The SUNY Council for University Advancement recently honored SUNY Cortland for an ongoing poster project that aims to foster diversity, equity and inclusion in the campus community.
The university, in competition with its 63 sister campuses, was awarded a 2021 SUNYCUAD Best in Category Award for Excellence in Diversity and Inclusion for the Beloved Community Narratives Project, which features 25 campus community members posing for images to appear on posters that tell their unique stories.
The university’s achievement was announced on June 10 during the association’s two-day, virtual SUNYCUAD Unconference.
It’s the first year SUNYCUAD has judged institutions on initiatives designed to embrace the differences of race, ethnicity, religion or spirituality, sexuality or gender identity, or lived experience of a disability found on the campuses.
The university contracted with visiting artist Adam Mastoon of Adam Mastoon Transmedia to come to campus, meet and photograph the volunteer poster subjects, and help them develop their personal narratives.
Mastoon arranged for Morcos Key to develop the Beloved Community website where all 25 of the project posters with their personal testimonials are displayed.
The news comes just as a rich tapestry of new posters displaying SUNY Cortland’s commitment to diversity and inclusion are going up in Moffett Center Lobby, with several initial panels being installed starting Thursday, June 24, by Sellco Industries Inc., of Cortland.
Since visitors still aren’t allowed in campus buildings in light of health precautions put in place due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Mastoon instead arranged to meet by video with university staff who are going to videotape the sample installation for him. Two individuals have worked with Mastoon on a smooth passage for this phase of the installation, Zachariah Newswanger, associate vice president, Facilities Management; and Joe Westbrook, lead campus architect in Facilities Planning, Design and Construction.
Moffett Center is not open to the public this summer, but students and employees should be able to get a look at these diverse essential stories told by current students, faculty, staff and alumni. The facility walls will display 25 narratives.
In fall 2019, as SUNY Cortland’s increasing diversity hit 26% of the student body identifying as ethnically or racially diverse, leaders looked to create a poster project that encapsulated the university’s ongoing effort to become as welcoming a community as possible.
The initiative’s volunteer committee met Mastoon in a Spring 2019 digital interview, and the following spring recruited 25 volunteer students, faculty, staff and alumni willing to share their innermost selves with the world in a series of posters. Administration supported the lofty undertaking even as the COVID-19 pandemic turned university operations upside down. Six months later, Mastoon completed the posters.
The Beloved Community Narratives Project campaign was originally conceived as posters, website and social media content.
However, as the pandemic limited people’s access to the Student Life Center and Moffett Center — the two buildings where the portraits were to be put on display — the university became more creative in pushing their stories out. For example, a changing display of the posters appears whenever a campus community member logs on to certain sites such as the launch page of their secure university page.
Division of Institutional Advancement staff worked with members of a project committee to write, edit and post online a series of feature articles to promote the project named from a quote by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. that reflects the spirit of the initiative: “Our goal is to create a beloved community, and this will require a qualitative change in our souls as well as a quantitative change in our lives.”
Communications and Marketing offices staff were involved in writing, editing and posting related content on the web and social media, and Alumni Engagement organized and promoted electronically three virtual talks to introduce some of the project participants to the rest of the campus community.
Publicity included articles, web content and virtual panel presentations as follows:
“It was the Beloved Community Narratives Project (BCNP) that cemented my belief that the university’s community of students, faculty and staff were truly committed to inclusion,” said Lorraine Lopez-Janove, who became Cortland’s chief diversity and inclusion officer last fall.
“As the new chair of the BCNP, I quickly recognized the committee’s dedication to diversity, equity and inclusion,” Lopez-Janove said. “They made sure that the stories of diverse community members would be shared with everyone on campus.”
The three virtual panel presentations attracted almost 200 campus community members to listen to how the identities of students, faculty, staff and alumni shaped their experiences at SUNY Cortland, she noted.
“There were tears, laughter and joy as themes such as race and immigration, gender and sexuality, and mental health and disability were discussed,” Lopez-Janove said.
“As someone who served on the committee from start to finish, not only did I see the transformation on the participants, but also on our community as a whole,” said Lauren Scagnelli ’12 M ’14, both a graduate and SUNY Cortland health educator.
“Those community members that attended, myself included, felt such an appreciation and acceptance. When individuals tell their stories, it makes a difference for everyone.”