Thousands of University faculty, staff and administrators gathered recently in the Island Federal Arena for more than two hours of communal training in recognizing and responding to implicit bias, bullying and sexual misconduct.
By doing so, the University community demonstrated its shared commitment to building a more tolerant, secure and equitable culture on campus.
This first-of-its-kind campuswide training at Stony Brook was titled “Cultural Competency Seminar: Implicit Bias & Sexual Misconduct.” The Oct. 9 session had its roots in conversations that began in 2015 between students and campus leadership. At that time, students outlined in detail the statements and attitudes held by some faculty and staff that often caused pain. Students requested training on hidden bias and ways to highlight the impact of microaggressions — small and often unintentional biases and prejudices that happen every day.
Additionally, faculty asked for training for all Stony Brook employees on issues of sexual misconduct and the power dynamics inherent in a higher education structure.
“Understanding and caring about each other is an essential part of what Stony Brook is, and it’s also an important part of building a campus culture that gives our students the skills to succeed and contribute to a respectful and inclusive world,” said President Samuel L. Stanley Jr. “We’re proud to help set an example not only for the SUNY system, but for universities around the world.”
The event’s moderator was Vernon A. Wall, an expert in student affairs and social justice who speaks at universities and colleges nationwide. Wall, the president and founder of One Better World, a consulting firm specializing in social justice and equity conversations, used humor and conversational dialogue to engage the attendees and highlight the importance of their recognizing and addressing incidents of bias and harassment. He applauded the notion that a university of Stony Brook’s size and stature would hold an event such as this, declaring its commitment to equality and justice.
Wall, who has more than 30 years of professional experience in student affairs work at universities, explained how his parents first inspired him to work toward social reform and stressed the importance of people treating each other with respect and compassion. It’s this philosophy, he noted, that drives today’s most successful and efficient organizations.
The seminar featured informative presentations from several departments and speakers talking about identifying and dealing with hidden bias, maintaining inclusive classrooms and learning spaces, and managing power dynamics between students and faculty and between junior faculty and staff and their senior colleagues. Videos depicted true stories of sexual harassment along with statistics on the prevalence and problem of harassment and discrimination, and speakers discussed violence prevention, diversity awareness and best practices for reporting concerns in these areas.
“Our goal was to give tools and practical advice while making clear our policies and the value we place on respectful and meaningful interactions for all of us,” said Judith Greiman, chief deputy to the President and senior vice president for Government and Community Relations. “This was really the start of a conversation about difficult issues, not the end.”
Among the speakers for the event was Interim Vice President for Student Affairs and Dean of Students Richard Gatteau, who discussed firsthand accounts of student experiences while at Stony Brook related to microaggressions.
“I wanted to get people to think about the assumptions they make and the unintentional negative messages they may be sending. I also wanted them to see how students react positively when staff and faculty work together with students who may have different needs or experiences to remove barriers to success,” Gatteau said, reflecting on his presentation.
“The heartfelt reaction from the faculty and staff to the student testimonials was powerful,” said Jarvis Watson, assistant dean for Multicultural Affairs. “It took a lot of courage for the student participants to share their experiences. As both an alum and a staff member it was rewarding to see the magnitude of this event as we take on this challenge together as a university.”
The session ended with a video that featured dozens of Stony Brook students and staff sharing their personal stories by reciting the phrase, “I’m a Seawolf and I’m… ” Highlighting the richness of the Seawolves community, participants noted their own unique backgrounds and talents while reflecting on their connections to Stony Brook.
“As part of its comprehensive ongoing Diversity Plan, the University continuously looks for ways to strengthen the campus climate to ensure that students, faculty and staff can succeed in their individual goals and as a community. This event exemplifies our total commitment to fostering an environment of respect, compassion and equity for all at Stony Brook,” said Lee Bitsóí, chief diversity officer at Stony Brook.
– Rob Emproto