Transcript of Town Hall Meeting, January 19, 2016

Burgett:          welcome, friends, to this town hall meeting that’s the work of the Presidential Commission on Race and Diversity.  I am Paul Burgett, senior advisor to President Seligman and co-chair of the commission with Rich Feldman, who is the dean of the college.  The two of us have been the conductors of this particular orchestra; we’ve been conducting town hall meetings all over – throughout the university in all of our schools and units to give members of the community the opportunity to talk to leaders – the leadership in the university about issues – their experiences, particularly their experiences as these relate to issues of race and diversity.

This was precipitated, as some of you probably know, by a protest that occurred in November that was organized and led, brilliantly I might add, by students in the college, the Black Students Union, the Minority Student Advisory Board, and the Douglass Leadership House. The president convened the commission and we’ve been hard at work with town hall meetings.  The commission has met quite a number of times, in an effort to provide the president with a preliminary assessment of our findings about the climate and some other questions you’re going to hear about in a moment.

But, let me turn it over to my co-chair, Rich Feldman, who will fill in with some of the details that have concerned us and occupied deliberations over the past weeks.

Feldman:       Thanks, Paul.  Thanks, everybody, for being here today and we’re eager to get through our remarks so we can hear from you because that’s really what this session’s all about.  I’ll just say this; the Commission has had several meetings and it’s important to understand that the initial demands that came from students in the college are being addressed separately because most of what they raised questions about were issues in the college that we’ll address there.

What we’re doing, what the Commission has been tasked to do, is look at issues that are comparable to the ones they raised about the climate for race and diversity throughout the university.  We’ve had town hall meetings – a couple here in the Med Center, one down at Eastman, another in the college, there’s another one in the School of Education tomorrow, another one in Arts, Sciences & Engineering coming up, so we’re going all around the university trying to interact, meet the students and hear from them about the issues they are facing and their assessment of the climate, and to hear their recommendations on what we might do.

Maybe one other thing to mention is this; what the commission has done is assembled, representatives on the commission from all the different units, an inventory of all the different kinds of programs and activities and things happening at the university that are intended – designed to support our climate, improve our climate.  We’re going to compile that with the hope that we’ll understand – we’ll see that there’s an enormous amount already happening and we want to understand where there might be room for collaboration across the schools on some of those kinds of issues, where there might be some best practices we can learn, and how we can build on what we’ve already – what we already have.

I think with that, I’ll say again, one of our goals – I think Paul may have mentioned this, is to write an interim report at the end of this month, with the goal then of making our final report and final recommendations at the end of – towards the end of this current semester.  I think that’s about where we are now.  Other things to add?

Burgett:          No.  I think the Commission consists of 19 people who come from all parts of the university, including faculty, students and staff across a variety – across ranks and seniority; they don’t represent discrete groups necessarily but have demonstrated by their life in the university a strong commitment to the issues of race and diversity.  I think we want to mention that.

Feldman:       One final preliminary point and then I do want to stop.  Our initial focus is on students and the climate for students; the charge to the Commission goes broader than that and it does include issues related to staff and faculty, but we’re beginning with students and will turn to those other issues a little later on.

Burgett:          You should also know that our meeting today is being taped; the tapes will be transcribed and uploaded to the Commission website.  You should all know that it is being taped.  With that I’d like to turn it over.  We have several members of the Commission here, including Tony Kinslow, who’s Associate VP of Human Resources; Vivian Lewis, who is Professor of OB/GYN and Vice Provost for Faculty Development and Diversity; Guylda Richards, who is a second year med student; Linda Chaudron, a doc in the medical center; and Linda, tell me your title, please?

Chaudron:     Associate VP for Inclusion and Culture Development for the medical center.

Burgett:          Are there any commission members that I’ve missed?

Chaudron:     No, but from the School of Nursing, LaRon Nelson is; he’s not here –

Burgett:          Oh, LaRon Nelson from the School of Nursing who is not here today, but he is a member of the commission as well.  Let me turn it over to Linda, who will introduce our –

Chaudron:     I’ll just do the basics here.  The basics are, as Paul said, please, when you speak, use the microphone so that it will be taped.  There are people with microphones; there’s a standing microphone back there too, so please do that.  We have an hour and a half, but I understand many of you have to leave for class at 1:00.  Please do keep your comments concise so people do have a chance to speak.  If you don’t get a chance to speak or you choose not to speak, speak in another way.  Please write us your comments; we’ve gotten phenomenal written comments from our various town halls, and also this information is out there for contact – any of the members of the committee, or there’s a direct email address to the committee, if you have anything you want to say there as well.  We want to hear from you.  I think that is the most important communication I have to you today; we want to hear from you.  We want to know what you’re experiencing.

As I said, if we can be concise – which we’re not doing so well at – if you can be concise, we’ll try to be concise.  Please talk about your own experiences, if that’s what you wish to do and please provide us your thoughts about what we could do to improve.

These are the four questions. I’m not going to read them to you but when it says ‘campus climate’ – it does not mean River Campus, it means the university as a climate and a culture within which we are all learning and working and taking care of patients.  Think about the campus broadly.  These are the 4 questions we were charged to bring back to President Seligman as part of our assessment.  What are you experiencing today? What do you notice that has strengthened the climate?  What elements are not consistent with what we want as the healthiest climate?  And what, in recommendations, do you have to improve?

With that, I am going to let President Seligman say two words, because we have found that’s very helpful.

Seligman:      Two words are ‘thank you’.

Chaudron:     Two words – you have only two words.  {chuckles}

Seligman:      I could add just a few more.  I’ve had the opportunity to attend some, but not all, of the town hall meetings so far and they’ve been wonderful experiences so far.  The students, typically after a bit of reluctance at first, have been very candid – I shouldn’t say students, but also faculty and staff – about their experiences here.  Sometimes very candid about things we’re not doing well enough, and we want to hear this.  This is not the kind of situation where you say something, it will be held against you – this is the situation where you can be part of the solution.  One of the things I’ve learned from too many years in academic administration is that you can’t solve a problem, you can’t make improvements, unless you’re honest about where you are, about what the realities are.

There are some students on this campus who have felt fear, and that is why I created the commission in the first place; I saw some of the very ugly, they’re called ‘yaks’ or email communications through Yik Yak, and they were nasty, they were hostile, they were aggressive in ways I just don’t think are acceptable here.  Some students have felt marginalized.  Many students feel proud of the university but think there are ways we can improve.

From my view, we’re on a long journey.  Whatever kind of campus we would ideally like to create, we’re not there yet.  I’m looking forward to hearing your thoughts and someday potentially read those you put in writing; I’m certainly going to be very interested in the recommendations of the commission, but to the extent you are comfortable, whether it’s sharing your experiences or recommendations, believe us, they will be heard.  We are here to move this institution forward.

Burgett:          We welcome hearing from you and invite whoever would like to offer comments initially, which is always with some hesitancy – there we go!  Okay, if you would identify yourself if you like.

Martina Anto-Ocrah:            Hi, I am Martina Anto-Ocrah; I’m a third year PhD student in the Department of Public Health Sciences and I would like to say thank you for organizing this town hall meeting as well as the others, so we can address these issues. My concern really has to do with something that may deviate from what’s outlined here.  I’ve already emailed – I sent an email to the email address that was given to us.  But, as a graduate student, I’m in my third year and I’m looking for post-doc opportunities and other networking opportunities; however, in the Department of Public Health Sciences when we attend conferences we don’t get reimbursed the amount we pay as students; we actually get taxed on the reimbursement that we receive.

There seems to be some kind of loophole in the system where, this summer, I went to the American Public Health Association conference, I spent $1,300 and I only got $900 back, so I was essentially taxed almost 40 percent.  It’s a deterrent for me as a minority student who would like to attend some other networking opportunities such as (ABACROM) which is coming up, I’ve spoken to you, Dr. Lewis, about this – it’s coming up in November and I am not confident I want to attend this because I’m not sure if I’m going to be reimbursed that amount.

It almost seems that once – I won’t say it’s intentional, but it’s a huge deterrent for me to pursue on my meager salary as a graduate student.  And it’s also a really big deterrent for all graduate students, actually, beyond those who are considered minority, but we are really a vulnerable population.  I would like to have this issue looked into so I don’t get taxed 40 percent when I want to work and pursue other educational opportunities and even promote the university.  That’s my comment.


Burgett:          Let me just say that we did indeed receive your email, Dean Feldman and I, and I apologize you have not gotten a response to that.  One of the things we will want to do is look into what administrative remedies may already exist to help solve that problem and we will get back to you on that.

Martina:          Thank you so much.

Maria:             Hi, guys.  My name is Maria Lynch, I’m a fourth year graduate students in the Department of Biomedical Engineering and disability is a form of diversity that is often overlooked.  I address first off, I would want to know what this commission plans to do to address disability as part of diversity, or in this case, diversity as a code word for ‘race.’

Feldman:       I think it’s not the case that diversity is a code word for race, but I do want to highlight the fact that the students who initially organized the protest and whose demands got much of this activity going were very much focused on race, and in fact, were quite explicit in some of our conversations that sometimes they had, over the years, raised questions about race and we turned those into conversations about broader questions of diversity, and they felt their issues didn’t get the kind of focused attention that they were seeking.

The way we have characterized what we’re doing is – race is the primary focus of our efforts, certainly the initial focus, but broader questions of diversity are certainly part of our purview that we want to hear about; other aspects of diversity and where there are issues, where there are things we need to know about, so we welcome comments on that.  I will acknowledge that there hasn’t been a great deal about disability in the town hall meetings – very little really – on that topic in the town hall meetings we’ve had so far, but you’re certainly right to raise that as an issue and if there are things you would want to say about that, please do.

Maria:             Well, first off, I just wanted to say thank you for acknowledging that disability is part of diversity, but also thank you for forming this commission and being willing to look at all different aspects because any time a group is marginalized, it can really cause detriment to those students. I would have to say that probably part of the reason you’re not seeing a lot of people coming forward with disabilities, with academic disabilities on this – at least in Arts, Sciences and Engineering – academic disabilities are handled wonderfully on this campus.

Feldman:       Thank you.

Maria:             You should be applauded for that and looking at that sort of group as an ideal of what can happen on campus.  From visible disabilities there aren’t a lot of us with disabilities on campus and sometimes the deaf community doesn’t want to be considered part of a disability community, so I will let those guys speak for themselves, but there aren’t a lot of us with physical disabilities.  My individual interactions with students and with faculty members have been largely positive; it tends to be when things go – when the person is sympathetic and wants to listen, but doesn’t have the power or know where to direct the person to the next step and I think there’s some frustration on behalf of the people I’ve spoken with.

I will certainly say on my behalf that there’s been some frustration with where does it go from an individual conversation to getting needs and concerns addressed.

Feldman:       Thank you.  Thank you.


Camille:         My question is to the third bullet point with reference to healthiest campus climate; I’m wondering what is the baseline or a model of some undergraduate or even higher education institutions that may not have been in the news for similar or comparable issues that led to solidarity movements, but which of those institutions may be of consideration that model a healthy campus climate – one that maybe some aspects could be modeled here?  Oh, and I apologize.  My name is Camille Quinn and I’m a post-doctoral fellow in the Department of Psychiatry.

Burgett:          Vivian, I don’t know if you want to say anything but what – would we knew where the silver bullet lay.  We don’t, which doesn’t mean that we don’t, it will not include as part of our deliberations research and the collection of information to help us find where there are places that have had – where there are successful initiatives on a whole variety of areas.  We talk about race and diversity; it’s just a huge area.  When – what we just heard about disabilities, for example.  There are likely places that are doing things from which we could learn, but we also need to know, and part of our process here is inventorying things that are happening here that we didn’t even know about.

For example, things that are at the University of Rochester that are being very successful that people just don’t know – the people who are involved with them know about them, but we need to be sure the communication system for things that are working well are broadcast more liberally.  The other issue that goes to item 3 – and really number 1 – that has to do with climate, are the very small attitudes and behaviors that are deeply embedded in the lived experiences of people and the way that people think about and feel about people who are different from them – what are generally referred to in the lexicon of today as ‘micro-aggressions’ and how do we wrap our mind around the micro-aggressions that take place here on a moment by moment basis.  Any one all by itself doesn’t define the climate, but taken in the aggregate, does define the climate.

We’ve been hearing in town hall meetings these types of micro-aggression issues that have caused us ‘How do we think creatively about addressing those kinds of issues?’ – and I don’t know that the literature is very rich with that yet.  We’ll find out more about it, or that anyone has a silver bullet, but what you’re asking is something that is of deep concern to us. Yes, Vivian?

Lewis:             To put in a quick plug, we don’t have any campuses that we model after in a specific sense, but we are always on the lookout for best practices.  Through both our faculty diversity officers’ structure, which includes representatives from each of the campuses as well as the diversity and inclusion committee, we always are bringing elements from other campuses that we want to emulate and share all the time.

University wide, what we do once a year is our annual diversity conference, where we come together to share best practices, and that will be April 8th.  We put out a call for proposals recently and would encourage you all to sign up if you have an example of a workshop that you want to give or a poster you want to share with the broad community.  We had 700 people participate last year and we hope to get a really great audience this year about best practices for creating a healthy community.  That is really our signature event for sharing those best practices.

Then lastly, I guess it’s maybe 5 years ago now we’ve had presidential diversity award winners?  Okay, 7 years – time flies; at any rate, those are members from within the community of the University of Rochester whose work really exemplifies the best of what it means to contribute to and go above and beyond what’s expected of you to create a healthy climate on campus.  Tomorrow night, we’re going to celebrate all of the nominees who came from across the university, and award some winners who will be publicly announced at the Martin Luther King address on Saturday.

Seligman:      If I could offer a little bit more on this.  There are some illustrations of academic leaders and campuses, I think, which have done well in ways that are worth calling out.  I’m an admirer of Lee Bollinger, now president at Columbia.  When I was a law school professor at Michigan, he was my dean. We’ve had a long friendship and among other things, Lee has always practiced – and I’ve tried to emulate – first, you never hide.  When issues like this are raised, you have to have a conversation.

Second, sometimes you have to reach out to encourage people, and that’s in part why we’re having town hall meetings and the other processes to encourage those in coming forward.  Third, and the most important thing, I think, in building the healthiest campus is ultimately mutual respect. I will say I know this from Lee and I know this in my own heart; those of you in this room and in every room we’ve faced are really smart.  You guys often have ideas that haven’t been implemented yet, you sometimes have ideas that are impossible to implement, sometimes brilliant ideas we never even thought of and we’ll look forward to achieving, but if the aspiration is really this goal – how do you make this the healthiest climate?

More than anything else, I’m here to say we want to listen. Sometimes conversations are better in small groups, sometimes people are more comfortable being critical in small groups and sometimes they’re better in a big group, but know that the pretty good turnout here today, we’re seeing the same kind of turnout in meeting after meeting so far and I’m sure it’ll continue.  People are interested, they care, and if we’re going to create the best possible University of Rochester – which is what we really mean by the healthiest climate – more than anything, I want to express my gratitude to those of you who are here to help us learn.

Feldman:       I just want to very briefly add I think all of us look for best practices; I go to meetings with counterpart deans from other schools.  Everybody has ideas, everybody has some things that are working and some that are not, and we try to learn from one another.  I do want to take a moment to boast – we have in AS&E the Kearns Center, it’s full name is the Kearns Center for Leadership and Diversity in Arts, Sciences & Engineering; its director is Beth Olivares who won a presidential award for mentorship of STEM students this past fall – and I don’t mean this president; I mean the one in Washington, DC – so we have great leaders here in this domain too.  I think it’s a national effort; everybody is trying with various levels of success.

Wharton:        Hi, good afternoon.  My name is Mitchell Wharton, I’m an assistant professor of clinical nursing here in the School of Nursing.  I’m trying really hard to stay focused on your points, but in doing so, I’m recognizing when we talk about campus community and campus climate, that we cannot separate ourselves from the larger community.  One of the things I would push back or challenge on is how we see ourselves or how we interact with our surrounding communities.  Being in Rochester for 10 years – I’m not native to here – I’ve lived in several different areas.  I’ve lived in the Corn Hill area, I’ve lived in the Public Market area and currently live not too far from here.

What I’ve observed – because, again, I’m trying to honor ‘me’ statements – is, depending on how I show up in this university or any of the campuses, I get treated very differently, and that is as an African-American man.  So being very distinct in my appearance, because I do have very long locks, if I show up in a suit and tie, people don’t have a problem.  I get ‘Hi,’ ‘Hello,’ and even ‘Hello, Dr. Wharton.’  If I show up on River Campus and I show up to the gym in my sweats, it’s a very different reception; it’s a very different perception of who I am.  Even to the point if I come from Inner Campus Drive versus if I’m coming over the bridge from Brooks Avenue, there’s a very different perception of who I am.

I think if we’re talking about campus and campus climate, we have to understand the campus culture and not just understanding it from an introspective perspective, but understanding what other people are perceiving and how they’re being received here.  I’ll challenge that to an overall sense. I will say that in the past, I have had some run-ins with campus security who were a little less – they were less tolerant than what they should have been, and I believe it was perpetrated based on race.  We’ve since resolved that, but I can only imagine what it’s like for someone who doesn’t have the resources that I have as a faculty member here, to be in that position and have to try to navigate that situation.  That’s one thing.

As I was talking about the power dynamic, about how people are received and what we exude in terms of our power, I think it’s important to know or understand how that comes across to other individuals. If I show up here with some of my mentees from the Rochester community, it’s a very different reception for them.  They get questioned why they’re here – ‘Who are you seeing?  What are you doing?’  Not even giving them the opportunity to say ‘I’m on a university campus; maybe I’m just here to learn, to interact, to be mentored by someone.’  I think that’s another power dynamic that needs to be addressed.

I will say that we here in the School of Nursing have had some success, and I don’t know that they’ve been broadcast throughout the rest of the university but our LIFT program, which stands for Leading with Integrity For Tomorrow, is a student-led group who came with some concerns about how they were being perceived and how that power dynamic plays out in terms of their nursing profession.  They create their own agenda of things they want to talk about, but they meet and they meet without the presence of faculty members – there are some faculty members who are there – so we’re talking about models and things that work, but having faculty representatives be there to advocate on their behalf should they need it – and only if they need it.  It’s been very successful in not just preparing them to understand what’s happening around them – because as you said, those micro-aggressions are very present; it’s a very real thing – and how to navigate those.  And not just micro-aggressions but things they’re going to encounter in their individual lives and their professional careers.

Again, I would challenge us to be considerate of how people are received when they show up on this campus but also point to some successes we’ve had here in the School of Nursing.


Burgett:          Are you familiar with MMLA, the Minority Male Leadership Association?

Wharton:        Yes.

Burgett:          Do you have any connections with that group?

[response in background]

Burgett:          Yes, in the back.

Darya Nicol:  Hi, everybody.  My name is Darya; I am an undergraduate at the River Campus and I am a senior. I just want to piggyback off of what he just mentioned.  It is very real that there are different perceptions of students of color on this campus. I’m from Colorado and when I came here, I thought it was very interesting to see that most of the service workers are blacks and minorities, and I have been mistaken as a service worker in various capacities, and even in just walking across the bridge – I live in River View – if I don’t have my backpack, people might turn around and be afraid of me.

It is a very real thing that’s happening, so I encourage you all, before you make assumptions – and I’m not accusing any of you of saying to someone ‘Have you worked in facilities?’  Just be mindful of your perceptions and how you address people and approach people because your first instinct might be wrong.  That being said, I think it’s very powerful that we are recruiting more faculty of color; I’m currently in a class with a professor of color and she’s a woman and it’s important for me to be able to see myself – or people that look like me – in different roles and capacities on campus.  I think it’s very important for other students as well to show that there’s more than just being a service worker, even though being a service worker is not wrong; it’s important to show that minorities are capable of more than just fulfilling certain roles.


Julissa:          Hi, my name is Julissa Thompson and I was a student on the river campus; this is my first semester in the School of Nursing, so I’ve had both experiences but mainly the river campus experience.  I’m arguably a bit jaded now, but I think the hardest part for me, and the thing I’d fight more about when I’m ready to fight more, is about the greater conversation.  This is an isolated town hall meeting with people who volunteered to be here and that’s really, really nice, but that means that everyone who leaves here, it’s their job, whether they want to or not, to inform everyone else. It’s constantly having to explain yourself and constantly having to say ‘No, I didn’t get in because of this’ or making issues like the protest – making them relevant for the campus.

Earlier you mentioned the David T. Kearns Center and we also have the Office of Minority Student Affairs; many of my friends who are not minority students do not even know that exists.  And, that’s – I think we under-estimate how important that is.  That’s okay that we have safe spaces to talk in and discuss these issues but it’s only the beginning of talking about the issue if we don’t make it relevant for everyone else.  If we don’t it’s like ‘Oh no, these people are just angry’ or there are all of these misperceptions that get to be proliferated and we speak about how to improve our campus community but to many people, it just seems like a minority problem and it’s not.

So, just making that conversation more transparent for people who aren’t necessarily eager to know but obviously need to know for this campus to be safe for everyone and healthy for everyone and that’s a happy place for everyone.  It requires other people in the conversation.  I don’t know how that’s going to happen.  I’ve been here for four years and I’ve tried – I’ve had the conversations I can have with people who aren’t minorities but just a greater administrative effort as well, because I know that the protest – this was probably the last straw.

It’s always in an – it’s in a greater campus security and making our campus safe tone, which is important, but it’s kind of going around the specific issues, especially for people who would not have known or felt targeted by them.


Burgett:          One of the things I think I’ve heard you saying is one of the things we have heard in other town hall meetings and the fact of the matter is, I think you’re exhorting our colleagues here in this room to be part of the army that addresses these issues – it isn’t the president alone who does it, it isn’t I alone or Dean Feldman.  I’d like to ask a member of our commission, Guylda – Dr. Richard; I like to be calling her ‘Doctor’ because we’re going to be calling her Doctor before long.  She ends the town hall meetings with an exhortation and there seems no better time to do that than right now.

Richard:         Thank you.  So, I’m a second year medical student across the street and one of the things I’ve noticed is that before being involved on the commission, it seemed like the Med Center was isolated and the issues were only for the Med Center.  Being involved in these conversations in all these town hall meetings, the conversations are all the same – problems are all the same and the issues come up consistently.  It doesn’t matter where we are on the undergrad campus, the Med Center or here; these are all the same issues.

At the first town hall meeting, I noticed all the people who attended were there obviously because they have a particular interest in what’s going on.  They care about the issues, they want to know how they can either be more helpful or how they have been a part of this climate that isn’t so healthy.  So I end the meetings by saying ‘Now that you’ve heard, if you didn’t already know what has been going on, now that you’ve heard from different people and different stories and the different themes, I challenge you to take that message and bring it to the people who aren’t in this room, because those are the people who really need to hear it.’

In terms of bringing the message more broadly, I think that’s the best thing we can do and for all the people in this room to do.  You have influence in reaching people I will never reach, but they still need to hear that message.  And it’s very tiring, as you were mentioning, to have these conversations consistently.  It’s time now for other people to take some of that burden off our shoulders so that these conversations get spread and so actions come from these town hall meetings.  It’s one thing to talk about everything that’s going on but it’s another thing to have actions come from it.

I usually end the meetings by saying ‘This is my challenge to you; to take these conversations to your respective departments, your respective schools, and bring it to your classmates.  If you see an instance where there’s a micro-aggression or you’re experiencing it, call that out.  Bring it up. Say ‘I don’t think this is right’ or ‘I don’t think this is something that fosters a diverse and inclusive culture.’  Question the things that don’t seem right with you and are unsettling; there’s a reason why they’re unsettling.


Feldman:       I’ll just add a little bit to that.  I think one of the other charges or one of the other things President Seligman did in his message to the community in November was to ask two people in the college – Norm Burnett, who runs the Office of Minority Student Affairs and Beth Olivares, who runs the Kearns Center – to lead an anti-racism campaign.  They’ve had a couple of meetings of their group; they told me 70 or so people showed up to the first one and they’re meeting actually right now with a group of students and staff to work on that.

Two of the things they’ve identified as principles governing their work are that whatever they come up with, it has to be unavoidable – that is, it has to touch everyone.  Another is that it has to be sustainable; it’s not a one-and-done thing, but something that will go on.  They’re a very creative group, they’ve got lots of ideas and it’s in the early stages.  Their goal is to have some very public, visible, inclusive campaign directed at hate speech and racist behavior and I’m optimistic that they will make real progress on that.

Burgett:          Yes?

Suzannah:    Okay, thank you.  I’m Suzannah, I’m a psychology faculty member in pediatrics. It’s wonderful to hear about all these encouragements for grassroots campaigns and growing of awareness, which is so important, and I love the points that have been made so far.  It seems like it would also be important for there to be some top-down processes, for the university as a whole to send a consistent message to the people who aren’t showing up for this kind of meeting about what next steps need to be.

It seems to me the training level is an excellent place to start this, so APA and AMA have their recommendations and accreditation process and inclusion is a part of that; that’s how they operate.  But wouldn’t it be a powerful message if the U of R said that as part of getting an education at the University of Rochester, this is what you have to accomplish in terms of education on cultural humility?  This is a university that has a far reach in terms of contact and the number of students and employees and people who work here, but also in terms of the patients we serve in the community.

I don’t know what the power is of the committee to do something like that, but it would be wonderful if something could be integrated at the training level like that.  If you get your education here, you get an additional education and experience in cultural humility that would have a longer-lasting effect and send a consistent message not only to the people who are educated here but also to our community.


Burgett:          The issue of curriculum is, of course, the responsibility of the faculty and the Commission on Race and Diversity can make whatever recommendations it thinks is appropriate given the data that it has gathered.  What you have just suggested is not far-fetched at all – that indeed, we’re entirely at liberty to recommend to the president that the sorts of things you mentioned be taken under advisement and considered and taken up with the people who have the authority and responsibility for it, which is the faculty.  Thank you.  Yes?

Campbell:      Hello, everyone.  My name is Ashley Campbell.  I am primarily over in the River Campus in the Office of Faculty Development and Diversity and I want to go back for a few moments to question #3 in regards to the elements of campus life that are needed to create a healthy environment.  One thing that I’ve really been meditating and thinking about for quite some time is that  a lot of it has to start with us; we in our own person have to make up our mind that we want to be in a healthy space and whatever that means to us is what we must project out.  A lot of times we wait for others to create an event, create a training or other things, which are great.  We have awesome figureheads who are in the roles to help usher things along but at the end of the day, it still has to come back to what actions are we going to be committed to going forward.  I just wanted to offer that as a bullet for number 3.


Jose:               Good afternoon my name is Jose Perpignan; I’m a third semester AP&N student as well as the chair of LIFT – Leading with Integrity For Tomorrow.  I just want to make a point about point 4, recommendations to improve our community.  For example, we had a speaker come in to one of our classes a week ago or so; her name was Phyllis Jackson. I don’t know if you guys are familiar with her but she introduced to me – I didn’t know this is going on – the health initiative where she goes into the community, into different barbershops or hair salons where people that live in the community outside of Rochester spend their time and money.

What she does is she gets a couple nursing students and others throughout the campus, and they’ll check blood pressures and give education and health tips on diabetes, obesity and other things. I thought that would be a great way to improve the community because we’re going into their element and their space and showing them what it is we’re doing in our space.  I feel like there’s not enough of that because I didn’t know about a lot of the diversity groups throughout the campus – there’s a lot I haven’t heard of, and just going through the community to the Boys & Girls Club, for example, on a weekend and playing some basketball or speak with the kids there.  I was foreign to them, being an African-American male in college on top of I dress like them, so I can relate to them.  I felt like there’s a huge disconnect because when they do see people of a different color or different races in a suit, they’re intimidated.  I feel like there should be more projects like what Dr. Phyllis is doing at the barbershops because it’ll make them feel comfortable with seeing different types of people and that diversity that we’re trying to promote.

So I just wanted to share that as a recommendation throughout the campus; I think that would be a very, very good way to bridge the gap between the community and the campus community overall.


Bartels:           Hello, everybody. My name is Josef Bartels; I’m a fourth year medical student.  I also wanted to sort of address some things that I’ve experienced, that I’ve become aware of rather late in my time at the medical school.

I wanted to start by piggybacking off the idea that the campus community is not separate from the entire community and yet, the Medical School in particular – I can’t speak to the other facilities or campuses – doesn’t provide a lot of tools to engage actively with the community until there is one sort of month experience in the very end of medical school called ‘Community Health Improvement Course’ and it comes really, really late.  There are students who seek it out earlier and there is a very active minority that does that, but I definitely think that could be improved, thinking about how we could start the partnership with the community. Many of us are not only here for four years; I was here for four years for medical school, public health degree and maybe residency as well, and that’s a significant time and many people end up staying here.

Additionally there’s been some pushback against trying to get involved politically. In fact, recently I tried to get out of a class to go lobby in Albany and was told that was not a valid reason for being out of class, so there is a bit of dissuasion from being involved politically; especially as medical professionals, we get the undertone of ‘You have to be politically neutral; it’s not okay to advocate one way or the other’ when, in fact, certain policies do impact directly both the health and the diversity of our medical school community, particularly things like school policy in Rochester public schools, housing policies and policing policies. I think medical students have almost an obligation to be involved in or at least aware of, but it doesn’t seem to be part of our curriculum or awareness within our faculty.

Second, concerning admission criteria, it’s pretty clear in terms of physician quality that your performance on standardized tests doesn’t predict the health of your community. I’d like to request that the University of Rochester become a leader in taking advantage of the flexibility that the AAMC gives in terms of determining what criteria we use to accept students. I think that relying on old-fashioned prerequisites of all these crazy classes like biochemistry, physics and things I don’t think I’ve used once in my medical training yet, as well as a reliance on your score on the MCAT only selects for the status quo, and it ends up selecting – yesterday, there was a college student who was shadowing where I’m doing my rotation who was interested in tissue engineering and I think that’s great, but that’s not the kind of interest and humanism and cultural awareness that’s going to change the health of our communities and is going to help change some of the status quo we have going on in medicine, so I think that Rochester could really lead in terms of modulating what are the prerequisites for getting into medical school, in order to recognize accomplishments and achievements that occur outside of an MCAT and your particular performance on a bunch of science courses that aren’t really relevant to practicing medicine.  That’s all I have to say.


[conversations in background]

(Weatherby):             Hi, my name is Jonathan Weatherby, I’m the staff diversity co-chair for our council on diversity and inclusiveness here and I actually wanted to go back to something that Darya said. She mentioned there’s a lot of visibility for minorities in certain strata of employment; we all recognize that food service workers on the River Campus, there’s a large minority population there; in the Medical Center, the environmental services workers, and then we do have some very key higher positions that are occupied by members of minority communities.  But I feel like somewhere in the middle, especially with the staff, there tends to be a lower number of visible minorities represented.  I know that our faculty diversity officers have a mandate that whenever we have a large search committee for faculty members, for higher members of the administration, they work very closely with the search committees to cast a very wide net so that we are not hand-picking individuals that look like everybody else we already have.

But, I think there’s a large middle group where the recruitment is a little less formal, or does not have the same kind of focus on trying to bring in diverse populations; we are missing a lot of opportunities for increasing our overall diversity.  I think that leads to the situation that Darya described where we’re seeing people at the very bottom and at the very top of the pay scales, but we’re not seeing that striation throughout saying ‘Wherever your skill levels lie, whatever your interest is, there’s an entry point for you and you are being valued there.’

I was wondering if the Commission has any ideas for initiatives to increase recruitment or hiring throughout the pay scale, rather than just focusing on a top-down solution where we’re focusing on areas where we have larger, structured search committees.

Burgett:          Fortunately, we have the associate VP for human resources here, so Tony Kinslow might like to address that.

Kinslow:         Thank you.  As a matter of fact, we are certainly looking into that; I’m working with Dr. Vivian Lewis and others to take a look at what we can do to make sure we diversify the pool of candidates in the middle levels.  We are doing some things now to try and do that, so we do try to add to the pipeline of candidates that are applying for that middle level of positions; we do send recommendations to the departments from time to time.  We’ve had some success in getting those people interviewed and hired when we do that, but that is a small piece when you think about the number of applicants and hiring opportunities in this organization.  We’re looking for a way to step that up in the coming year.

Feldman:       I’ll just add a very little bit.  The Commission has not addressed that topic yet because we have not looked at staff and faculty issues yet.  I will say at the college I’m responsible for appointments in lots of the college support offices – education abroad, career center, and things like that – and I can say with confidence that in searches in those domains we’ve been very conscious about trying to cast a wide net and attract a diverse pool of applications, with some success.  Real success, I’d say.

Peterdy:                     Hi, my name is Liz Peterdy and I’m a lab manager here at the U of R.  Oh, I have to stand.  So I’m a parent of a 13-year old biracial boy; I’m looking at his future and I’m looking at the kids in the community and I want to know, not just now but in the future, what are we looking at in the community to bring more children to campus and give them opportunities to learn about math and science, nursing – what are we doing to subsidize so these kids can come and feel welcome on this campus and in this community, and feel like they can be part of the future here?

Feldman:                   Just to make sure I understood the question, are you asking about what we’re doing for younger children as opposed to attracting college students?

Peterdy:         Not just college students but high school students and middle school students; what are we doing to outreach into the communities?

Feldman:                   There are a number of things. I think the set of initiatives that I mentioned at the outset we’re putting together will give us a broader view of that.  In the college, I can say that I’ve mentioned a couple of times that the Kearns Center, one of the programs they have – they have Upward Bound programs that I think, I think they have in the neighborhood of 100 students they work with in a year, and it’s all about encouraging and preparing students for college.  They have enormous success with the students that they work with.

They also have college prep centers in some high schools in the city; the Kearns Center is all about the pipeline and it works with students at various levels, encouraging them to go to the next level, and that’s one place where we’re quite active.  I know there are things around the university; I’m less prepared –

Male:              Hillside.

Feldman:                   That’s right, Hillside.  Perhaps somebody else can speak?

Seligman:      I’ve been struck since I came here – there are 33,000 students currently in the Rochester City School System; the school system has a graduation rate of 46 percent, according to the most recent data.  Poverty in the City of Rochester is absolutely egregious.  We are among the nation’s leaders, unfortunately, in severe poverty for our young.  The university’s become increasingly involved in a different dimension of what you’re commenting on, whether it’s reaching out to East High School, whether it’s being part of a conversation throughout the Rochester – I’m sorry, the Finger Lakes Regional Development Council, on how does one turn around among the most challenged neighborhoods in the City of Rochester as part of the $500 million we won for the upstate revitalization initiative.

You proceed at all sorts of levels, from a program that was started in Arts, Science and Engineering called “The Rochester Promise” to have free ride tuition support for students from the City of Rochester, to recognizing STEM programs as Rich suggested and opening up our campus on weekends, opening up the Eastman School of Music, focusing on every mechanism we achieve.  We have to have, as one of the persons who spoke said, some humility; we can’t do everything all by ourselves, but the reality is whether it’s structural racism, whether it’s poverty, whether it is difficulties so many students have graduating from high school in our community, these are our problems – we’re part of the community as well. That’s a different kind of conversation than what we’re having today, but it’s one where the university is increasingly, deeply involved, and I’ve been impressed with how many people volunteer, quietly volunteer for over 200 different activities in our community.

If you’re suggesting we haven’t gone far enough, you’re right.  I don’t know of any city that’s gone far enough at this point, but I will tell you we’re increasingly alert to the challenges, increasingly particularly focusing on the challenge of K-12 education in Rochester.

Rideout:         Hi, my name is Kathy Rideout and I’m dean of the School of Nursing.  I will share with you that every year we have a program called “See What You Can Be” where we have students from the inner city schools – basically it’s one of the schools that has a high refugee population – that we bring to the School of Nursing and the medical students, the nursing students, the physical therapists and the nutritionists have stations where the children rotate through the different stations and learn about health careers.  They spend the day with us and then they go to the River Campus, I think to the Kearns Center, where they continue on in thinking about what their future could be.  That’s been an annual event we’ve had now for six years, and that’s really been quite successful.

Burgett:          Joel, did you mention the Hillside Work Scholarship?

Seligman:      I did not.

Burgett:          We have the Hillside Work Scholarship Connection program which actually employs about 150 Rochester City School District children throughout the university – not surprisingly, most of them are in the medical center – and the whole point is to not just ensure these students graduate from high school, but an important goal beyond that is a college education for them as well.  So they’re getting a work experience and the graduation rate for the students that the current director is reporting out is exceptionally high. I just thought I would mention the Hillside Work Scholarship Connection program as well.

Chaudron:     And I’d just like to mention at the medical school there are a variety of programs; I’m not going to list them but I think the inventory that we’re putting together, it will be very helpful.  As you can hear, there are things all over the place but to have a coordinated approach so people can access immediately what’s available is what we’re looking at.  Hopefully that’s helpful.

Female:          I wanted to piggyback actually off of the comments that were made.  As a student and talking about a lot of the initiatives that are already in place, there are a lot of student-run organizations where we are very active in the communities and we’re very active in going to places where we’re needed the most. So, again, you heard about the inventory of everything that’s already in place, but I wanted you to know that as students, we are also looking at ways that we can be mentors because we have been mentored before.

Hutchison:                I just wanted to say something very quickly because I’m teaching one of those 1 o’clock classes – I snuck out and back.  My name is Floyd Hutchison; I am a several time graduate of the School of Nursing and a Robert Wood Johnson scholar.  The Robert Wood Johnson program was for minority leadership and mentorship.  Through our dean, Kathy Rideout, she works diligently to obtain this grant year after year after year and being a part of that, not only am I a graduate of that, but now as faculty, that program allowed a lot of – it allowed me to start having some conversations I don’t think I ever would have had and put me in a position that I feel empowered to have those conversations with my peers, now as faculty.

I guess I’m talking about point 2 – things that have strengthened this climate.  While this has ended, it hasn’t because the school has worked very hard to put us in positions where we can continue to have conversations.  I encourage the university as a whole to continue to seek out every and all opportunities to do these types of endeavors. It makes a huge difference and it’s continuing to make a difference.


Female:          I just have a question; do you guys have data on whether the number of students from Rochester City School Districts coming to the U of R, if that has increased like attending as students?  I am part of a tutoring group and we also have students that come to the River Campus and when they come, it’s kind of like this is cool for them but they don’t necessarily all see themselves as being able to achieve attendance at this school.

Feldman:                   I believe the number has increased somewhat since the Rochester Promise program has been in effect; I’m not sure if that was exactly your question.  But I don’t have exact data on that and I’m a little reluctant to say more without checking.  I can look into that.

Burgett:          Anyone want to take the last comment?  Yes?

Female:          Thanks.  I think someone already mentioned this, but if there was a way to compile a toolkit that we could all access that has a list of all the programs that are available, any readings, workshops or other resources online that you think would be helpful. I think that what happens a lot is individual departments or divisions we start a lot of open forums and task forces and it’s like you’re starting from scratch every time and nobody knows what they’re doing. If there was a vetted group of resources that we could go to I think it would further our conversations faster, much more quickly.  Thank you.


Seligman:      Let me again just thank not only those of you who are still in the room but those who were in the room in absentia for your comments. This is part of a process and Paul and Rich and the commission are gathering a lot of information.  In academic terms, this is going to move quickly.  There’ll be, as Paul puts it, a preliminary assessment on January 31 and as Rich puts it, an interim report; whatever it is, it will be the first of at least two reports this semester – the first will focus on students or largely on students; the second perhaps will also address faculty and staff as well.  Great ideas have been shared through the process, orally and in writing.  I have not participated in the meetings of the commission but there have been several.

One of the reasons that from time to time a commission like this is appointed is to take some very bright people with very different experiences throughout the whole campus and get them together to really focus hard on this.  Some of the phrases that have been used in here have got to be part of the ultimate recommendations.  These include:  they have to be sustainable – we don’t want to do things that will make us feel good for a few weeks or months and then can’t endure; they have to be across campus, and some of them frankly, will be within Arts Science or within the School of Medicine and Dentistry or the School of Nursing.

What I’ve focused on more than anything else in this effort are common themes and common efforts; I guess to put it in different terms, there are so many different types of solutions we want to experience.  Someone mentioned no one should live in fear and I brought that up initially, but there’s much more about this that we want to address.

I’m going to comment on something that nobody has said at any of the town hall meetings but it’s worth recognizing.  This also is a year of presidential election and without giving anything away, some candidates in at least one of the parties have said things that have been as ugly, divisive, racist, as I’ve ever heard in a presidential election and I’ve been paying attention to them now for over 50 years.

In a certain sense, what we’re part of is an effort to grapple with the soul of this country.  Are we going to be the kind of country that tells people they’re not welcome or builds walls or basically makes decisions based on the basis of the color of your skin or your religion, or are we going to be a kind of country that wants to continue the imperfect progress that we’ve made, but some progress nonetheless, to build a country where all feel welcomed and included?

I can’t decide that; none of us can – that’s a national election.  But what we can address is at least what kind of campus we want to be.  There’s one wall I don’t ever want to see built again or built at all and that’s between us and the greater community.  We’ve grown closer to Rochester, we’ve grown closer to our surrounding communities; it isn’t easy, it wasn’t intuitive and it wasn’t natural, but it’s so important.  We live here and the challenges of the City of Rochester are ours as well. In a certain sense, as we make this campus a more inclusive and welcoming one where issues of racism are less and less evident, we’re also a role model for a community and that’s something we want to continue to be.

I’ve spoken more at this town hall than any other.  As Kathy Rideout knows, there almost always is larger pro rata attendance at the School of Nursing than any other school on campus.  Frankly, I feel more welcome here.  I can’t always come here because it is by far, in my limited experience, the most fattening school.  I’ve never been here without carbohydrates being thrust upon me.  {chuckles}


Thank you all.