Task force suggests 'compulsory social justice training'

A "Social Justice Task Force" is urging SUNY Plattsburgh to adopt a broad array of initiatives designed to create a "culture of social justice" on campus.

In addition to hiring a "chief diversity officer" and "actively and visibly" promoting social justice on campus, the task force also suggests "compulsory" social justice training for students and faculty.

A “Social Justice Task Force” is recommending that SUNY Plattsburgh make wide-ranging and potentially costly efforts to promote “diversity and inclusion” on campus.

In March, the State University of New York at Plattsburgh created a Social Justice Task Force as a response to a outrage over a racist snapchat sent by a student. The task force was charged with “helping college leadership better understand matters of social justice, ensuring all voices are heard,” and articulating “further action steps the college should undertake and/or what other factors should be considered” in order to achieve this goal.

The task force issued its final report in an August 1 memo addressed to University President Dr. John Ettling, outlining 20 specific recommendations for promoting social justice both rhetorically and financially.

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Before introducing its suggestions, the memo identifies seven “key precepts of social justice” that the task force devised based on conversations with “campus and community stakeholders.”

According to the task force, social justice means that “a community must foster access to positive experiences and productive opportunities for all of its members,” as well as “ensure the rights of all of its members” because “marginalized groups are entitled to have their voices heard.”

“Wrongs and harm are to be righted in a way free of blame and judgment,” the document continues, adding that “members of a community must exhibit consistent recognition of the inherent worth, dignity, and contribution of each person in that community.”

In addition, the task force asserts that “members of a community are morally bound to keep those forces in check that would work against justice, equality, and self-determination,” elaborating that a community is “obligated to recognize bias and to responsibly, fairly, and productively address the ways privilege can undermine equitable treatment of its members.”

“The communication by and within a community should be inclusive, not divisive, and used in a manner that nurtures the positive development of its members,” another bullet point states. “Members of a community should promote understanding of the sensitivities and experiences of others, avoid generalizing about groups and individuals within that community, and communicate with civility.”

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With those principles in mind, the task force crafted suggestions for how SUNY Plattsburgh can promote social justice among students and faculty members, as well as with its own rhetoric and policies.

First, the memo suggests that the administration “invest in a culture of social justice by hiring a chief diversity officer,” “allocate resources to transition the affirmative action officer position into a full-time position,” “invest in additional support for the investigative arm of the Title IX office,” and “formulate and approve a long-term strategic plan, with measurable goals to recruit, hire, and retain more faculty from underrepresented groups.”

Turning its attention to the category of Education and Professional Development, the document goes on to recommend that the school create an “employee conduct manual” that can be incorporated “as part of a comprehensive and compulsory social justice training program for employees and service personnel.”

The task force also proposes that all future freshman and transfer orientations should include a “detailed and comprehensive segment on social justice, diversity, inclusion, and equity,” though it also calls for orientation information to incorporate “information regarding First Amendment principles and ways they apply to discourse, dialogue, debate, and behavior in a college setting.”

The administration should also “organize and promote, across disciplines, yearly campus learning activities and events emphasizing diversity and social justice causes,” as well as “highlight the diversity of the college and the region” whenever possible.

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With regard to students, the memo calls on administrators to “actively and visibly encourage faculty-mentored, student-led initiatives that promote ideals and behaviors of inclusion and social justice...and purposefully engage and educate members of the college and community about such ideals.”

The task force even took the time to specify what it means to “actively and visibly” encourage social justice efforts, saying this entails “promoting and sustaining such initiatives through the allocation of resources and continued public acknowledgment of the crucial nature and importance of those initiatives.”

In addition, the memo calls for the administration to “expedite the completion of the ‘Bias Act and Hate Crime Response Policy,’” and devise intake and exit surveys to query students about their “impressions of issues related to social justice and campus climate.”

The memo concludes with a list of miscellaneous suggestions, such as incorporating diversity and social justice into the school’s mission statement, signing the “CEO Action for Diversity and Inclusion Pledge,” and “continue and expand fundraising efforts for mechanisms promoting and sustaining diversity, inclusion, and social justice on campus.”

Moreover, the task force advocates establishing “an independent, permanent social justice advisory group that will identify and monitor crucial social justice issues on campus,” adding that the advisory group should also “monitor and identify funding opportunities related to social justice issues.

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Dr. Jonathan Slater, one of the task force’s two co-chairs, told Campus Reform that it is now up to senior administrators to determine which of the suggestions to implement, and how.

“The Social Justice Task Force recommended to the president that the administration examine best practices for sustaining and promoting the mechanisms of social justice, diversity, and inclusion on college campuses, with the expectation that such practices will be used as benchmarks for SUNY Plattsburgh’s own efforts to sustain and promote those mechanisms on campus,” Slater explained. 

“The recommendation does not call for compilation of a list, but rather the elaboration of a set of best practices,” he added.

Executive Director of Communications and Public Affairs Ken Knelly told Campus Reform that the administration is pleased with the task force’s report, but is still evaluating its recommendations.

“The recommendations are thoughtful and workable. The president publicly thanked the task force,” he noted. “Some points cover areas where we are already advancing. Campus leadership is examining all of these efforts collectively as it moves forward.”

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