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Race & higher education focus of panel discussion

WBFO News photo by Eileen Buckley

In parts of the nation there has been mounting racial tension on some college campuses with students making claims of racial slurs. It has sparked protests. The topic of race and higher education was discussed by as part of Daemen College's Distinguished Leaders Lecture Series Friday. 

"How do we attack this issue in every corner of our campus. Micro aggressions do build up," said Katherine Conway-Turner, President of SUNY Buffalo State. Conway-Turner was one of five panelists.

Buffalo State has a diverse group of college students, but Conway-Turner said they need to remain watchful throughout the schools.

Credit WBFO News photo by Eileen Buckley
SUNY Buffalo State President Katherine Conway-Turner and Regent Catherine Fisher Collins were panelist.

"What happens in the residents halls, what happen culture centers, what happens on the athletic teams and in every place in every way, we have to really open ourselves and appreciate the diversity that under  represented students bring to our campus," stated Conway-Turner.

Much of the conversation centered around the need to diversify campuses with both students and faculty. 

Buffalo Mayor Brown was one of the panelist. Brown stressed the need for colleges and universities to work closely with communities.

"The other thing that is important is too realize that these issues that occur on campus bleed into the community," stated Mayor Brown.  "A partnership is important between colleges and communities to look at these issues to not only create safe spaces on campus, but to create safe spaces in the community."  

Credit WBFO News photo by Eileen Buckley
Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown served as a panel member.

Hilbert College President Dr. Cynthia Zane was also a panelist. She noted only 13-percent of college presidents in the United States are persons of color.

"When a student walks onto our campus, at Hilbert it's hard, it's hard on everybody's campus, they are walking into an environment that is not where the decision makers, where those who are developing the curriculum, have not walked in their shoes," said Zane. 

The panel discussion was moderated by Dr. Isiah Marshall, Jr., Associate Professor of Social Work at Daemen.

Credit WBFO News photo by Eileen Buckley
The panel discussion was moderated by Dr. Isiah Marshall, Jr., Associate Professor of Social Work at Daemen.

Marshall asked panelist Catherine Fisher Collins, Regents representative for the Western New York Region to respond to the derogatory comments recently made by U.S. Justice Antonin Scalia from an affirmative action case regarding University of Texas. Scalia said 'most black scientists went to lesser colleges'.

"It's unfortunate that we would have someone at that level to make those kind of comments," replied Collins.  "And so now we have to step back 50-years after the Civil Rights movement and deal with someone that can continue to shape that notion that minorities are far less than anyone else out there -- it's really a crying shame." 

Collins stated that it is difficult for some faculty to get into certain institutions.  She pointed to 85% of all professors in the U.S. are white males.  Collins is a current faculty member at SUNY Empire State College.

"I don't know how many have come up to me and said 'I like to be a university professor'," noted Collins.  "We can talk about it here, but we have to make sure on the national scene that those individuals who are shaping public policy understands what we are faced with."

But Mayor Brown placed some of the blame on the media. 

Credit WBFO file photo by Eileen Buckley
Panel members talked with members of the audience after the event.

"All too often the media highlights the vitriol, those that are screaming, the sensational stories of people that are saying things that are impolite, so I blame the media to a degree for some of that," replied Mayor Brown. 

Conway-Turner said she took offense to 'lesser' students and 'lesser' schools. "It really flies in the face of the good work we all do," stated Conway-Turner.

Daemen President Gary Olson also sat on the panel. He pointed out challenges in hiring diverse faculty. Olson said academic disciplines don't seem to attract a diverse group, making it difficult to find diverse hires.

"In some of the protests, and all that you hear nationwide, one of the demands is you need to go out and hire a more diverse faculty, but we have that l  yes we all want to do that, but we have that logistical problem to deal with and a university president can't simply demand that a department go out and hire certain people," said Olson.

In the Western New York region one campus protest was held in November by students on the Niagara University Campus. They rallied November 16, 2015 speaking out against what they say are "social and racial inequalities" at their school. Students are calling on the college to create an active black studies program, select a more diverse faculty and offer more support from the administration.

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