Making diversity about more than just the numbers
By: Jon Miller, Hannah Arp and Jared Rosenberg
BROCKPORT, NY — Chief Diversity Officer Cephas Archie, Ph.D., is the only person of color on The College at Brockport’s cabinet. Before Archie, only 12% of staff and only 30% of the student body were persons of color.
“I am most often the only person in a meeting who looks like me… and after a while that becomes taxing,” Archie said. “Unfortunately, as an African American male, I will never have the privilege that I can choose to say ‘I’m not gonna be an advocate today.’”
Facing discrimination on a daily basis has taught Archie to be a voice for all of those marginalized on campus.
“As an African American male, no matter how many degrees I have, I will walk into a store and if I had on a backwards baseball cap, jeans and a t-shirt I still would be followed as if I was someone who had an ill intent,” said Archie. “Although many of us don’t have that burden… this work is who I am, and unfortunately I don’t have the privilege of saying ‘today I won’t fight.’”
Archie works closely with the students to carry the discussion of inequality and inequity on campus. He says his initial interaction with students left a lasting impression on him.
“I was so humbled by the people,” said Archie. “There was a group of students that were so articulate in the need to have someone who had the experience to the next level of understanding what diversity is and could be. It was the privilege of having the opportunity to lead that effort to take the discussion to the next level.”
His work collaborating with students has, in turn, left a good impression on them as well. Alexander Leonty, the internal advocacy coordinator for the Brockport Student Government, works closely with Archie on a weekly basis. Their most memorable moments with him reveal the passion he holds for the student body.
“We all met in the mall, when we were there it was nice to see Archie genuinely laugh and have fun with us,” Leonty said. “It was a good time, we bought suits, got food and genuinely laughed, it was a nice feeling. These were the men that made Brockport feel like home, and I had the chance to see them all candid, where we all just had fun.”
His passion also shines through when working on affecting change on campus. Chair of the Women and Gender Studies department Milo Obourn, Ph.D., said that working with Archie gets the job done faster.
“Something that happened early on, that was less in my official role, but more in my role as a transgender person who can’t go to the bathroom anywhere on campus,” said Obourn. “We were running into issues like, ‘how many bathrooms do we need in different places?’ And, Archie was just kind of say, ‘We just need to make this happen. Let’s get the signs on the doors.’ And it all happened relatively quickly.”
Learning to fight inequity is a lifelong lesson. Archie says his time in white populated colleges was his inspiration to tackle the problem at the systemic level.
“I went to a predominantly white institution as an undergrad and my masters, as well as my doctorate degrees. What I learned along that journey is that there are a lot of things that colleges are doing well. And there are also a lot of things that we aren’t,” said Archie. “In recognizing, first-hand, the experiences that can serve as barriers I founded my passion that looks to remove them.”
Archie chose this line of work because he felt it was fundamental to his being. He feels like he just has to make a difference.
Ultimately what Archie’s job comes down to is encouraging systemic change; working with every person on campus to start a movement. It is Archie working everyday to make the campus more welcoming and make sure that diversity is about more than just numbers.