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NYC City Councilman Gives $500 000 to CUNY Diversity Initiatives

Virtually no institution of higher education is likely to deny the fact that underrepresented groups must be brought further into the representational fold. The City University of New York (CUNY) is taking that sentiment about diversity to another level as they recently announced that they will use a $500,000 grant to create a “Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Incubator.”

The donation for the new incubator came from New York City Council Speaker, Corey Johnson. Set to open in January 2020, the new space will serve to impact CUNY diversity initiatives by being a place for faculty and staff to train in  “bias recognition and mediation, cross-cultural communication skills as well as promote dialogue between diverse groups on campus.” 
“New York City prides itself on its diversity but we must make sure that everyone feels understood, supported and protected,” Johnson said in a statement. “This doesn’t happen magically, it takes bold programs like the one CUNY has created to help staff recognize and address bias as well as build cross-cultural communication skills.”

The CUNY diversity incubator is to be developed by the Center for Ethnic, Racial and Religious Understanding at Queens College (CERRU). CERRU, an equity education center teaching people about non violent communication tools, has plans to implement the strategies and practices they develop inside the incubator to five of CUNY’s senior and community college campuses by the end of 2020.

Issues of diversity, inclusion, and bias, are not one size fits all. Thusly, CUNY staff is set to start assessing issues and needs throughout their campuses via one-on-one interviews such that the implementation of any plan can be “campus-specific.”

While these new programs may help faculty to better address bias in the classroom, it remains to be seen whether their fruits will trickle down into what’s been perceived as a larger representation problem within the CUNY system.

Though CUNY has filled half of their campus presidency positions with people who are black or latino, there is still a massive disparity between the number of black versus non-black staff and faculty hires. Close to half of the staff hired by CUNY between 2016 and 2017 were non white, but only 15 percent were black. All the while, between 2010 and 2017 the number of black faculty members went up by only eight from 933 to 941.

Arthur Lewin, a Professor of Black and Latino Studies at Brauch College told The Chief that the problem of representation was one of “unaddressed attrition.” “They’re leaving because they’re not getting tenure,” he said. “With Black and Latino Studies faculty, you publish and you still perish.”

Lewis also noted that in six years, Brauch only hired three full-time black faculty even though there were 119 appointments. Even Interim Chancellor Vita C. Rabinowitz admitted that CUNY is aware that black faculty are leaving  at much higher rates than white faculty.

Regardless, Sophia McGee, director of CERRU, believes that with support from the grant they can learn from colleagues who “can shed light on [anti-bias] work that has already been done across the University.”

Article by Raz Robinson, journalist and freelance writer, based in New York City. You can connect with him on LinkedIn, follow him on Twitter @razrobinson or send an email at Rrob0904 (at) gmail (dot) com.

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