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Diversity and Inclusion Open Forum

On Monday, May 4, the Diversity Action Committee hosted an open forum as the final event of a three part series. The other two events were theater productions on April 22 and April 28. Dr. Ausra Park, Professor of International Relations, started the discussion with a five minute clip of the play. The presentation of the play allowed the attendees to receive a brief introduction of what this discussion was going to consist of. In this short clip, six people told six anonymous stories. These stories revolved around various bullying scenarios. For example, one story was about a girl who talked about her transition on social media; yet, her family would repeatedly comment hurtful words on her posts. Her family told her they never want to speak to her again and that she was dead to them. It is incredibly harmful to have your own family turn their back on you, while also having nobody to talk to during this vulnerable time. An anonymous bystander saw the harmful comments on the girl’s post but never asked if she was okay or if she needed someone to talk to. At the end of the play, six bystanders said they regretted not saying anything and next time they are in a situation like that they will act much differently. 

Dr. Krysta Dennis, Producer of Creative Arts at Siena College, mentioned the main idea of the theater piece was “it’s hard to stand up”. She then explained Siena College’s Upstander Program, which works with high school students to inspire them to act upon and address cyber bullying attacks. They tell the students to be an upstander, not a bystander. This program also helps students who want to help in these tricky situations but just don’t know how to help or do not have the tools to help defuse the situation. 

Dr. Park then started the open discussion with the first question and continued to ask all the questions throughout the discussion. Here is a summary of the discussion, which included the following questions:

Q: How can we hold ourselves accountable in situations where we say/behave incorrectly? 

A: April Backus, Associate Director of NASCE, answered by saying that you should admit when you’re wrong, shift the topic of discussion, talk privately with the person whom you hurt to apologize, and admit that you are working to be better. Then, Dr. Dennis joined in by saying that we need to create a culture of calling yourself out. 

Q: How can we respond when others call us out?

A: Lisette Balabarca, Associate Professor of Spanish, answered by explaining that it’s important to be vulnerable, to not be defensive, and to be open to learn. Dr. Park added onto that by saying that being defensive leads from a bad situation to an even worse situation. Furthermore, a student also responded by stating that we need to be aware of other people’s feelings, and while being called out can be negative, we should shift it into a positive learning experience.

Q: How can we be better as a campus? Any policies that need to be addressed or changed? 

A:  Dr. Park answered her own question to show the view point of this question from a faculty member. She said there should be a yearly, mandatory training, in which staff go over micro and macro aggressions, how to better help students with anxiety, depression, stress, etc. There needs to be more of an understanding on how to assist and accommodate students during troubling times. 

A student also added onto that answer by saying they believe there shouldn’t be a zero tolerance policy on late work (especially during a pandemic) because there are a lot of valid reasons as to why assignments could be late. They gave an example of how many students need to work so they can pay for school due to Siena’s high tuition rates. If they are working long hours, students should not be expected to immediately start doing hours upon hours of school work when they can barely find the time to fit in sleep. This student also expressed concern over the fact that many professors require deeply personal details in order to receive an extension on work. 

Additionally, Dr Park then asked if anyone had any personal experiences of being in a situation where someone was behaving incorrectly. April Backus shared a story from a few years ago when she was at a friend’s Halloween party. Her friend identifies as Latina, as does her partner. The friends’ neighbors came over and they were dressed in Native American costumes. April was conflicted on what to do since it was a party and she didn’t know those neighbors well. She considers herself to be an upstander, as well as being culturally aware, so she decided to privately talk to her friend about what to do and why she wasn’t comfortable being in that situation. After this example, Dr. Park said that when she is faced with a difficult situation, she is shocked which makes it hard to think of the right things to say. Dr. Krysta Dennis said she feels that most people, along with herself, come up with something to say after the instance happened. It’s important to remember that our brains don’t work very quickly when we’re shocked, so if we don’t think of the right thing to say immediately we need to give ourselves a break. Finally, a few students talked about personal experiences that bothered them about the campus. One student said they want to have more professors of color. Another student said it’s important to have racially diverse mental health counselors because it’s easier to relate when people come from a similar background. 

Diversity allows for new ideas, learning experiences, and conversations which are vital to our growth as a community. This event showed the harmful reality that millions of people go through daily without any support or guidance. By having these conversations, we, as a community, are educating ourselves as well as working towards creating a better, more accepting society.