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Area Leaders Address Race and Higher Education | News

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Area Leaders Address Race and Higher Education
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Area Leaders Address Race and Higher Education

AMHERST, N.Y. -- Several leaders from the Buffalo Niagara region engaged in an insightful dialogue on race and higher education at a panel discussion held Jan. 8 as part of the Daemen College Distinguished Leaders Lecture Series.

The discussion, which was moderated by Dr. Isiah Marshall, Jr., Daemen associate professor of social work and master of social work program director, included panelists Buffalo Mayor Byron W. Brown; Dr. Catherine Fisher Collins of the New York State Education Department Board of Regents; Dr. Gary A. Olson, president of Daemen; Dr. Katherine S. Conway-Turner, president of SUNY Buffalo State; and Dr. Cynthia Zane, president of Hilbert College. As noted in the discussion, creating a safe and inclusive environment for all members of a campus community is key to promoting diversity at colleges and universities.

“From every corner of a campus, a college or university should be considered a safe space that fosters a welcoming institutional climate,” said Conway-Turner. “Overall, higher education has the opportunity to lead the way in demonstrating that a collegial approach to addressing race and diversity can have a real impact across the nation.”

The panelists emphasized, however, that increasing diversity among faculty is an essential element that is also one of the greatest challenges to creating a safe environment that embraces inclusion. “This goes well beyond hiring practices,” said Olson. “The major issue is the lack of diversity in the faculty pipeline and the low number from minority backgrounds who pursue teaching at the college level. While many institutions strive to recruit underrepresented faculty, there is a very small pool of individuals who pursue careers in academia.”

Collins further stressed the importance of “encouraging individuals at a young age to aspire to teaching at a college and that it is an attainable goal. Minority faculty can serve as outstanding mentors to students interested in pursuing a college teaching career, which, in turn, will increase the number of diverse faculty as candidates for these positions.” Brown, who serves on the State University of New York Board of Trustees, said SUNY has developed “a plan for diversity for institutions throughout the system, which includes having a chief diversity officer in place on every campus.

With greater diversity, it can transform a college campus and the surrounding community.” Leadership representation at colleges and universities is equally important. “When students walk on a college campus, diversity in administrative roles is important to creating that sense of inclusivity,” said Zane. “Having diversity among decision-makers on campus sends the message that they share a similar background and journey as minority students.”

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