Evolution of Diversity on the Brockport Campus

Evolution of Diversity on the Brockport Campus


By Brianna Milon


Rewind the clock back to 1969. The civil rights movement and the Vietnam War are both ongoing and the country is in turmoil. Now focus on The College at Brockport’s campus. This was the year protest first marked the campus.

Gary Owens, a student at Brockport in ’69 and then president of the Organization of Students of African Descent, was aware of the issues that had enveloped the country. Being a black man caused for him to be closer to the issues than if he were not.

OSAD, which today only has about forty active members, was a powerhouse of an organization in the late sixties. “We had hundreds of members, not all of them black,” Owens said.

“We did a lot when I was a student here,” said Owens, who today serves as the director of the college’s Education Opportunity Program.

The diversity of the campus was lacking when Owens was a student at Brockport. “I came here with 18 other [black] students on EOP and there was 13 students of color already here, so we had a population close to 40 students,” Owens said. “Two years later we were at about 400. When I was a senior, there was 560 students of color on campus. We had grown that fast.”

Owens watched the campus grow as more people of color began to enroll. As of today, black students make up over 10 percent of the student population. That’s close to 800 students. The population seems to grow every year.

Owens, as a student, protested for the rights of black students. He also caught the attention of then president Albert Brown. Brown had rewarded OSAD with a house of their own. However, this house would spark something much bigger for Owens.

“One night someone burned down our house,” Owens said. “They must have doused it in gasoline because there was nothing left of it.” Frightened for the lives of students of color, Owens held a protest that next day.

“As president, I gathered everyone at the high-rises. It wasn’t a march, but a gathering. We were calling students out of the dorms because we were concerned for their safeties. It was protest to show our unity. We started with a small group, but once we got to the union we were a full house. We took over the Union and was there for a day.”

Now fast forward to the present, March 2016, more than a year since the last march on Brockport’s campus. December 2014 will always be remembered for more than finals. It was then that more than 50 students and over a dozen faculty members took to the campus grounds to show protest to the non-indictment of a New York City officer who had choked a young black man to death in Queens just days before.

“We were outraged,” said junior communications and dance double major, Will Dillard-Jackson. “I and other students of OSAD and ASU (African Student Union), decided to have a protest in solidarity with the rest of the country.” Dillard-Jackson is director of public affairs with The Movement on the Brockport campus and vice president of OSAD.

“The first day of the protest was minor. We went in to academic buildings, some students got up and walked with us. The second day things got a little aggressive, especially on Yik Yak,”said Dillard-Jackson.

“People were throwing letters out of the windows [of the dormitories]. Some things we read on Yik Yak was “your voices would be louder if you were hanging from trees” and “they better not say s**t if there’s a KKK rally tomorrow,” people also threw notes out of the windows that said “N***a shut up.”

Despite two generations separating Dillard-Jackson and Owens, both seem to have witnessed similar issues within this campus. Dillard-Jackson argues that without the campuses support this is a losing battle.

“I don’t believe that the campus has full embraced the [Black Lives Matter] movement. I feel like they have tolerated us,” said Dillard-Jackson. “They want the change, but I feel as if students and most faculty haven’t embraced us. A lot of faculty members don’t know how to have controversial conversations in class.” He wishes staff and faculty would strive to become more educated.

“Brockport is making a strong effort to address the unrepresented students on this campus,” said Faith Prather, Ph.D, interim assistant provost for diversity. “We’ve held workshops for faculty and staff so that they can feel comfortable discussing difficult issues like race in the classroom.”

Owens said he believes the college should go one step further and cancel classes the day of the college’s annual Diversity Conference.

“Faculty and staff should be required to be participants and should have to give workshops and activities to demonstrate diversity in their discipline. That’s meaningful to me.

That would be clear evidence that you are sincere about diversity on this campus.”

Prather argues that the college is striving toward a better environment.

“It may not move as fast for some people, but these are ongoing things and they are not healed overnight,” she said. “Steps are being taken to address the issues.”

While numbers may change, the atmosphere of the Brockport campus is a stagnant one. Diversity is a concept, one that has yet to be fully embraced by The College at Brockport.

Sources Information

Gary Owens, Director of EOP (585) 395-2547 gowens@brockport.edu

Dr. Faith Prather, PhD Interim Assistant Provost for Diversity (585) 395-5065 fprather@brockport.edu

Will Dillard-Jackson, Director of Public Affairs of the Black Lives Matter Movement of Brockport campus, Vice President of OSAD wdill1@u.brockport.edu