COVID-19 Safety Information

College Noted Nationally for Fostering Diversity


College Noted Nationally for Fostering Diversity

SUNY Cortland was one of only 37 institutions of higher education nationwide recognized for exemplary efforts in encouraging students from diverse backgrounds to pursue degrees in the sciences, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).

Minority Access Inc., a non-profit organization dedicated to increasing diversity and reducing disparities, honored the College during its 19th National Role Models Conference Sept. 28 to 30 in National Harbor, Md.

SUNY Cortland President Erik J. Bitterbaum was invited to speak at the awards luncheon, and two professionals with deep ties to the College — Distinguished Teaching Professor and Africana Studies Department Chair Seth Asumah and SUNY system Chief Diversity Officer Carlos Medina ’78 — were named as role models for diversity, equity and inclusion.

“This was an opportunity to recognize the efforts of people who are doing good work to advance diversity whether on this campus or in the local community or the global community,” Bitterbaum said.

Rather than going the typical route of honoring glamorous sports and entertainment stars as role models, Minority Access instead recognizes inspiring students, faculty, alumni, innovators and diverse institutions as role models to expand the pool of minority scientists, researchers and professionals in fields underrepresented by minorities.

The Physics Department at SUNY Cortland has made encouraging strides in inclusion.

Asumah, a political science professor who has taught at SUNY Cortland for almost 30 years, helped create the Africana Studies Department in 2005. He advises a number of student groups and was instrumental in establishing the annual Kente Celebration for graduating student leaders who have demonstrated leadership, passion and commitment to diversity and social justice. Asumah collaborated to establish the SUNY Cortland Summer Institute for Diversity, Inclusion and Social Justice, an annual three-day conference that has trained more than 200 faculty, staff and secondary school educators across the state on how to adopt inclusive practices in the classroom, workplace and society at large.

Medina, a SUNY Cortland graduate, has been a national leader on issues of diversity, equity and inclusion in higher education for more than 30 years. Since August 2011, he has led the State University of New York’s efforts in promoting and advancing the 64-campus system’s diversity goals and ensuring that they are reflected in all policies and procedures. He provides leadership and strategic direction to SUNY campuses in connection with the recruitment and retention of faculty, staff and administrators who come from underrepresented groups within American society. Educational Opportunity Program alumnus, Medina has committed his professional career to issues of underrepresented student access, recruitment, retention and success. He has also developed national research and mentor programs for underrepresented students in STEM.

“It’s been my practice as chief diversity officer (CDO) to promote the good work of some of the diversity champions on campus,” said James A. Felton III, SUNY Cortland’s chief diversity officer, who nominated the two honorees. “That ties into the national Role Model awards program that Minority Access offers. I thought these two were both deserving in different ways for the award.”

Minority Access, a nonprofit organization incorporated in 1995, assists individuals, academic institutions, federal and local governments, private agencies and corporations in diversifying their campuses and work sites.

“Obviously, Minority Access is an organization that’s committed to increasing diversity in education, employment and research, particularly in the STEM fields,” Felton said. “Also, it’s a great opportunity for institutions that are committed to diversity, equity and inclusion to promote the good work that they are doing, whether they are participating in the conference as well as by being acknowledged as a diverse institution.”

The College's Biological Sciences Department strives to recruit a diverse student cohort.

The conference, which assembles high-achieving innovators, recruiters, researchers, faculty, administrators, students, mentors and alumni, as well as institutions that have been exemplary in producing minority researchers, attracted 200 to 250 people this year. In the future, qualified, interested SUNY Cortland students will be encouraged to represent the College at the conference, Felton said. Scholarships are available to enable students to attend all or part of the conference.

To be considered for Exemplary College or University recognition, the College submitted a document outlining the methods used to advance diversity, equity and inclusion on their campus, Felton said. Of particular relevance to this conference, Cortland spelled out how Cortland encourages underserved and underprivileged groups to pursue an education in the STEM fields.

Highlights of SUNY Cortland’s diversity initiatives included:

  •  Appointing a chief diversity officer to lead the campus in dialogues on diversity and start a plan for greater diversification of student, faculty and staff populations.
  • Continuing successful admissions practices that include targeting more diverse high

schools and partnering with community colleges and programs that likewise seek to become more inclusive.

  •  Increasing diversity of the student population through international recruitment and exchange partnerships.
  • Planning to use a forthcoming campus climate survey to identify areas where intervention and outreach would have the greatest impact and coordinate initiatives to address those issues.
  • Creating an Institutional Equity and Inclusion Office to provide campus-wide leadership and support on matters relating to diversity, equity and inclusion. The office supports the College’s efforts to ensure that students, faculty and staff learn and work in environments that actively promote a culture of inclusive excellence. 
  • Continuing the Multicultural Life and Diversity office, which is committed to fostering a community of learners who contribute to an environment of inclusive and academic excellence based on the values of human difference and individual contribution.
  • Creating a President’s Council on Inclusive Excellence comprised of faculty, staff and students who lead the process of ensuring the Cortland community promotes inclusiveness in every aspect of college life.
  • Continuing the faculty-driven Center for Gender and Intercultural Studies to develop diversity across the curriculum; promote research; facilitate student, staff and faculty development; and recommend policy.
  • Continuing the renamed Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity and Expression Committee (SOGIE) to foster a safe and positive environment for the LGBTQIAP communities at SUNY Cortland.