The last set of questions for the chancellor of the State University of New York system were about getting another opportunity to talk to her.
“When are you coming back? Three weeks?”
“It might be longer than three weeks,” Kristina Johnson told a couple dozen College at Brockport students sitting with her in a circle in a room in Tuttle North.
“Will you let us know?” one asked.
The question underscored one of the reasons why Johnson came to campus March 5 to meet with students, faculty and the president. In the weeks since chief diversity officer Cephas Archie was fired in late January, students and staff have criticized president Heidi Macpherson for, among other things, ineffective communication.
An external report commissioned last fall to assess the campus climate — before any issues about diversity, equity and inclusion came to public attention – led to recommendations for the administration in the areas of values and strategies, training to recognize implicit bias and reporting of incidents relating to bias.
Johnson met with different campus groups. Immediately after a news conference, she met with one group of students – predominantly students of color — from various campus organizations.
Daniel Jimenez, advocacy coordinator for Brockport Student Government, said students of color wanted to voice their concerns about being underrepresented on campus. He said there is a lack of resources and staff to allow minority students to thrive.
“We’ve protested, we’ve written a list of demands and finally we’ve gotten to this point,” he said. “At least the students have been heard. It’s a good thing the higher ups, above the president, have listened to our voice. Because it seems like the president in recent times has been the end all be all voice for students.”
Johnson took questions from the group for about 30 minutes. Some said the issues for minority students have been going on for generations, and that alumni tell incoming students about their own experiences. One senior said he would have left Brockport if not for a mentor, but he said they are scarce. Other students said there was lack of diversity in the counseling center and in the campus police department.
Johnson spent most of the time listening, and she thanked the students for sharing their concerns.
Rodmon King, the chief diversity officer of SUNY Oswego who was assigned by Johnson to help at Brockport, also addressed the students.
“I did not come here just to walk around the campus,” said King, who during his three-month assignment will divide his time between Brockport and Oswego. “The commitment for change from this community, this administration and from the SUNY offices is serious. I understand that you will believe that when you actually see the fruit of that.”
Jimenez said the SUNY leadership seemed committed to upholding diversity standards and would not let Brockport slip.
“Now that eyes are on SUNY Brockport, things are going to happen, whether the administration wants it to or not,” he said.
Johnson would not directly address Macpherson.
During the news conference, the chancellor deflected two questions about the status of the campus president.
Asked whether Johnson planned to make a change in the college administration, she said, “I am here to talk about Brockport and to support the institution, not to talk about one individual.”
To a follow up about whether she had faith in Macpherson, Johnson said, “I have faith in Brockport as an institution and that we are going to move forward.”
As for diversity on SUNY campuses, Johnson said that students of color make up 35% of enrollment across the system. That rises to 42% in Asians are included. She said the percentage of faculty of color is 9%.
The visit was Johnson’s second to Brockport. She toured the campus in October 2018 in what she called a meet-and-greet of all the SUNY campuses.
Macpherson had been named president of Brockport in 2015. Johnson was asked if she thought she’d be back to deal with the current issues facing the campus.
“Now that I’ve been to all the campuses … now we can start to work on some of the detail issues that are important and where we need to make change.”