Buffalo State College Day
Friday, September 17, 2021
Building JEDI Excellence through 2041 and Beyond
It is my pleasure to officially welcome you to the Buffalo State College 150th anniversary celebration. Thank you for joining us today in the Performing Arts Center here in our iconic Rockwell Hall, and thank you to those who are joining us through Facebook Live and YouTube Live.
As you just heard, it has been an amazing journey. And we have continued to grow, sharpen our vision, and reach for higher stars over our long and laudable history. In 2014, when I joined you as president of this esteemed institution, I noted that Buffalo State had quite a story. This story has continued from 1871 until now, and throughout the next year we will turn the pages of our magnificent history and read chapter after chapter.
We were once a small and scrappy college that singularly focused on the very important goal of developing teachers to go out into the world and shepherd our youth to new heights. But our dream grew, and now we stand as a campus with a significant range of programs. We touch the city of Buffalo, Western New York, New York state, the entire country, and even the world. We reach into international spheres from Rwanda to Ireland to China and beyond.
We are an economic engine, a convener of diverse and sometimes conflicting views, an institution that provides an outstanding education for future leaders in New York and beyond. It is wonderful to see many of our amazing alumni who lead with courage and distinction here with us today.
We are Buffalo’s College, and as an urban-engaged campus and a significant anchor institution, we are known for many distinctive attributes.
We are a campus where generations of students have received an outstanding education and have gone on to find tremendous success across every professional field.
We are a campus that forges community connections through the research we focus on and the many ways we contribute to the social, economic, and cultural landscape of Western New York. We breathe life into our urban-engaged mission.
We are also a part of the national and international dialogue on issues related to transformative, creative, civic-engaged, and innovative education across the disciplines.
We elevate what it means to be a truly engaged campus, both inside the classroom and outside the traditional classroom setting. We have always been a campus that dreams big dreams. Through hard work, challenge, courage, and adaptability, we have made many of our dreams come true.
Over the next year, we will spend time celebrating our history and exploring the good times and the troubled times. Our campus has faced challenges. Sometimes we have soared to the top, and other times we have simply hung on. At times we have needed to step back and regroup.
Our dreams have not always allowed us to move ahead in measured ways, but we have always moved ahead, and we have grown in significant and important ways. Step by step, we have all arrived here together to celebrate our significant history and look toward our next chapters.
Today I look ahead and dream again, as presidents have before me and as members of the campus community have across 150 years.
What will we be able to accomplish within our next 20 years? Where will our dreams take us, and how will we deepen our contribution to higher education, to each and every student we enroll, to the businesses, agencies, and professions that are waiting for our students now and over the next two decades, and for the greater public good of our state and country?
As we look ahead, we will build on our tremendous foundation and will catapult our work to fulfill our dream: we will be more than the most diverse campus within the SUNY system; we will be the campus that forges the critical path to illuminate true inclusion that benefits all individuals, New York state, and our entire world.
Over our next two decades, we will focus our attention and elevate JEDI excellence. JEDI stands for justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion. In addition to our long history of excellent academic programs, we also have a strong foundation on many aspects of justice and equity. Today and moving forward, we will build on that foundation, brick by brick, to strengthen our work in this area.
Specifically, we will expand our JEDI focus over the next two decades in these ways:
Each experience is geared to lay a foundation for future success and to open significant pathways to students who may initially feel that a career as an academic scholar is unattainable.
We will double the percentage of tenure-track faculty from underrepresented groups, moving from 27 percent in 2021 to 54 percent in 2041. Our current student body is highly diverse, and the majority of our students come from historically underrepresented groups.
We will build upon our current success to recruit faculty and staff members from diverse backgrounds. The SUNY PRODiG program aims to promote diversity and inclusion within the SUNY faculty ranks, and this is a good starting point. At Buffalo State, we not only hire PRODiG faculty; we move them to tenure track lines on the conclusion of their PRODiG period, so that they may become a part of our permanent faculty now and in the future.
We will continue to seek ways to build upon this success and to tap into pipeline programs that allow us to recruit, mentor, and hire these outstanding diverse new faculty members.
We will develop a new Buffalo State pipeline program that will encourage, prepare, and support underrepresented undergraduate students to enter the faculty ranks. Our program will be called the Buffalo State Reach for the Stars Scholars program.
The Reach for the Stars program is a graduate preparatory program designed to assist in the academic and professional development of first-generation, low-income, and underrepresented undergraduate students to prepare them for graduate or professional study. Their involvement in intense research, mentoring, and scholarly activities will place them in a competitive advantage to enter Ph.D. programs and for future professional careers, with a particular focus on joining the faculty ranks.
The program will consist of such elements as multiple paid summer research experiences, connections to campus and alumni mentors, GRE or other graduate school test preparation, support for attendance and presentation at regional or national conferences, and connections that will be of future usefulness to Reach for the Stars scholars.
Ultimately, we aim to produce highly competitive graduate and professional school applicants who have the skills and experiences necessary to succeed in their programs. We hope that on completing their terminal degrees, these students will return to Buffalo State or another sister SUNY school to become a part of our future faculty body.
Buffalo State will become a recognized leading voice for JEDI work throughout the state and beyond. This will be realized by the implementation and growth of a space for social justice that is currently under development. This space will galvanize existing work across campus in social justice issues and provide an infrastructure and support for furthering our work in this area. The social justice space will focus on the following areas, with room for more layers to develop as we move ahead through the years:
We will create a sustainable campus infrastructure with leadership and staff to sustain the center.
We will develop a social justice-centered curriculum and co-curricular offerings that build on JEDI work. Faculty members have already begun to consider JEDI curricular changes within general education and within some of our departments.
We will advance social justice and equity-focused research across the college, including developing an atmosphere to secure and expand significant external funding for this research. We will seek research projects that address local, regional, national, and international concerns and build a deep foundation of knowledge that forges an understanding of these issues in ways that lead to action.
We will cultivate and strengthen our social justice efforts with our community partners, realizing our important connection as an anchor institution that seeks to be an important player in the lifting of our communities. Our many college connections and partners will be convened to develop a roadmap for how research can address critical issues.
We will effectively communicate our work in this area and become a recognized leader, thus contributing to the social good and bringing visibility to this important and mission-centered work. We already have faculty experts that lend an important voice in JEDI work. We will increase the number and range of these voices that will reach across academic disciplines to add knowledge, create opportunities for dialog, and spearhead collaborative discussions to serve the public good in visible and recognized ways.
We will build on our cultural traditions with a JEDI perspective and focus on inclusion. Buffalo State has developed and maintained many significant traditions over the years, and we will continue to build upon these traditions. Just this year, we began a new tradition where all first-year students receive their class pin during Convocation to wear proudly to show their Buffalo State pride.
And we will add new traditions and deepen practices that relate to the students of 2021 and beyond. One such tradition will be the birth of a Buffalo State pep band. This will not only be a wonderful opportunity for students with musical talent and band experience to join an affinity group, but also be an opportunity for the entire campus to be uplifted by the spirit of music at athletic events, social activities, and other events that bring joy and jubilation to our campus.
We also seek to build on our traditions of sororities, fraternities, and clubs that provide further feelings of camaraderie and a sense of belonging for our students.
We will seek the counsel of our student body of today and tomorrow to add new traditions that are meaningful and contemporary and engage the spirits of today’s college students.
A sense of belonging is not just a “feel good moment.” It provides the context for a communal spirit where students stand together, work together, support each other, and ultimately are successful in their years at Buffalo State, thus building a foundation for lifelong career, professional, community, and family success.
All aspects of JEDI work will serve to contribute to the persistence and academic success of our students and the success of the communities around us.
Today I look toward the future. I look toward building on the strong foundation that has been laid during the past 150 years. Tomorrow requires new tools, new experiences, and an innovative approach to the education of our Buffalo State students.
Today we must recognize the diversity among ourselves and strive to breathe life into our JEDI work—justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion. Buffalo State has the muscle and the motivation to meet the needs of our diverse students and to cultivate within our campus and everywhere we touch a lived commitment to justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion. Let the cultivation of a true sense of belonging for all students be our true north.
We will accomplish this by working collaboratively with the SUNY system, the state of New York, our College Council and Foundation Board, our alumni base, the many donors and friends of the college, and our partners near and far. Together we will bring JEDI excellence to the forefront and meet the needs of today and tomorrow.
Thank you, and on to the future.