“I Am Oz” is a statement familiar to most students, faculty, staff and recent alumni of the State University of New York College at Oswego (SUNY Oswego). It is the inclusive and welcoming statement that has been the opener for acknowledging and learning about the broad ethnic and cultural backgrounds of students, faculty and staff at the institution from every background. This week the college welcomed to campus more than 2,100 new students and the college is celebrating its most culturally diverse (defined as students who self-identify as Hispanic, Asian, African-American, Native American, Pacific Islander or in more than one category) student body in the college’s history—25.8% of the total undergraduate and graduate population including a record-setting 33.8% of the first-year class, up 3.2% from last year’s first-year class and an 80% increase from 2010. Each of these students are now a part of “Oz” and, together, they are transforming and shining the light on Oz.
The “I Am Oz” campaign includes infusing diversity topics into new student orientation programs; diversity and inclusion training for faculty, staff and students; hosting nationally known speakers during the federal heritage months; and developing programs specific to the culture being celebrated such as the “I Am Oz” diversity portrait project: aligned with the federal heritage months. The portrait series showcases and celebrates culturally diverse students, faculty and staff at many venues across campus. “I Am Oz” is just one way our students find their place at SUNY Oswego.
This campus ethos of acceptance and pride that has been cultivated and advanced is producing a culturally rich and inclusive campus of students, faculty, staff and senior leadership.
In 2016, a “Shine the Light on Oz” initiative was created to build off the “I Am Oz” campaign. “Shine the Light on Oz” encourages meaningful conversation—in person and on social media—among students, faculty and staff about differences, as well as being understood, in realms such as race, gender, sexual orientation, ability, religion and socioeconomic circumstances.
This month, the college will kick-off its “Oz Speaks” series, a new twist on “Shine the Light on Oz.” “Oz Speaks” will enable the campus to come together to share thoughts on recent national events surrounding race, gender, religion, politics, sexual orientation and racial profiling, encouraging deeper understanding and promoting strength and knowledge through communication.
“At SUNY Oswego we have been collaborating across lines of students, faculty and staff, drawing input from a broader array of perspectives represented in this vibrant college community. We have been building new traditions for several years, working together to unite and carry forward important values,” President Deborah Stanley explained. This past January, the college held its 27th annual Martin Luther King Jr. celebration with Dr. Bernice A. King, daughter of Martin Luther King, Jr. as the keynote speaker.
This September current students and alumni will gather for the college’s 30th consecutive ALANA (African, Latino, Asian, Native American) conference to participate in a full week of dynamic programming and campus pride.
SUNY Oswego invests in sending its students abroad to immerse themselves in new cultures, landscapes and ways of thought. In January 2016, the Institute for International Education chose Oswego’s “I, Too, Am Study Abroad” campaign for honorable mention in its Andrew Heiskell Awards for Innovation in an International Education program. In 2015-16, more than 25% of study abroad participants identified as culturally diverse students compared to just 13% in 2010-11.
“We know good students are attracted to an environment where they will be challenged in their studies and where they will have the opportunity to explore, grow and succeed. However, they are more likely to persist and graduate and then engage with the campus as alumni if they can see themselves in the student population and in the faculty, staff and administrators who are there to support and enrich them,” explained Dean of Students Dr. Jerri (Drummond) Howland.
This Fall, SUNY Oswego welcomed 81 new faculty and professional staff, of which 28% self-identify as culturally diverse, more than doubling the number of last year’s culturally diverse new hires.
The campus employs a team approach toward achieving institutional goals, propelling the college forward. And, President Stanley is highly visible, holding Town Hall meetings as well as regular 1:1 drop-in hours for faculty and staff and students, to foster timely and open communication about concerns and stresses as well as celebrations and successes and to nurture relationships across campus and in the greater Oswego community.