Bulletin News

Diversity Institute marks milestones


More than 25 years ago, when SUNY Cortland enrolled students of color numbering in the low single digits, a small cohort of faculty undertook to prepare the rest of the faculty and professional staff for a very different future.

Today approximately a quarter of the student body self-identifies as other than white/non-Latinx and over the course of some 20 years about 200 colleagues have prepared themselves for that future which is now here, through the Summer Institute for Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Social Justice.

This year’s summer institute, which teaches strategies and techniques for developing an anti-racist and inclusive campus, offered this small and very personalized training program to about two dozen faculty, professional staff and administrators in person June 1 to 3 at Moffett Center.

In one of the first in-person official gatherings held on campus since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, some two dozen individuals took part in this year's institute.

The three-day institute was facilitated by Seth N. Asumah, SUNY Distinguished Teaching Professor and chair of the Africana Studies Department, Mecke Nagel, professor of philosophy and chair of the university’s Center for Peace, Ethics and Social Justice, and Lorraine Lopez-Janove, chief diversity, equity and inclusion officer.

The institute is presented annually by the Africana Studies Department and the Institutional Equity and Inclusion Office, in partnership with the Anti-Racism Educational Taskforce Subcommittee.

“The Summer Institute for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion was birthed in 1995 after four faculty members, myself included, received faculty development training for multiculturalism, now called diversity, at Williams College in Massachusetts,” said Asumah, who also serves as a Carnegie-University of Ghana Diaspora Fellow.

Faculty, staff and administrators who took part in the 2016 Summer Institute for Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Social Justice relaxed outside the Lynne Parks '68 SUNY Cortland Alumni House.

After the Williams College experience, Kathryn Russell, professor of philosophy emerita, Larry Ashley, the late professor of philosophy, and Mary Kennedy, SUNY Distinguished Teaching Professor of English, emerita, developed several GE 11, Prejudice and Discrimination and diversity-related courses for SUNY Cortland.

This pivotal training was organized by the Association of American Colleges and Universities in a project titled “American Commitments: Diversity, Democracy and Liberal Learning,” Asumah explained. 

Then SUNY Cortland President Judson H. Taylor supported the early campus diversity efforts upon the arrival of then Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs Elizabeth Davis-Russell, who would go on to become president of Tubman University in Liberia, Africa.

Asumah and Davis-Russell proceeded to found the Summer Institute, which continues to be endorsed by current President Erik J. Bitterbaum and Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs Mark Prus.

The Provost’s Office supported the institute from its founding until the past three years, when the Institutional Equity and Inclusion Office formed a partnership with the Africana Studies Department for this faculty development program, first under the former chief diversity officer, James Felton, and currently under Lopez-Janove.

The 2009 special Training the Trainers Institute featured representatives from SUNY New Paltz, Oneonta and SUNY, including Carlos Medina '78, SUNY's founding diversity officer, shown front row, second from left.

In the years since the Williams College diversity facilitator training, Asumah has participated in more training institutes to solidify Cortland’s diversity, equity and inclusion projects, including at University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the University of Oklahoma. Nagel, his colleague and fellow key institute organizer and co-facilitator since 2004, who formerly chaired the university’s Center for Gender and Intercultural Studies, participated with him in the National Diversity Institute in Washington, D.C.

Highlights of the Summer Institute over the years have included:

  • Circa 2007, SUNY Cortland launched its first Ethics Institute, modeled after the Diversity Institute as a three-day event, later reduced to two-day.
  • In 2009, SUNY Cortland hosted the Summer Institute for Training the Trainers. SUNY Oneonta and SUNY New Paltz were on campus with their diversity teams. Carlos Medina, a 1978 SUNY Cortland graduate who became associate provost and founding chief diversity officer at SUNY, participated.
  • The Train The Trainer programming bringing together three campuses — Cortland, Oneonta and New Paltz — completed a subsequent, three-year cycle that was funded jointly with $50,000 through a SUNY Joint Labor/Management grant and the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. Cortland served as consultants in the two subsequent years.
  • Nagel leveraged her close ties to the institution in Germany, Fulda University, around 2012, when she and Asumah consulted with Fulda’s dean of social/cultural studies on a blackface controversy on their campus. At an anti-racism conference held the following year, Nagel gave the keynote speech.
  • Institute organizers published a chapter in the Fulda University conference volume featuring the Diversity Institute genesis and general diversity efforts at SUNY Cortland.
    Professor Seth Asumah presents a session at the 2021 Summer Institute for Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Social Justice.
  • In 2014, organizers published the anthology, Diversity, Social Justice and Inclusive Excellence: Transdisciplinary and Global Perspectives, published by SUNY Press, which included entries by prior participants. That year’s institute included guests from Fulda University.
  • Asumah and Nagel shared their successful diversity institute formula with Arlington (N.Y.) High School in 2018, training approximately 1,000 staff members there during a one-day event.
  • Back at Cortland, in 2018 the institute hosted Fulda University dean of social work Martina Ritter to lecture on “German University Structures 101.” One Arlington High School teacher who serves on the SUNY Cortland Alumni Board joined that year’s institute bringing with them another colleague. The event also hosted a chief diversity officer from Hudson Valley Community College.
  • Also in 2018, SUNY Cortland was recognized for Its diversity endeavors and Asumah was honored as a National Role Model for Diversity and Inclusion by Minority Access Incorporated in Baltimore, Maryland. Bitterbaum and Felton attended the award ceremony.
  • In 2019, Asumah co-led with Felton the last institute before the COVID-19 pandemic prevented a 2020 gathering.

For more information, contact Asumah or Nagel.