Being Attentive to Inclusion During a Crisis: 5 Questions with Tamra Minor

Being Attentive to Inclusion During a Crisis: 5 Questions with Tamra Minor

Tamra Minor, PhD

Chief Diversity Officer Tamra Minor.

ALBANY, N.Y. (April 9, 2020) – The COVID-19 pandemic and the disruption it has caused on campuses around the world has made abundantly clear the need for inclusion on university campuses. The University at Albany’s Chief Diversity Officer Tamra Minor has been collaborating with colleagues across the country and shares her insights on some of the major inclusion challenges universities like ours are facing.

What are some of the specific needs facing UAlbany students?

As we prepared to launch online instruction, I considered the various circumstances that may make remote learning a challenge for our students. Questions of technological access, privacy for Zoom sessions, and returning to unsafe living conditions or food insecurities. I was concerned that LGBTQ students who may have “come out” while at UAlbany may not find a supportive community when they returned home. Also, how would our students handle the stress of these issues and do they have the support through counseling or other services they would have had here on campus?

What about faculty?

Some faculty faced a learning curve to remotely teach classes that were designed for face-to-face delivery and had to adjust their strategies to their students’ different modes of learning. For example, faculty must present materials online in a format that students can not only access from computers but from smartphones or tablets as well. Faculty must also be prepared to deal with technical questions about Zoom or Blackboard, or understand how to seek guidance.

Additionally, many faculty are very concerned about the significant disruptions to their research that the working-from-home directive has caused, epecially junior faculty, whose tenure clock is ticking. This is a rising concern for many as labs have shuttered, research presentations at conferences canceled, and their doctoral students’ work halted.

The Office of the Provost is fully committed to the faculty’s success and will address and respond to their teaching and research needs and concerns. Regarding student course evaluations, faculty will be able to opt-in or out- of participating in the normal SIRF process. Similarly, faculty will be able to pause the tenure clock and request an extension of their probationary period to gain additional time before the tenure review.

What about scapegoating in the wake of the virus?

As the COVID-19 crisis evolved, some members of our UAlbany community of Asian descent reported being the targets of insensitive or discriminatory speech and other anti-Asian sentiment because of the virus’s origin in China.

When a major incident with global and regional implications occurs over which people feel they have no control, anxiety tends to rise. Under such circumstances it is unfortunately true that some individuals start scapegoating others based on their ethnic identity or appearance. As educators, we play a major role in confronting stereotyping and conveying inclusivity to our students and all members of our University community, regardless of their ethnicity or country of origin.

What is UAlbany doing to address these issues?

The University has established a variety of resources to foster an inclusive campus community including:

  • The Remote Teaching "Brown Bag" Series hosted by the Institute on Teaching and Learning staff (ITLAL) provides a place where faculty are discussing how to use asynchronous discussions effectively, attending to students’ mental health concerns and their emotional well-being, and sharing best practices to ensure equity and access. Additional technology related assistance is also available through this site.

  • The Student Emergency Fund is raising money to help students experiencing unexpected and extreme need during the COVID-19 crisis, and the Purple Pantry continues to provide resources to food-insecure students.

  • In conjunction with SUNY, the University’s Dean of Students’ Office has been identifying students in need of a computer and technical assistance to help them continue their studies. Students can make their needs known by completing the UGE Tech Survey.

  • The University continues to offer Telehealth Services to students to via phone and/or Zoom during this time.

  • Tips and resources for supporting LGBTQ students remotely have been shared by Courtney D’Allaird, coordinator of the Gender & Sexuality Resource Center.

  • The Student Affairs Office supported housing exemptions for students with extenuating circumstances that make leaving campus difficult or impossible.

  • The Office of Diversity and Inclusion, in collaboration with the Provost’s Office, is exploring the experiences of various campus constituencies with the goal of developing and implementing interventions as appropriate.

Are there lessons for the future?

In times of crisis, it is important to remain steadfast to our University’s core priorities of diversity and inclusion. UAlbany is committed to its diverse community of faculty, students and staff, and will work diligently to ensure all members of our community have the tools needed to be successful.

We recognize that navigating unknown waters presents great challenges, but together we have the ability to address these challenges effectively. Whatever happens, I am confident that we will rise to the occasion and continue to foster a supportive and inclusive campus environment of which we can all be proud.