My Iona

Diversity & Inclusion Communications

Messages to the Community

To the Iona College Community,

As the world continues to confront the dual pandemics of COVID-19 and institutional racism, so, too, does Iona College. We have communicated extensively about our reopening plans with a spotlight on the health and safety of our students, faculty and staff. But, just as central to our work and our mission has been a focus on addressing social justice and racial equality, starting right here on our own campus. I would like to provide an important update on our progress.

New Appointment and Chief Diversity Officer
First, I would like to announce that Susan D. Toliver, Ph.D., CFLE, has been appointed to the position of adviser to the president on race, inclusion and diversity. A well-respected sociologist with extensive training and experience in multicultural diversity and inclusion, Dr. Toliver formerly served as associate dean of the School of Arts & Science, coordinator of Peace and Justice Education and co-coordinator of Women’s Studies. She brings a wealth of scholarly and institutional knowledge to this new position. Among other duties, Dr. Toliver will consult on diversity training, serve as my liaison to the faculty, identify matters of cultural concern both internally and externally, and work with the search committee to identify the best candidate for the newly created position of Chief Diversity Officer. My thanks and appreciation to Dr. Toliver for accepting this new role in her recent retirement.

Iona’s new Chief Diversity Officer will serve as a critical resource to students, faculty and staff, helping to develop and sustain a strong sense of belonging and inclusion on campus. This person will have overall leadership responsibility for the administration of services, policies, trainings and programs that advance diversity, equity, inclusion, anti-racism and anti-discrimination at Iona. A search committee is currently reviewing candidates, and we hope to have the best person in the position by the end of the year.

Faculty and Curriculum
My sincere appreciation to the Iona faculty who have not hesitated to embrace the emotional work of addressing these important issues from within.

Led by Dr. Natalie Redcross and Dr. Christiana Awosan in collaboration with Dr. Tricia Mulligan, members of the faculty are engaging in an ongoing, introspective process of confronting and eradicating racism and oppression within our community and beyond. As they state in their own words: “With resolve, we are investing time, effort, and resources to identify, understand, address, and dismantle persisting racial inequities at Iona. Collaboratively, we are acquiring the tools to foster an equitable and racially just environment for our students, faculty, staff, administrators, and alumni. Iona will persevere toward this end until we achieve racial equity.” While the anti-racist efforts begin with this group, the sharing and integration of the work throughout the College is the immediate purpose and long-term goal.

Another important curricular step toward making anti-racism a central thread of the Iona core was the selection of this year’s common read for all freshmen in the Columba Cornerstone and the Honors Program. Faculty selected Ta-Nehisi Coates’s Between the World and Me. A letter from father to son written soon after the killings of Renisha McBride, John Crawford, Eric Garner and Tamir Rice, this book sets a foundation for faculty and students to discover and unpack the hard truths about racialized violence and injustice in the U.S.

The commitment toward an anti-racist academic experience is ongoing, including but certainly not limited to the continuation of the Peace and Justice Studies program; the diversity requirements of the Core Curriculum; the Diversity Speaker Series, spearheaded and expanded by the Committee on Diversity; and the focus of the Strategic Innovation Committee to integrate emerging best practices throughout the College. There have also been significant revisions to liberal arts programs, which now more deeply reflect multicultural works, influences and perspectives. We look forward to growing many of these courses and programs.

Students and Organizations
Our student body is also actively embracing the importance of these efforts. The Student Government Association has declared diversity, inclusion and anti-racism as one of its top three priorities for the year. President Maeve Ellen Wydan stated SGA’s support for Black Lives Matter and highlighted the SGA committee dedicated to diversity and advocacy for the equity and inclusion of all students. Working with the Student Leader Alliance for Multiculturalism and College Council Committee on Diversity, SGA is in the process of creating events to educate and promote diversity initiatives globally, nationally, regionally, and most importantly, on our own campus.

Moving Forward
While the hard work will continue to be done from within, we also recognize that sometimes it takes an outside perspective to see the complete picture. As such, Iona will invite an independent organization to do a campus culture study and provide an unbiased look as we move forward in an open and honest way to advance diversity, equity and inclusion both on our campus and beyond. The search for an outside consultant is underway.

I am grateful to the entire campus community for all of the acts, seen and unseen, that cumulatively make Iona the welcoming, inclusive and supportive community that it is today. Together, we can and we will do even better.

Sincerely,
Seamus Carey, Ph.D.
President, Iona College

Dear Colleagues:

As we move forward to the start of next semester, I want to thank you once again for the dedication you have shown to Iona and our students in responding to the COVID pandemic. You may have seen that the pandemic has caused several of our neighboring schools to face budget shortfalls ranging from $10 million to $55 million. These shortfalls are forcing schools to lay off hundreds of workers. While our budget is under pressure for the coming year, we are not facing layoffs. This is in large part due to the effort of everyone on campus. We will need to sustain this effort in order to maintain our fiscal health.

In addition to the COVID pandemic, the past few weeks have shone a bright light on another pandemic that has plagued our nation for centuries: racism. Recent instances of racial injustice and brutality have led to protests throughout our country and around the world. These events have forced all of us to examine our role in the perpetuation of racism and the structures that enable it. In numerous conversations with members of our community, it has become clear to me that Iona is not immune from this pandemic, and that we must address it with the same determination we have brought to the battle against COVID. As with our response to COVID, we will get ahead of the problem only through an intentional, community-wide effort. We will address our shortcomings in both the short and the long term.

Slavery is this country’s original sin, and racism our chronic disease. Iona was founded to empower students to live a healthy and full life through education, to lift up the marginalized, to pursue truth and promote justice. We cannot fulfill that mission if we do not work at living it.

This Friday is June 19, or Juneteenth, so called to commemorate the day slavery effectively ended, in Texas, in 1865, two years after the conclusion of the Civil War. This year at Iona, I am declaring it a holiday. I do this to acknowledge the tremendous effort you are making to get ready for the fall semester. More importantly, I ask those of you who are not subject to daily acts of implicit and explicit racism to use the day to reflect on what it must feel like to endure those acts and the structures that enable them day after day, week after week — at work, in the store, at school.

This Friday, please take some time to consider how you will contribute to helping the Iona mission manifest in new and essential ways to combat the chronic disease of racism.

Thank you again for all you do.

Seamus

Dear Colleagues,

Iona College stands firmly with our Black community as we acknowledge that we all have a role to play in the change we want to see in the world. I write to you as a follow-up to President Carey’s email in response to the tragic death of George Floyd and the ongoing protests in support of racial justice, and to make you aware of the letter that was sent last week to students from Denise Hopkins, Vice President for Student Life.

In the letter you will find actions already underway at Iona. As we continue to come together as a campus community united by a mission of opportunity, justice and the liberating power of education, I would like to share the following resources to learn more and stay engaged in this work:

PRAYER SERVICE FOR RACIAL JUSTICE AND HEALING
Thursday, June 11, 4 p.m.
Join us via Zoom
Password: 304594
Or iPhone one-tap (US Toll):  1-646-558-8656
Meeting ID: 919 0479 3128​
Password: 304594​

CAMPUS RESOURCES
Diversity & Inclusion
Office of Mission & Ministry

GET ENGAGED
Official George Floyd Memorial Fund
Black Futures Lab
Black Lives Matter
Campaign Zero
Center for Policing Equity
Color of Change
Movement For Black Lives
National Black Justice Coalition
NAACP Legal Defense Fund
New York City Anti-Violence Project (AVP)

While these are challenging times, Iona’s Employee Assistance Program is available to help with counseling services for you and/or your dependents. All services are free of charge and completely confidential and can be accessed by calling 1-800-311-4327 any time. Please click here to learn more about the Employee Assistance Program.

Thank you for all you do on behalf of Iona College, our students and each other.

Sincerely,
Mary Clare Reilley

6/9/2020

Friday night another tragedy unfolded in New Rochelle, less than a mile from the Iona College campus. A black man was shot and killed in an altercation with a police officer. This event surely adds to the trauma of our community. Whatever the details of this case, it is yet another reminder that there is no time to wait: we must find better ways to live together, and that takes work.

Education may seem too slow, too pondering, too tame to be the answer. But better education is an essential part of what we need. From universal standards in police training to understanding the historical underpinnings of social, economic, and cultural structures, from the evolution of modern technology to the psychology of personal development, progress will be inadequate without effective education across all sectors of society. In addition to preparing us for careers, an effective education prepares us for responding to difficult situations with insight and an ability to understand alternative points of view; it also makes us alert to the structures of society that dictate so much of our experience.

Those of us in higher education can do more now. For too long, the expertise of the academy has failed to adequately influence public awareness and discourse. We have expertise in criminal justice, sociology, psychology, economics, education, health sciences, risk management, business, and public history as well as the disciplines that help us to understand the human condition — its complexity, its limitations, and its potential — through art and expression. No longer can we attend only to what transpires in our classroom, our academic conference, or our journal publications. Society needs us to engage in the moment, to shape the conversations underway so that we and others learn from them, and to envision a future that moves toward justice and non-violence. At Iona, we will sharpen our focus on the pressing issues of our time, deepen inquiry as a community of learners, and prepare our students to become the leaders of change our society needs.

In focusing on education as a means for social reform, we will not overlook immediate steps we can and must take. We need to speak out, we need to vote, we need to expand our circle of neighbors and friends, we need to resist injustice wherever we encounter it. But these actions will not be sustained if we ignore the difficult work of looking internally to examine what is in our hearts and souls. We must recognize the complexity of feelings, attitudes and biases that influence our actions. We must acknowledge that there are inclinations and emotions, which, left unchecked, can push us in directions we do not want to go. We must understand that being strong means getting better, not holding on to calcified prejudices and dispositions. Strength of character requires constant change through greater self-awareness and personal development—and through the hard work of listening to others. This work is almost impossible without effective education.

Iona College is a community of inquirers committed to the pursuit of truth and justice grounded in faith. With open hearts and a dogged commitment to a better tomorrow, we can make a difference. To start this process, I have reached out to campus leaders over the past several days to begin the conversations and the work we need to do. We will garner the expertise across campus to collaborate on ways we can have the biggest impact on our students, each other, and our community. Anything less would be a betrayal of our calling as educators and as members of the Iona community.

6/4/2020

Dear Students,

As protests continue across the nation over the horrific murder of George Floyd, an unarmed Black man killed by police in Minneapolis, Iona College stands firmly with our Black community as we acknowledge that we all have a role to play in the change we want to see. We must do better. Generations pass, and yet systemic, institutional racism continues to plague our country and our communities. Tensions had already been mounting over the deaths of other innocent Black Americans including Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and far too many others. At Iona, we must and we will act swiftly to make sure our College is one where people of all races, religions and sexual orientations can live and learn free from discrimination, bigotry and oppression in any and all forms. I reach out to you today with a message of concern for the well-being of all Iona students, and a special message of support for our students of color and other marginalized populations. 

I want to state clearly to our Black community members: your lives matter, we hear you, and we care for you. How we respond as an institution of higher learning matters. We are not perfect as an institution, but we are committed to getting better, and we will do more to support you as we build a better future for all Gaels. I understand that the unrest impacting our nation is complex and that there are a wide range of political and personal viewpoints held by members of our campus community. I also know at the same time that the Iona community is bonded by shared values that emphasize the inherent dignity of all people. I often say that “Gaels take care of Gaels,” and that means that we are here, ready to listen and support you. Below you will find actions already underway, as well as resources for students, advocacy organizations and ways to stay engaged. 

I ask that you join in the fight against systemic racism, injustice and violence. In addition to “Gaels take care of Gaels,” I often cite the Iona motto, “Fight the Good Fight.” We are part of a legacy of thousands of Gaels who have done so since 1940. Iona was founded to offer an education and social mobility to people who were oppressively denied that opportunity at other institutions. Many immigrant, first-generation students from humble circumstances had to fight – and fight hard – to make a good life. That said, some members of today’s Iona community are more marginalized, discriminated against, vulnerable, and have greater obstacles to overcome than others. Racialized violence and systemic racism are real, and represent a multi-layered, ever-present obstacle and threat to the success and well-being of our students, faculty and staff of color. We need to understand systems of privilege and oppression if we are to make any real progress in fostering a more just world. Again, we recognize the significant and often overwhelming hardships faced by others in our community, and we are not minimizing those struggles. But, the current realities of our nation call us to rally in support of our Black peers and colleagues. 

Please know that the following actions are underway at Iona College: 

  • The College president, provost and senior vice president for Academic Affairs, vice president for Student Life, and vice president for Marketing & Communications met with student leaders from the Student Leader Alliance for Multiculturalism (SLAM) and the Student Government Association (SGA) to help ensure that the College’s responses incorporate and address their concerns and feedback. 
  • We are asking Iona’s Diversity Committee to assess the overall environment that students of color face at Iona and identify root causes that need to be addressed. The scope of the assessment will include a review of racially connected allegations of misconduct to identify how we may refine, clarify and improve the process of reporting allegations of misconduct and address policies, communications and resources moving forward. 
  • Just as we needed to do in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Iona will form a working group or task force, the details of which will be soon determined, to coordinate and advise on immediate next steps needed to combat the virulent racism we are confronting. This group will consist of students, representatives from SGA, SLAM and the Black Student Union (BSU), and key administration. 
  • Iona will further develop its cultural humility training so that it is integrated and implemented throughout the College. We are fortunate to have a national leader in this field in our provost and senior vice president for Academic Affairs, Darrell P. Wheeler, Ph.D., MPH, ACSW. Dr. Wheeler has been training on this topic since 1995, when he helped to develop the model used at Columbia University, which became a NYC-wide model for training social work faculty, staff and students. 
  • Iona will consult with the above groups to create effective forums to continue open conversations where students of color will be empowered to directly communicate with administrators about what they are experiencing and where there are concerns. Iona will also create forums where all students can learn from and talk to each other about their experiences, especially as it relates to race, justice and privilege, so that solutions can be built from the ground up. We appreciate that this must be an ongoing conversation, not a one-time event.

We realize there is still a very long way to go in the fight for racial justice and equality. But I want to make it absolutely clear that we stand united at Iona College as we walk this path together, not afraid to confront racism, bigotry and discrimination in any and all forms. We also fully acknowledge that each person walks a unique path, especially when it comes to trauma and healing. Wherever you are on your journey, Iona will always be ready to meet you. Please know that our professional, confidential and trusted counselors are available for appointments and/or walk-ins. Visit the Counseling Center or call (914) 633-2038 to learn more. 

We will be victorious in creating a better campus and world if we fight united together, not against one another. Together, and fueled by a deep desire to effect positive change in our community and the world, we are stronger. 

CAMPUS RESOURCES
Diversity & Inclusion
Counseling Center
Office of Mission & Ministry

GET ENGAGED
Official George Floyd Memorial Fund
Black Futures Lab  
Black Lives Matter
Campaign Zero
Center for Policing Equity 
Color of Change
Movement For Black Lives
National Black Justice Coalition
NAACP Legal Defense Fund
New York City Anti-Violence Project (AVP)

6/1/2020

To the Iona Community:

I have been hesitant to write this message. Not because I am unsure about its need, not because I do not share in the outrage and sadness over George Floyd’s murder, not because I do not know that this is another example, in a seemingly endless list, of racially motivated brutality and injustice; certainly not because I believe that the disease of American racism is too complex to tackle. I hesitate because statements like this don’t seem to accomplish much. Much of what I wish to say has been said too many times by others more qualified, and yet our country still suffers and seethes. Nonetheless, I feel compelled to speak out to our community this morning.

This past week I released the highlights of our plan for reopening Iona College for the fall semester in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. We were able to share that plan because over the past couple of months we have gained a better understanding of COVID-19, of how to mitigate its transmission, and, most importantly, of how to protect as best we can our community. The last few days remind us that we face another chronic pandemic, racism, that demands equal, even greater, attention and resolve, both personally and politically. Just as we have dedicated ourselves to reorganizing our operations in response to COVID-19, we will dedicate ourselves to the hard work required to respond to racial injustice.

As committed and sincere educators, we believe in the power of education to effect change. We tell ourselves that education is the great equalizer, the means to elevate all of us to a higher moral plane. We believe too that we are the drivers of social progress. Our mission statements have always spoken to the pursuit of truth and justice; in more recent times these statements of purpose emphasize and celebrate diversity.

Today, all around us, we see awful evidence that educational missions such as ours are critical for our social and political well-being as well as for our personal development. If these missions are failing to stem the tide of racism or to quell the violence it nourishes, we must rededicate ourselves to the values those missions espouse but find better ways to realize them on our streets, in our neighborhoods, in our cities—and on our own campus and in our own classrooms.

Edmund Rice founded the Christian Brothers 218 years ago to combat discrimination and oppression by bringing the gift of education to the poor people of Ireland. We must honor that mission by being as attentive to the small and large violence of the racism around us, and within us, as we are to the ravages of the novel coronavirus. To call either an invisible enemy is to deny the realities that threaten our common good; to confront these realities with strong hearts and minds is what it means to fight the good fight.