Many on campus consider the Village of Port Jefferson to be their college town. Its bustling seaside business district of restaurants, entertainment and shopping is enjoyed by thousands of Stony Brook University employees and students. An incident last May where a young Sikh alumnus wearing a turban was not permitted to enter a restaurant in the Village because of a no hat policy prompted many discussions on campus and in the community about diversity, equity and inclusion.
In an effort to improve the cultural awareness of the Village, the Greater Port Jefferson Chamber of Commerce partnered with Stony Brook University’s Office of Community Relations to present a panel discussion on Cultural Competency and Humility. The framework for the discussion centered around the concept of what it means to run a business next to a major international university. “We have a diverse population on campus, and we wanted to give the Chamber members a sense of who might be walking through their doors,” said Judy Greiman, Chief Deputy to the President and Senior Vice President for Government and Community Relations. “It’s important for these shops to understand that differences exist, that we have buying power and that we all want to feel welcome.”
The event was moderated by Dr. Jarvis Watson, Chief Diversity Officer at Stony Brook. The University panelists included Dr. Robbye Kinkade, Clinical Professor in the School of Health Technology and Management; Chris Tanaka, Assistant Director of LGBTQ* Services; Shaheer Khan, President of the Undergraduate Student Government; and Yamilex Taveras, a political science senior and President of the Latin American Student Organization.
The panelists answered questions about cultural norms, perceptions and experiences when visiting Port Jefferson, and the demonstrated behaviors that made certain groups feel uncomfortable. “As a business owner, you have the opportunity to show that you stand for something greater than the prejudices you might see. You can make all people feel welcome. Focus on being inclusive,” said Taveras.
The open and frank dialogue gave the audience of approximately 40 members an opportunity to reflect on their own business operations. “It is essential to help educate and examine our best business practices so that we may continue to perform at our optimal level of service,” said Barbara Ransome, Director of Operations for the Greater Port Jefferson Chamber of Commerce and owner of The Ransome Inn. “Chambers of Commerce by their nature support small businesses and rely on welcoming ALL commerce to their partners. In acknowledging this, ALL should be welcomed and embraced as being members of our communities where we do business.”
During the question and answer time, a chamber member asked how to manage customers who state that they won’t work with employees from different ethnic groups. “Emphasize the competence rather than the differences of your staff,” said Chris Tanaka.
The panelists offered concrete action items for the Chamber’s consideration, including using signage for shops stating that all are welcome, evaluating the use of gender identification for single-stall restrooms, and being on the lookout for microaggressions. Dr. Kinkade shared that Harvard offers an Implicit Association Test (IAT) that might help identify unknown personal bias and provide self-discovery.
The Cultural Competency and Humility panel discussion was held on September 24, 2019 at Due Baci restaurant in Port Jefferson Village. Introductions were made by Chamber President Mary Joy Pipe and Port Jefferson Village Mayor Margot Garant. Brookhaven Town Councilwoman Valerie Cartright attended in support of the program and the Chamber.
— Joan Dickinson, Community Relations