State University of New York (SUNY) unveiled its updated Diversity, Equity and Inclusion policy in a news release from Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Thursday, Sept. 10. The new policy will allow students at any of the 64 SUNY campuses to voluntarily self-identify their sexual orientation or gender identity from a wider range of choices.
According to the SUNY news release, the new policy broadly defines diversity to include race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity and expression, age, socioeconomic status, status as a veteran, status as a student with a disability, first-generation students and international students or those transferring between colleges. Students who choose to share their sexual orientation or gender identity will have seven choices, along with a write-in box for an orientation or gender not previously listed. These choices include straight, gay, lesbian, bisexual, pansexual, queer, questioning or unsure of sexual orientation and man, woman, trans man, trans woman, genderqueer/gender-fluid, questioning or unsure for gender identity.
Dr. Kathleen Dowley, head of New Paltz’s Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies (WGSS) department, represented the university within the SUNY-wide Diversity Task Force. She and other representatives worked for a year and a half to collect data, review information and draft this policy, she said.
According to Dowley, students at New Paltz will be invited to confidentially state their gender identity and/or sexual orientation online via my.newpaltz.edu. SUNY administrators hope that this influx of demographic data will give them the information necessary to implement future diversity policies. Dowley cited a few of the policymaker’s biggest concerns, including hiring more diverse professors, developing more comprehensive diversity policies and offering diversity training to SUNY faculty and staff.
On behalf of the SUNY New Paltz administration, Media Relations Manager Chrissie Williams said that the school is prepared to implement the changes stated in the new policy. Williams referenced last year’s new Preferred Names policy as an example of New Paltz’s dedication to the diverse needs of the student body. This policy allows students to request for their student IDs, class rosters, college records and other non-state regulated documents to reflect their preferred names.
“New Paltz is [now] able to offer the student body more options in its commitment to diversity and inclusiveness,” Williams said.
Yet SUNY’s diversity efforts are not without constructive criticism. Dr. Jessica Pabón, associate professor of WGSS, explained how these new opportunities for self-identification should be reinforced by support programs for LGBTQIA+ and gender nonconforming students.
“Ultimately, you can check that gender nonconforming box, or add in the way that you identify, but your experience once you arrive to the particular institution is still unknown,” Pabón said.
Pabón suggested that SUNY administrations hire faculty and staff who are more attentive to the needs of the LGBTQIA+ community. She noted the allies program at SUNY New Paltz, a voluntarily run program which trains professors and administrators to be supportive allies to LGBTQIA+ students, as well as New Paltz’s new Rivera House Living Learning Community. Pabón believes someone should be hired and paid to run these important programs. Hopefully, data gathered from these new policies will provide measurable evidence of a need for such positions and further support systems for students, she said.
Dowley also expressed her discontent with one clause of the new policy, which requires that each SUNY campus hire its own Chief Diversity Officer. According to the official news release, this administrator will work with all campus offices to implement more effective diversity-based policies. However, Dowley said that the funds allocated to this new administrator’s salary could be better spent elsewhere.
“That salary could probably fund two faculty lines,” Dowley added. “This is a big chunk of resources being dedicated to yet another layer of administration, when it could be funding more diversity in the classroom.”
Ultimately, Dowley and Pabón believe that this policy is a positive step forward for SUNY. Both hope that this policy acts as a catalyst for future diversity policies and programs for SUNY students and faculty.
“[This policy] makes a promise I hope we can fulfill,” Pabón said.