A Call to Action

June 18, 2020

Dear UAlbany Community:

These past few months have been of critical importance for our country and our institution, highlighting the very serious issues that continue to divide us as a nation. Recent events have powerfully demonstrated the systemic injustices that adversely affect people of color. COVID-19 has underscored the disparate impacts that pandemics, crises, and disasters have on these communities, especially African American, Latinos/as, and Native Americans.

The COVID-19 pandemic also brought to the forefront structural issues related to inequality, poverty, lack of access to adequate healthcare, discrimination, and racism. Furthermore, over the past three weeks, the massive protests following the tragic and unconscionable death of George Floyd underscore a long history of violence and institutionalized racism that especially impact Black and Brown communities.

We also witnessed social media light up with claims of racism at UAlbany given some alleged behaviors from members of our community. As I stated in my message a couple of weeks ago, as a community that deeply values diversity, equity, and inclusion, UAlbany stands strong in rejecting racism, hate, and violence, which are diametrically opposed to our core beliefs and values.

It is imperative that we do not treat these as separate and distinct events, but as part of the same societal ailments that have afflicted us for generations. However, the question for UAlbany is: what actions can we take that will have a transformational impact on our community?

Once the protests subside; the news media move on to the next crisis; social media focuses on myriad other issues; and once we begin to adapt to the “new normal” of COVID-19, what will we have actually accomplished regarding the deep-seated inequities that have been systematically woven into the fabric of society?

We must act, and we must act now. As an institution, we must address these issues in a holistic manner with concrete initiatives and measurable outcomes. Although we have so much more to do and there is a long road before us, we are hearing the clarion calls for action throughout the University:

  • In a recent statement, the leadership of Rockefeller College asked a critical question, “Do our core courses collectively convey the breadth of information, skills, and perspectives our students need, specifically with regard to goals of diversity and inclusion?”
  • The Dean of the College of Emergency Preparedness, Homeland Security and Cybersecurity challenged members of the CEHC community to become “engaged leaders” and to prepare “professionals who can identify discrimination and inequities; who have the tools and moral resolve to create change and advocate for social justice.”
  • The Dean of the School of Public Health strongly supported the call for “the end of unequal treatment of communities of color, and for the end of racism” and reinforced that “we must commit ourselves to this work in all that we do, and not rest until we see real, lasting change.”
  • The Interim Dean of the School of Education recently indicated that “faculty, staff, students, and other stakeholders have collectively discussed the need for our community to be more purposeful and committed to creating an inclusive and supportive community for all and addressing issues of systemic racism embedded in our own culture, policies, and practices.”
  • The Department of Atmospheric and Environmental Sciences has committed to developing a roadmap “focusing on specific and concrete actions that are meant to increase opportunities for individuals from underrepresented racial groups and address inequities within the department and the broader geoscience community.” 

It is truly encouraging and promising to see our University leaders speaking out to challenge the status quo—and engaging in real and lasting change.

UAlbany will continue to lead and develop concrete strategies and initiatives that will help us focus on: healing our communities, locally and nationally; addressing concerns of our faculty, staff, and students of color; and major research focusing on the elimination of minority health disparities, among other high-impact work.

For example, we currently have an outstanding interdisciplinary research team studying the disproportionate impacts of COVID-19 on Black and Brown communities. We’ve been consistently working to address recommendations made by student leaders last fall related to our campus climate. The Office of Diversity and Inclusion has established nine climate committees across our schools and colleges to examine our progress on diversity, equity, and inclusion. In addition, we established a University-wide Diversity and Inclusive Excellence Task Force that is assessing the impact of UAlbany’s organizational structures, programs, and services, and will provide recommendations to address emerging issues and concerns. These initiatives, among many others, are taking us in the right direction.

As an institution, we see the suffering; we hear the voices of agony and protest; and we must heed the call for universal and systemic change. UAlbany has long spoken out on behalf of diversity, equity, and inclusion. But now we must dig deeper as a community to stand strong and tall against racism, oppression, violence, and hatred.

We must be part of the solution…and it is gratifying to see our faculty, staff, and students actively engaged in this critical effort.

As stated in a recent communication from the Vice President for Student Affairs and our Chief Diversity Officer, although “our campus is not immune to the broader fractures in society…the most important thing is how the members of our community respond…to make UAlbany a place where everyone is and feels welcome.”

As we prepare to celebrate Juneteenth—commemorating the end of slavery in the United States—we need to realize that we can do better; we must do better; and we will do better.



Havidán Rodríguez