Stony Brook University Chief Diversity Officer Lee Bitsóí is working "to increase the level of cultural dexterity for our campus community members." He believes "cultural competency, humility and respect are important components of cultural dexterity, and our students need to learn about this as we prepare them to become leaders in our society."
We recently caught up with Bitsóí to talk about how he sees his role on campus and find out what he's currently reading in our latest installment of our People of Higher Ed column.
What is the role of the campus Chief Diversity Officer in 2017?
It is really to broaden the participation of students, faculty and staff who are coming from underserved and underrepresented populations. So the job that I have is really to help people understand that diversity & inclusion goes beyond the two-dimensional construct that’s commonly understood as being race and biological sex.
We’re talking about people who are coming from, say undocumented students, undocumented people, intersex people, and then we also need to be cognizant of people and their abilities. Oftentimes, again, people talk about all these different types of diversity, but some groups are not always included.
We must understand that there is diversity within diversity, and it is our responsibility to participate in whatever way we can in diversity programming, in education and society. Specifically, in education, diversity is crucial to gain a better understanding of different people and communities. Being exposed to other people and cultures better equips us to work with underrepresented and underserved communities.It is also important for people to understand that diversity and inclusion are inextricably linked.
My first priority in my role at Stony Brook University is to increase the level of cultural dexterity for our campus community members. Cultural competency, humility and respect are important components of cultural dexterity, and our students need to learn about this as we prepare them to become leaders in our society. To achieve this goal, I am currently conducting a diversity audit to identify what types of diversity programming is in place for students, faculty and staff, and campus educators to ascertain our strengths in diversity, equity and inclusion. Let’s build on our strengths together.
Upon completion of this audit, I plan to convene a diversity summit for the entire University to review our strengths and find ways to partner and collaborate to make Stony Brook even more diverse and inclusive for everyone on all of our campuses. Each of us brings an intersectionality to Stony Brook, and society, so we need to be aware of visible and invisible forms of diversity. It is also important for people to understand that diversity and inclusion are inextricably linked.
Which groups are most often excluded?
It’s the people who have the physical and visible disabilities, but what about the individuals who have invisible ability issues? And that also can be difficult to ascertain, but [part of my job is] to allow an environment [which enables] people to come out … because people are sometimes afraid of the stigma that might be attached to a learning disability, for example.
It’s also intersex individuals. Back in the day when physicians were making the decision when an intersex baby was born, they were usually terminated. There’s still a practice to assign a sex to an individual, and they may grow up and find that that is not the sex they identify with. In some ways, it’s part of the LGBTQ community, but in some ways, it’s just something that needs to be acknowledged.
What are you currently reading or watching?
Right now, I’m reading this book called Spare Parts. It’s really about four undocumented teenagers who hail from Arizona, and they entered a robotics contest, actually, a marine robotics contest and they ended up winning.
The irony of it is they’re coming from Phoenix, AZ, which is landlocked, and they won this marine robotics competition. It also highlights the contributions of these students to this field of research.
The conversation of Dreamer students is really dominating the headlines, not only in our society but also in higher ed, and how are we accommodating those individuals, and how are we as higher ed institutions being proactive and ensuring that all students are graduating.