Campus News

UB holds town hall on campus racial and social inequities

Screen shot of a Zoom Town Hall meeting to discuss diversity and inclusion.

Unit diversity officers and Provost A. Scott Weber talk about how UB can change the campus culture and correct bias in its policies and practices in a Zoom town hall.


Published July 17, 2020

“I would invite everybody who’s on the call to think about the possibility of this conversation not from a place of fear, but from a place of deep love for each other and a deep love for learning. ”
Samina Raja, associate dean for research and inclusive excellence
School of Architecture and Planning

Leaders from across the university gathered Wednesday to discuss how UB can take constructive, actionable steps to accelerate changing the campus culture and to correct bias in its policies and practices.

“A Call to Action: Town Hall with the Provost and Unit Diversity Officers at UB” — the second event of the “Let’s Talk about Race” series — brought together Provost A. Scott Weber and unit diversity officers to speak about the campus community’s concerns on racial, institutional and social inequities. The conversation was presented by the Office of Inclusive Excellence and moderated by Despina Stratigakos, vice provost for inclusive excellence.

“As a public research university, UB must be part of the solution and address issues of structural racism and inequities through our curriculum, research, hiring and retention practices,” said Weber. “UB has long been committed to fostering equity and inclusion on campus, and more widely through our research and education. Progress has been made, but it’s not enough. We need to do more to create an antiracist environment, and we need a collective response to make the impact that we desire.”

The town hall follows weeks of meetings, forums and listening sessions held across the university by schools and units to identify strategies and action items to address the persistent inequities perpetrated on people of color. The discussions are part of a larger national dialogue on structural racism sparked by the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

Unit diversity officers who participated in the town hall were:

  • Margarita Dubocovich, Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences.
  • Dana Keblawi, School of Dental Medicine.
  • Theresa McCarthy, College of Arts and Sciences.
  • Tolu Odunsi, School of Law.
  • Heather Orom, School of Public Health and Health Professions.
  • Samina Raja, School of Architecture and Planning.
  • Mary Ann Rogers, School of Management.
  • Letitia Thomas, School of Engineering and Applied Sciences.

Rethinking pipeline for underrepresented faculty

The discussion addressed several topics on fostering a cultural and structural transformation at the university, and panelists welcomed questions from the nearly 450 viewers.

The conversation began with talk on how to create greater racial diversity among faculty and staff, particularly Black faculty, and how to overcome the barriers to building these pipelines.

The greatest barrier for diverse recruitment at UB, said Odunsi, assistant dean for diversity, equity and inclusion, is geographic.

“Buffalo is one of the most segregated places across the country. And that, in itself, makes it a difficult place for people of color to want to work here,” she said. “That is why our schools being so involved in the community is important. Until we change how race operates inside the city of Buffalo, we’re going to continue to remain an unattractive place for a Black person to live.”

To improve the pipeline of students of color who enter graduate school, and ultimately pursue a career in academia, McCarthy and Dubocovich stressed building safe educational environments.

“It’s too much work to have to build inclusion for yourself … They have borne the responsibility of trying to transform hostile environments on their backs,” said McCarthy, associate dean for inclusive excellence.

“That’s why programs like African and African American studies become so important. These are not just spaces of teaching and research. They’re actually spaces of caretaking, refuge and protection,” she added, later noting that the College of Arts and Sciences has committed $500,000 in continuing funding to the program and hired three new faculty.

Added Dubocovich, senior associate dean for diversity and inclusion: “The students are exhausted trying to build their own neighborhoods. They are demanding now that we help them and we change the culture in our schools and university to have a more welcoming environment ... And one of the ways to provide a more safe environment is to bring more students of color … and also more faculty.”

Increasing funding to support master’s degree programs is another method to fortify pipelines, said Thomas, assistant dean for diversity.

“One of the big pipelines, especially for students of color, into a doctoral program is doing a master’s degree first. And there is virtually no funding for master’s degree students,” she said. “If we don’t find the funding mechanism for these students, we’ll lose a lot of students to industry.”

Orom, associate dean for equity, diversity and inclusion, noted that, “We may not be providing enough support in terms of career guidance — showing the pathway to good jobs after graduation, showing what the possibilities are, creating opportunities for internships, creating professional networks for people through which they can get their first job, showing that pathway to graduate school. We need to be working much more intensively with our undergraduates.”

The university will hold another town hall in the fall semester to discuss the hiring and retention of underrepresented minority faculty, said Weber.

Adding antiracism to curriculums

The diversity officers also discussed methods that schools are taking to incorporate antiracism into curriculums.

The School of Law is requiring students to read “Devil in the Grove” and materials about Kalief Browder — stories about Black men who were falsely imprisoned — to help students understand racial injustice in the criminal justice system. The School of Engineering and Applied Sciences will create a social justice course that explores case studies on topics such as Hurricane Katrina and the inequities that led the disaster to disproportionately affect African Americans.

Other schools, such as the School of Architecture and Planning, will focus all of its programming in the upcoming academic year solely on antiracism in architecture. The School of Dental Medicine will concentrate its outreach efforts in communities that are highly impacted by health disparities.

“We have trainings on lab safety every year that’s mandatory. We should have diversity training that is just as mandatory,” said McCarthy. “People point to the example of how quickly this institution rolled out an approach to online education. It is possible to put together programming to raise proficiency in a very quick timeline because we’ve already done it.”

Raja, associate dean for research and inclusive excellence, encourages the university to keep engaging in honest, difficult conversations.

“It’s important for us to think about the incredible opportunity a university environment provides [for conversation], more than any other environment,” she said. “I would invite everybody who’s on the call to think about the possibility of this conversation not from a place of fear, but from a place of deep love for each other and a deep love for learning.”

Weber closed the discussion by stressing that, “You don’t get to be neutral anymore. You’ve got to get off the sidelines and take an active stand. I’m committing myself to that, and I know the university is committed to that as well.”