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Response to Current Events

Bias Incident Reporting

"This incident brings home to us the urgency of the moment we are living in as a nation. We as a community must continue to move forward and work together in a constructive way to affect change."

 


September 10, 2020

Today, we learned of one such incident that recently occurred right here in the city of Utica. According to the Utica Police Department, this past Friday, September 4, officers responded to a domestic violence incident on Spring Street in Utica. Upon their arrival, police say an individual named Kerwin Taylor fled the scene and resisted arrest, and that an illegal firearm was confiscated from him at the time. Body camera footage shows a UPD transport officer kicking Kerwin Taylor repeatedly in the head while another officer shouted at him multiple times to stop.

Utica Police Chief Mark Williams said at a news conference this morning that such excessive, unauthorized force would not be tolerated and that “no person deserves to be mistreated by the police.” He announced that the officer in question was immediately suspended without pay with the intention of removing him from the force and seeking his decertification as a member of law enforcement. The case has been handed over to the Oneida County District Attorney’s Office, in anticipation that it will be presented to a grand jury for consideration of criminal indictment against the officer.

We appreciate the transparency and action of the Utica Police Department in response to this incident. Further, we acknowledge the officer who verbally intervened, saving Kerwin Taylor from serious injury or possibly death. Nevertheless, it is understandable that members of our community would feel anger and frustration over yet another incident of excessive police force against a member of the Black community.

This incident brings home to us the urgency of the moment we are living in as a nation. We as a community must continue to move forward and work together in a constructive way to affect change.

We are unequivocal in our rejection of police brutality and excessive force. We decry social injustices in all its forms. As an anchor institution of the Utica community, we remain steadfast in our commitment to and solidarity with those calling for necessary change and reform. We remain committed to opening spaces for members of our community to express their thoughts, truths, and pain. And we remain committed to engaging in conversations that elevate our understanding and allow us to be effective leaders and catalysts of change within our society.

As we have said in the past, the conversations and work that lie ahead are by no means easy, but they are necessary if we are to move forward. Let us continue to address these challenges together, with open ears, open minds, and open hearts.

Sincerely,

Laura Casamento
President

Todd Pfannestiel
Provost

Anthony Baird
Vice President for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

Jeffery Gates
Senior Vice President for Student Life and Enrollment Management

Previous Statements and Communications

September 10, 2020

Today, we learned of one such incident that recently occurred right here in the city of Utica. According to the Utica Police Department, this past Friday, September 4, officers responded to a domestic violence incident on Spring Street in Utica. Upon their arrival, police say an individual named Kerwin Taylor fled the scene and resisted arrest, and that an illegal firearm was confiscated from him at the time. Body camera footage shows a UPD transport officer kicking Kerwin Taylor repeatedly in the head while another officer shouted at him multiple times to stop.

Utica Police Chief Mark Williams said at a news conference this morning that such excessive, unauthorized force would not be tolerated and that “no person deserves to be mistreated by the police.” He announced that the officer in question was immediately suspended without pay with the intention of removing him from the force and seeking his decertification as a member of law enforcement. The case has been handed over to the Oneida County District Attorney’s Office, in anticipation that it will be presented to a grand jury for consideration of criminal indictment against the officer.

We appreciate the transparency and action of the Utica Police Department in response to this incident. Further, we acknowledge the officer who verbally intervened, saving Kerwin Taylor from serious injury or possibly death. Nevertheless, it is understandable that members of our community would feel anger and frustration over yet another incident of excessive police force against a member of the Black community.

This incident brings home to us the urgency of the moment we are living in as a nation. We as a community must continue to move forward and work together in a constructive way to affect change.

We are unequivocal in our rejection of police brutality and excessive force. We decry social injustices in all its forms. As an anchor institution of the Utica community, we remain steadfast in our commitment to and solidarity with those calling for necessary change and reform. We remain committed to opening spaces for members of our community to express their thoughts, truths, and pain. And we remain committed to engaging in conversations that elevate our understanding and allow us to be effective leaders and catalysts of change within our society.

As we have said in the past, the conversations and work that lie ahead are by no means easy, but they are necessary if we are to move forward. Let us continue to address these challenges together, with open ears, open minds, and open hearts.

Sincerely,

Laura Casamento
President

Todd Pfannestiel
Provost

Anthony Baird
Vice President for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

Jeffery Gates
Senior Vice President for Student Life and Enrollment Management

August 26, 2020

As we and the nation continue to process and grapple with yet another tragic police-involved shooting, this time in Kenosha, Wisconsin, the UC community continues to mourn and discuss the circumstances that led to it.

Utica College is an inclusive community where people of all backgrounds and beliefs are valued and heard and where a broad cross-section of viewpoints, perspectives, and ideas is welcomed and encouraged so that we may all work toward a better understanding of each other. We are also a place where the criminal justice professionals of tomorrow, including police officers and attorneys, are educated and prepared.

To this collective end, and in keeping with our Statement of Principles, below are messages from the Department of Justice Studies faculty as well as the leadership of the College. While they offer individual perspectives in regards to this tragedy, what they have in common is the denunciation of these ongoing acts of violence and the systemic issues behind them.

As we grieve as one community for the ongoing and continuous number of incidents that result in such unnecessary violence, we invite all of you to participate in a special virtual forum and dialogue on Sunday evening, September 13, addressing the many issues and questions surrounding recent police-involved shootings and the social unrest that has followed. More details on this forum are forthcoming in the days and weeks ahead.

Following is a statement from the Faculty of the Department of Justice Studies.

As we settle into the daily routines of this most unusual fall semester, we find our thoughts are also with another community very much like our own, which is struggling in the aftermath of another police-involved shooting. Our hearts ache for this community and its citizens who are searching for answers in the wake of this tragedy.

As law enforcement officers and attorneys, several members of our faculty have sworn oaths to uphold and defend the U.S. Constitution, the New York State Constitution, and the rule of law. We are trained to wait for the evidence to be developed and to allow only a jury of our peers to determine guilt. As we read about and discuss Sunday’s events in Wisconsin, we note it is unlike the George Floyd incident, where the available evidence demonstrated that officers did not follow well-defined protocol. As of today, there are still several questions about exactly what transpired in the incident involving Kenosha, Wisconsin police officers and Jacob Blake. This reality, our professional training, and the weight of the oaths we have sworn make it difficult for us to find the right words to offer as yet another heartbreaking incident plays out in the headlines and on social media platforms. Still, we feel we must speak. To borrow the words of former Congressperson Gabby Giffords, “America needs all of us to speak out, even when you have to fight to find the words.”

We are encouraged the state and federal authorities in Wisconsin have initiated a full investigation into Sunday’s event, and the district attorney has stated that, if appropriate, he will file charges against the involved officer(s). We are encouraged Wisconsin was the first state in the United States to require an independent investigator for any incident when a police officer kills a person in the line of duty. We are encouraged Wisconsin State Senator Van Wanggaard (R) is advancing legislation that would create a use-of-force advisory board to review incidents and identify their root or systemic causes and applaud similar efforts around the United States. We are encouraged that, finally, these horrific incidents are igniting more open and meaningful dialogs between communities and the law enforcement agencies who are sworn to serve them.

We support without reservation the continued peaceful protests and demonstrations that have been occurring across the country and world since March. We also remain actively involved in efforts to reform and reimagine our country’s approach toward law enforcement and the role of law enforcement officers. We stand ready to continue the dialogue we have been having with students on these police incidents, and the work we are conducting with community partners to create better models of community policing. We remain committed to the idea that better education for our law enforcement agencies and more productive dialogs within our communities will solve this crisis, which has plagued our nation for far too long.

Following is a statement from College Leadership.

Dear Members of the Utica College Community,

Due to the events in Kenosha, Wisconsin, it grieves us that we are once again having to witness and denounce violence and destruction as the results of another police shooting that gives way to protests, anger, and frustration.

We understand law enforcement’s responsibility to conduct a complete investigation. However, while we wait for answers and a full examination of the facts, we cannot reconcile or accept what we have seen in multiple video accounts: a Black man, walking away from police, shot in the back, seven times, at point blank range, in front of his small children, as though his life did not matter.

The Utica College administration, Board of Trustees, and the greater UC community are saddened and remorseful over another senseless shooting. Our thoughts are with Jacob Blake and his family. We pray for his full recovery.

These brutal incidents involving Black and Brown people and police cause us to ask the same questions repeatedly, as they continue to occur at numbers that are increasingly disproportionate to the population of African-Americans when compared to White Americans. Jacob Blake is the latest on a tragically growing list: Rayshard Brooks (June 12, 2020); George Floyd (May 25, 2020); Breonna Taylor (March 13, 2020); and Ahmaud Arbery (February 23, 2020), to name only a few among numerous others.

Behind each of these acts of undeniably excessive police force there is uprising, violent protest, burning, and looting. We realize pain is being channeled into destruction and violence, and while the pain is inconceivable, we cannot support or condone actions that do not move us toward a solution. We do, however, support unequivocally those protests and demonstrations that have been peaceful and vigilant about the fight and demand for justice; we empathize with the Black and Brown communities for all the anguish they continue to endure. We know that silence is not an option. As a community, we will not be complicit by remaining silent in the face of systemic injustice within law enforcement and while witnessing blatant disregard for humanity. It must be called out every time it occurs. In the timeless words of Dr. Martin L. King, Jr., “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent on things that matter.” Black people’s lives most definitely matter.

Therefore, we stand up against racism and social injustice anywhere. We support steady and vigorous protests against racism, bigotry, homophobia, xenophobia, and all other forms of dehumanization. We are committed to providing the members of our community a space to grieve, speak out, and engage in dialogue. Further, as an academic community, and particularly an institution that educates and prepares future criminal justice professionals, we must take this opportunity to teach, learn, and reflect on the meaning of social justice and the important role our future graduates play in supporting and defending it.

We know that these issues are concerning, on many levels, for members of our community, and we are sensitive and compassionate to the deep sadness and stress the racial and social unrest have caused. We encourage our students to exercise their rights and freedom to express themselves in ways consistent with conduct and policies governing our campus, while maintaining the sanctity and safety of other members of our community.

Sincerely,

Laura Casamento
President

Todd Pfannestiel
Provost

Anthony Baird
Vice President for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

Jeffery Gates
Senior Vice President for Student Life and Enrollment Management

July 2, 2020

Dear Members of the Utica College Community,

It’s been just over a month since the murder of George Floyd sparked calls for much-needed change across the country.

We understand these calls for change are not new. Before George Floyd there was Breonna Taylor. Before Breonna Taylor there was Tamir Rice. Before Tamir Rice there was Eric Garner. And we know too well that there are countless other names and hundreds of years of history behind Black Lives Matter. Still, we must be encouraged and take hope from the tens of millions of voices that are screaming out in unison for change. Of course, the loudest scream came in the faint gasp of George Floyd himself: “I can’t breathe.”

During these tumultuous and hurtful times, it is particularly important that Utica College stands in solidarity with those routinely affected by racism, homophobia, transphobia, and all other forms of hate and dehumanization. We will continue to stand up and speak out, reaffirming our values of diversity, equity, and inclusion and our support for all members of the UC community.

However, words alone are not enough. When it comes to injustice, we must also be willing to look in the mirror. As an academic institution, we have the responsibility not only to initiate dialogue but also to look deeply, and individually, inside ourselves and make sure we are being the change we want to see in the world. For this to occur, we must acknowledge the need to work diligently to dismantle instances of racism and inequality on our campus through engaging in robust community conversations and supporting ongoing work toward institutional, cultural, and curricular changes.

The events of the past month have further emphasized and demonstrated the need for developing a more diverse, equitable, and inclusive climate—a cornerstone of the Strategic Plan that was adopted and set in motion in December 2019. By design, the plan is not an aspiration. It is a decisive call to action that insists the College brings its full resources to bear on the following priorities.

  • We must not only improve the persistence and graduation rates of our students who identify as Black, African-American, or of color, we must ensure these populations of students persist and graduate at the same rate as our general student population.
  • We will insist that our faculty and staff racial and ethnic diversity mirrors that of our student population. Furthermore, we will insist that the racial and ethnic diversity of the leadership of the College mirrors that of our student population.
  • We will require that 100 percent of our workforce completes diversity, equity, and inclusion training.
  • We will establish at least five new academic credentials, including major, minor, and general education opportunities, directly supporting diversity, equity, and inclusion, with $100,000 already committed to developing a new core program that integrates issues of diversity, multiculturalism, equity, and inclusion across and throughout the undergraduate curriculum. Additionally, the College has appointed Dr. Clemmie Harris as program director for a new major in Africana Studies. Pending review and approval by the Curriculum Committee and Faculty Senate, the program proposal will be submitted to the New York State Education Department later this upcoming academic year. Two new faculty positions will be added to support the success and growth of this program.

These priorities build upon our work over the past year to advance our commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion in actionable ways. Those efforts include the following:

  • Last fall, we elevated the Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion to a Vice Presidential appointment, and, in March, we named the College’s first Chief Diversity Officer, Dr. Anthony Baird ’91.
  • This upcoming academic year, with the help of a substantial pending estate gift, we will open the new Intercultural Center in the former Newman Center.
  • Last fall, we hosted Dr. Shaun Harper, the Clifford and Betty Allen Chair in Urban Leadership and executive director of the University of Southern California’s Race and Equity Center, on campus for a series of conversations and a Town Hall on issues of race, racism, inclusion and equity.
  • Also last fall, all members of the President’s and Provost’s Cabinets participated in an eight-week Equity Institute through the University of Southern California’s Race and Equity Center.
  • Working with the Black Student Union’s executive committee, we have revamped and endowed the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Scholarship, which was discontinued many years ago due to financial stress. The current corpus of the scholarship is just under $100,000.
  • In April 2019, we established a bias incident reporting system and bias response team.
  • We have designated Juneteenth, or Freedom Day, as a College holiday, to allow time to pause, reflect, and recognize the inequalities that have long stood in our world.

Over the past several weeks, we have had a number of listening sessions with the Black Student Union, the President’s Student Taskforce on Race and Equity, various athletics teams, and other student groups. We have also hosted several virtual forums. We will continue to offer opportunities for the type of robust dialogue our students of all ethnic backgrounds want and deserve as part of Utica College’s commitment to preparing graduates to be thoughtful and conscientious members of society.

As we move forward, it is very critical that these difficult conversations are guided by our Statement of Principles Regarding Expression on Campus. We must consider and be respectful of all perspectives, political ideologies, religious ideologies, and feelings of patriotism, while simultaneously refusing to tolerate hatred, intimidation, and offensive behavior in any form.

It is shameful that it took the devastating murder of George Floyd to serve as a catalyst for long overdue social change. Nevertheless, we must seize the opportunity to recognize and eradicate patterns of disparity and inequity. We take some small solace in seeing moments of real change, such as the NCAA and other organizations' decisions to ban the display of the confederate flag. We not only applaud this action, but are adopting the same stance and policy, effective immediately.

We cannot stand idly by and let these voices continue to go unheard, for lives to be lost in vain. To be mere spectators would continue to let injustice continue, and we refuse to take a seat at such a crucial moment. Utica College must answer the call for change.

If we don't take action, George Floyd is just a symbol.

Sincerely,

Laura Casamento
President

Anthony Baird
Vice President for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

Todd Pfannestiel
Provost

Jeff Gates
Senior Vice President for Student Life and Enrollment Management

June 12, 2020

Dear Members of the Utica College Community,

The events of recent weeks have led us to have numerous and meaningful conversations about racial injustice and the long history of structural inequalities in our society. While the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis may have been a catalyst for our more recent discussions, the conversations themselves are hundreds of years overdue, as is the much-needed reform and change these conversations bring attention to.

This need for change – for recognition of the inequities that have long stood in our world – have reinforced the need for deep self-reflection about our nation’s long and turbulent history and how we move forward. It is with that in mind that, beginning this year onward, Utica College will observe Juneteenth, or Freedom Day, as a College Holiday. Accordingly, all College offices will be closed on Friday, June 19.

This does not repair the centuries of harm that has been wrought on Black and Brown communities. But it allows us the opportunity to better appreciate a struggle that has occurred for far too long and to reflect and find ways in which we can better ourselves, our College community, and the world for those whose voices have frequently gone unheard.

We are committed to continuing to have conversations and discussions that elevate our understanding and allow us to be leaders and catalysts of change within our society. The roads and conversations ahead may not be easy, but they are necessary to move forward and will continue with open ears, minds, and hearts.

Sincerely,

Laura Casamento
President

On June 10, 2020, Professor Clemmie Harris presented "The Murder of George Floyd, the Black Lives Matter Protest, and the Urban Rebellion Unfolding in our Nation" - a discussion of the history leading up to what happened in Minneapolis and the protests and events that followed.

The live WebEX forum was sponsored by Chief Diversity Officer Dr. Anthony Baird and the Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion and moderated by Dean for Diversity and Inclusion Alane Varga.

In case you missed the live event, you can watch the discussion in its entirety at the video below.

 

June 9, 2020

Dear Members of the Utica College Community,

Over the past week, we, like all of you, have engaged in conversations about the murder of George Floyd, the long history of racial injustice behind it, and the structural inequalities that continue to separate us. Most impactful have been the conversations we’ve had with small and large groups of our students, with whom we have been reaching out to in order to get their perspective, hear how they are processing these events, and better understand what they are thinking.

These conversations have included a cross-section of students. All of them, be they Black, African-American, of color, or White, have expressed their outrage over the circumstances of Mr. Floyd’s death and the pattern of police brutality it follows. These students have offered a depth of perspective and frame of understanding that is not easily captured in the national dialogue. They have been honest, compassionate, respectful, and vulnerable, and they have taken risks to share their personal circumstances and experiences.

Their stories are sobering, complex, and nuanced. We have heard from students for whom racism and racial injustice are part of their lived experience. We have heard from students who live with the distress of having to navigate multiple marginalized identities. We have heard from students – Black, Brown, and White students – who are from families of police officers and/or who, themselves, aspire to careers in law enforcement.

This is a watershed moment in time for our country, and as a higher education institution, we are at the intersection of history. Our mission calls us to step forward. It is up to us to lead first. Our students are asking for more opportunities to talk. They are asking for more opportunities both in and out of the classroom to learn and engage in dialogue about the conditions that perpetuate social injustice and inequity. They are asking for more people to stand with them in demanding change. We are listening, and we will answer their call.

College and university campuses – and the young people that populate them – have historically been at the center of social change in America, and we pledge to be front and center now. If we let this opportunity pass without acting, it will be at our peril as a community and as a nation.

We are confident that our campus can be a model for the type of change that is desperately needed in our world. Our faculty and staff colleagues are leaning into this opportunity. We don’t take our responsibility lightly. This work requires each and every one of us – faculty, staff, students, and alumni – to have our hands, our hearts, and our minds on deck as we move forward. It’s up to all of us to keep this conversation going.

Our students are primary to this conversation and to the process that helps to shape and mold the direction of our College. We will ensure that their voices are heard.

We see you, we hear you, and we stand with you.

Laura Casamento
President

Anthony Baird
Vice President for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

Todd Pfannestiel
Provost

Jeff Gates
Senior Vice President for Student Life and Enrollment Management

May 31, 2020

Words cannot fully capture our disgust and outrage over the brutal murder of George Floyd. We cannot accept this senseless act or the social injustices behind it. At the same time, we cannot condone the violence and destruction that has followed, as much as we understand the history that has provoked it.

In the city of Utica and communities across the country, tens of thousands of people are honoring the lives of George Floyd and countless other persons of color who have been killed for no reason. We are very proud of and we stand in support of the many members of the UC community who are joining in the effort to call for necessary social justice reform loudly but peacefully. While some are using this moment to incite and stoke the flames of violence, these individuals are far outweighed by those voices peacefully calling for needed change.

The Utica College community remains steadfast in its commitment to the expression of these voices. Not unlike any other predominantly white institution of higher education, we have had our challenges constructing a racially inclusive campus, and we are unwavering in our resolve to ensure that members of the UC community and the community at-large are treated with human dignity and civility and made to feel respected. We hear you. We see you. We are committed to helping with the healing, to amplifying your voices, and to helping bring about the changes needed in our communities and the world.

Laura Casamento
President

Anthony Baird
Vice President for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

Todd Pfannestiel
Provost

Jeff Gates
Senior Vice President for Student Life and Enrollment Management

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