Reaffirming Presidential Commitment to Diversity & Inclusion
By Loukaia Taylor, ’22
President Joe Bertolino and Executive Vice President Terricita Sass sat down with the full Campus Committee on Diversity & Inclusion Excellence to discuss the future of diversity and inclusion at Stockton University. Below is a summary of the October conversation.
Around 30 committee members – some new, some returning – gathered in the Constantelos Hellenic Reading Room in the Richard Bjork Library to discuss the committee and its purpose on campus with the new president and vice president.
The meeting was two-fold: it served as an introduction to the initiatives that have come out of the committee’s various subcommittees and a chance for both President Joe and Dr. Sass to explore the past, present and future of diversity on campus.
After both President Joe and Dr. Sass emphasized that they were ready to learn and listen, the discussion began and centered on concerns raised about staff and faculty support following the COVID-19 pandemic and what kind of culture shift is necessary for it.
Prior to the pandemic, Stockton was on a trajectory to reach 10,000 students and was opening new campuses and buildings to accommodate the growth. COVID-19 soon flipped the world upside down and left faculty and staff scrambling to adjust to the new world order.
This sudden break in pace affected everybody on campus, including faculty and staff still dedicated to diversity and inclusion. Feelings of burnout were intensified by the pressure of being present for students facing similar struggles and challenges.
Part of the conversation we want to have now is how we create an infrastructure that supports DEI, social justice and belonging – particularly given the politics and what folks are trying to disassemble around the country – that is strategic in terms of protecting our institution and the students... (EVP Sass and I) lead as a team here on an executive level, but beyond that, I want all of us to lead as a team, and I want us to lead, function and model that for each other and for our students as a community.”
“Part of the conversation we want to have now is how we create an infrastructure that supports DEI, social justice and belonging – particularly given the politics and what folks are trying to disassemble around the country – that is strategic in terms of protecting our institution and the students,” President Joe said.
After acknowledging and thanking the committee for their transparency and vulnerability, both President Joe and Dr. Sass highlighted the need for intentionality in building structures that provide the kind of support that was brought up during the conversation.
“(Autumn Jam) was a very intentional event. We wanted to make sure that there were people from faculty, staff and maintenance who could connect. This was all by design. And so, I would ask us to think about – when we talk about metrics – how do we measure improvement? We think about the intentionality of a gathering like this, and while listening is certainly foundational, helpful and, in lots of cases, therapeutic, then what? What are the structures that we need to build? What are the things that we need to put in place or consider? How do we get resources or potentially divert resources to be able to do the things that we need? I'm making it my job to bring those structures to bear, to make those modifications and adjustments to take care of our people,” Dr. Sass said.
“That is why we've been having a lot of conversations with different divisions. Dr. Sass is good at crossing the T’s and dotting the I’s, but know that we are of like mind: I tend to ask the question, ‘How do we feel?’ while Dr. Sass says, ‘That's all very nice, but let's talk about some of the facts, data and the process,” President Joe said. “We've known each other for a long time, and I think that we make a pretty good team. We lead as a team here on an executive level, but beyond that, I want all of us to lead as a team, and I want us to lead, function and model that for each other and for our students as a community.”
About the Contributor
Loukaia Taylor is a Multicultural Communication Specialist in University Relations & Marketing, an alumna of the Communication Studies program and a member of the Campus Committee on Diversity and Inclusive Excellence.
Galloway, N.J. – Laughter, companionship and good cheer were ever present in the Campus Center Event Room during the 39th annual Student, Faculty and Staff Dinner on Nov. 16.
Brian K. Jackson, chief operating officer for the Atlantic City campus and emcee for the evening, kicked off the program by encouraging the audience to remember the founders of the dinner, which included Yitzhak Sharon, distinguished professor of Physics, Vera King Farris, the former president of Stockton University from 1983 to 2003, and Gail Rosenthal, the late director of the Sara and Sam Schoffer Holocaust Resource Center. According to Jackson, they created this dinner as a way for the campus community to engage with one another shortly before the holidays.
“This event is very meaningful because it represents a moment where, no matter your race, color, religion, sexual orientation, creed or political beliefs, we all came together to break bread, acknowledge the beginning of the holiday season and, most importantly, enjoy each other's company. We leave our differences at the door, and we celebrate those things which bring us together, our community and to reflect on the importance of our humanity,” Jackson shared.
– Story by Loukaia Taylor
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