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SUNY Brockport students protest against ‘racial issues’ on campus

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BROCKPORT, N.Y. (WROC) — Students at SUNY Brockport protested on campus Thursday.

An email sent between student groups on campus, which was sent to News 8, said in part:

“There will be a display of protest in order to raise awareness on racial issues brought to light after the separation of Dr. Archie. The environment at Brockport has revealed itself to be oppressive, in that it lacks diversity among students and faculty, and continues to fail provide equitable opportunities to its minority communities on campus.”

The protest began at 11 a.m. and students were encouraged to wear black “to symbolize the grief and mourning for the loss of valued faculty members.”

The protest started with a silent sit-in at the student union. Demonstrators then marched through campus to the administrative building.

At one point during the protest, students made it to the seventh floor of the administrative building where President Heidi Macpherson met with them in small groups. She also addressed the whole group, committing to changes for the campus.

“I recognize that there have been several attempts in the past to bring about a more inclusive and diverse environment and yet we haven’t been able to do everything we’d like to do,” President Macpherson said.

The changes she committed to are bringing in a Chief Diversity Officer on special assignment from SUNY Oswego, holding more community conversations, revamping the bias reporting system, requiring some faculty and staff to attend implicit bias training, and conducting a thorough review of department diversity.

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SUNY Brockport’s diversity developments have made headlines lately after the controversial firing of its Chief Diversity Officer, Dr. Cephas Archie. Dr. Archie told News 8 that his firing was performance related.

On the night of his firing, students on campus protested the administration’s decision to fire Dr. Archie.

SUNY Brockport officials then held a town hall event on campus to discuss the matter.

Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren was critical of the college’s decision to fire Dr. Archie, taking to Facebook to say, in part, “It’s unfortunate when people that work toward diversity and inclusion across the collegiate spectrum also face it themselves.”

Earlier this week, Dr. Sandra Vazquez, SUNY Brockport’s Diversity Recruitment and Retention Specialist, resigned from her position.

In a letter to colleagues, Dr. Vazquez wrote in part:

“Over the years the climate has had its challenges. And more recently, the impact of the events that have occurred will make it nearly impossible to recruit and retain underrepresented employees.”

Additionally, just last week, a College at Brockport employee filed a charge of discrimination against the university with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Vicki Elsenheimer, the schools administrative assistant to the Vice President for Advancement, filed the complaint through the EEOC.

In the complaint, Elsenehimer says “Based on the behaviors of individual and institutional racism, I believe I have been discriminated against because of my race.” She is claiming she was passed up for a title promotion because of her race.

She says in the documents that three of the four administrative assistants received title changes to executive assistant. She’s the fourth one and says she didn’t get that title. Elsenheimer says those three were white women and she is the only African American female reporting to a member of the president’s cabinet.

Elsenheimer says she complained to human resources and was later given the title but never received an explanation as to why she didn’t get the title change at the same time as the others.

The university announced earlier this month that it would be formally changing its name back to SUNY Brockport, from the current The College at Brockport title, later this year.

Charge of discrimination:

Dr. Vazquez’s letter to colleagues regarding her resignation:

Check back with News 8 WROC as we will continue to update this developing story.

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