ST. BONAVENTURE, NY – While work still needs to be done, St. Bonaventure University has made great strides to promote diversity and inclusiveness on campus, according to the coordinator of the university's Damietta Center for Multicultural Student Affairs.
“It is a phenomenal time to be at Bonaventure,” said Parker Suddeth.
Thursday, Richard Lee, associate professor of journalism, interviewed Suddeth about Black History Month. The conversation took place on the second floor of the Hickey Dining Hall as a part of the university’s weekly Thursday forum series. More than 20 faculty members, staff and students attended.
While much of the conversation was dominated by general discussions on race relations in Olean and throughout the country, Suddeth expressed his disappointment that recognition of black history was restricted to the shortest month of the year. His message about Black History Month was clear: “Black history is happening now, every day,” said Suddeth.
Suddeth recalled that when he first came to St. Bonaventure for an interview in 2015, he noticed a very poor and a very white community. Although he expressed initial reservations about taking a job in Olean, he recalled how relieved he was to discover a black bartender at Applebee's, to find out about a black barber in Olean, and to encounter an African American administrator, Kerelle Caldwell, who had been assistant director of the Higher Education Opportunity Program, on campus.
A major problem for St. Bonaventure is student and faculty apathy about diversity, which Suddeth said was at an all-time high.
White professors are not comfortable having difficult but necessary conversations about race with students of color, Suddeth said, adding that one reason for this hesitation is the fear of being perceived as racist.
Fitting in at a predominantly white school and community can be daunting for students of color. According to Suddeth, white faculty members and students are responsible for integrating and including students of color. Professors should meet students where they are at in life to try and tackle lack of confidence, said Suddeth.
This academic year, St. Bonaventure has taken several steps to reform its core curriculum to provide more classes on diversity and inclusiveness.
Suddeth is a co-chair on a committee to define diversity as it pertains to the new curriculum. The committee plans to develop criteria for determining whether classes are including discussions about diversity, said Suddeth.
While the need to reach out to people of color is imperative, diversity also includes the incorporation of socio-economic, religious, and cultural backgrounds, said Suddeth.
“I’m not just here for students of color but all students,” said Suddeth.