positive change at every phase of the process.
3. Education and Training: In August, Dr. Michelle Liptak and Dr. Britt Haas provided an opportunity for the First-Year Seminar faculty to participate in an interactive and productive Equity Summit. Numerous efforts are underway to expand educational programming throughout the community.
a. Dr. Madden has recruited a Task Force for Faculty Development on Diversity Issues. The group will meet in December to review various diversity training models and suggest one for Siena to implement.
b. The Council of Administrators Executive Committee will consider opportunities to bring diversity education programming to administrators and staff this spring.
c. The Damietta Cross-Cultural Center is sponsoring implicit bias training through a partnership with RSA Consulting and Training. The training will be provided on December 4 to 20 student and faculty/staff leaders representing different College stakeholder groups.
d. The Board of Trustees dedicated 25 percent of its September meeting to this important topic. Former Trustee and President/CEO of the Capital District YMCA David Brown guided the Board through several prompts based on student commentary provided during the summer town hall. The Governance Committee of the Board has listed continued Board education on this topic among its annual goals, and a task force is being formed to develop future Board programming.
e. Several area leaders have created departmental programming and opportunities designed to engage and educate their staff and promote racial justice.
4. Criminal Justice Major: There is an opportunity to create a justice-oriented program that is distinctly Siena and graduates agents of change. Criminal Justice is among the most searched for majors for those applying to Siena, and adding it could help attract additional students and faculty of color.
a. A group of more than 20 faculty members has been meeting to design a new interdisciplinary program and is making encouraging progress.
5. Curriculum Reform: We will incentivize departments that incorporate diversity-themed initiatives into their coursework to help ensure all students graduate inspired to lead meaningful change.
a. Five grants were awarded to departments for initiatives to diversify curriculum or pedagogical practices to support cohorts of underrepresented students. They will report on their progress at the end of the spring 2021 semester.
b. The Core Curriculum Review Task Force has submitted a proposal, which has been posted for faculty comment. The College’s Board of Instruction will review it early in the spring 2021 semester. The proposal includes requirements that focus on issues of diversity and social justice.
6. Damietta Cross-Cultural Center: Funding was restored to the Center this summer with the goal of creating additional opportunities for our community to engage in important conversations about race and social justice.
a. Numerous virtual programs were held throughout the fall semester and more are in the process of being planned for the winter/spring. Fall programming included presentations by Dr. Bettina Love (9/3), Nick Fort (Conversation with George Floyd’s Family, 9/9), and a Latinx Heritage Month Keynote Event (10/14-15). Spring planning themes include programming and celebrations honoring Black History Month, Human Rights and Social Change, Arab Culture, and Pride Week.
7. Campus Programming: Our campus activities must reflect the urgent call to act.
a. The Spirit of ’68 Committee has adopted Strengthening the Bonds of Racial Justice at Siena College as the theme for this year’s programming, which included a well-attended October panel discussion on race and social justice featuring Capital Region community activists.
b. The Athletic Department has formed E.D.I.T. (Education, Diversity, Inclusion, and Togetherness) – a movement focused on engaging in healthy conversation to create awareness and meaningful change through social justice initiatives. Additionally, Men’s Basketball Coach Carmen Maciariello has organized a nationwide effort entitled Coaches for Change to engage, educate, and empower college student-athletes on issues of social injustice.
c. I signed Siena onto the All-In Campus Democracy Challenge on my first official day in office. The community responded this fall with “Siena Votes” – a successful comprehensive grassroots effort that got out the vote.
8. Recognition: We will leverage our brand and our platform to bring attention to these efforts and celebrate those who have inspired meaningful change.
a. The Honorary Degree Committee advanced two candidates who are pioneers in the fight for racial equality. The Board of Trustees has approved the recommendations and an announcement is forthcoming regarding our keynote speaker for Commencement 2021.
I am proud of how our community has quickly come together under the most difficult of circumstances to begin the important work of Strengthening the Bonds of Racial Justice at Siena College. This is not something we will accomplish in one semester. It is not something that can be done alone. All of us must work together if we are to reach our potential and ensure the Education for a Lifetime is accessible, inclusive and welcoming to all future Saints.