Governor Cuomo Announces New SUNY Diversity Policy

September 10, 2015

From the office of Governor Cuomo

New Policy Approved by SUNY Board Aims to be the Nation’s Most Inclusive

Students will have Opportunity to Voluntarily Self-Identify Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity

Governor Andrew M. Cuomo today announced a sweeping new Diversity, Equity and Inclusion policy for the State University of New York. Adopted today by the SUNY Board of Trustees, the plan includes a Chief Diversity Officer for every SUNY campus as well as strategic plans to increase diversity among students, faculty, and staff. In addition, there will be a new tool to provide students with an opportunity to voluntarily self-identify their sexual orientation and gender identity.

“New York has a long and proud history of embracing diversity, and our world-class SUNY system is no exception,” Governor Cuomo said. “With this new Diversity, Equity and Inclusion policy, we are once again sending a strong message that the Empire State is a national leader and a beacon of inclusion for all students.”

“As the public university system serving one of the nation’s most diverse states, it is essential that SUNY adapt to the evolving needs of all students,” said SUNY Chancellor Nancy L. Zimpher. “Diversity is interwoven throughout our strategic plan, and now, as we implement a Completion Agenda with the goal of awarding 150,000 SUNY degrees per year by 2020, our commitment to diversity must be stronger than ever before. Thank you to the Board of Trustees and to all those who contributed through the Diversity Task Force for ensuring that SUNY will continue to be a national leader on important issues of equality.”

The new policy broadly defines diversity to include race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity and expression, age, socioeconomic status, status as a veteran, status as a student with a disability, first-generation students, and international students or those transferring between colleges. The policy aims to improve services and support for these students, ensure that SUNY’s student, faculty, and staff populations mirror that of New York State, as well as ensure that SUNY’s commitment to being welcoming and inclusive to all diverse populations is clear.

A SUNY Diversity Task Force convened by Chancellor Zimpher developed the new policy based on input from leaders and experts throughout SUNY and nationally, analysis of data and ongoing efforts to increase diversity within SUNY, and best practices seeing results in higher education across the country.

Highlights of the policy include:

  • A Chief Diversity Officer for every campus. This individual is a member of the senior administration and works with all campus offices to elevate inclusiveness and implement best practices. All Chief Diversity Officers will collaborate as a system-wide network to inform, support, and implement system initiatives.
  • Comprehensive strategic diversity plans for campuses and SUNY’s administrative headquarters. Campus plans will address student recruitment, retention, and completion strategies; administrative, faculty, and staff recruitment and retention strategies; and an evaluation/assessment component.
  • Added emphasis on using leadership search firms that have demonstrated that they value diversity. In addition, SUNY will address the challenges associated with hiring couples who both work in higher education.
  • Customized cultural competency training for SUNY and campus staff.
  • Annual reporting on policy progress that is tied to the leadership evaluation process.
  • Dedicated faculty researchers in the areas of diversity, equity and inclusion will support the SUNY Chief Diversity Officer network and evaluate the policy for effectiveness and continuous improvement.

In addition to the policy, the Trustees approved a new data collection tool that will provide every student who registers at a SUNY campus with an opportunity to voluntarily self-identify:

  • Sexual orientation. Students will be able to select one of seven options (straight, gay, lesbian, bisexual, pansexual, queer, questioning or unsure) or write-in an orientation not identified;
  • Gender identity. Within the same tool, students will be able to select one of seven options (man, woman, trans man, trans woman, genderqueer/gender-fluid, questioning or unsure) or write-in an identity; and
  • Additional status, such as beinga first-generation college student, active military or veteran, whether they will work on and/or off campus, and if they have requested services from the campus office of disabilities.

Key to SUNY’s efforts to be inclusive, students will have the opportunity to update this data each semester; and SUNY will be able to review retention and completion patterns for students who self-identify by campus, by sector, and across SUNY to inform student support services.

“SUNY is committed to being the most inclusive system of higher education in the country, and this policy ensures that all of our campuses and our system offices are held to the highest standard,” said SUNY Board Chairman H. Carl McCall. “New York State’s communities and schools are becoming increasingly diverse and our colleges and universities are hosting more and more first-generation students. SUNY is proud to implement this comprehensive diversity and inclusion policy on behalf of today’s students and those who will attend SUNY for years to come.”

SUNY Trustee Richard Socarides, a nationally-recognized leader in LGBTQ rights, said, “With these actions, SUNY makes another clear statement that it is a welcoming place for members of the LGBTQ communities and continues to align itself with the commitment to full diversity and inclusion that New York State has demonstrated under Governor Cuomo. Importantly, this tool will allow us to view retention and completion patterns on campuses and throughout SUNY to consider areas where improved supports may be needed.”

SUNY has long been engaged in diversity and inclusion efforts at the system level, having previously appointed a Chief Diversity Officer and designating a central Office of Diversity Equity and Inclusion. Diversity efforts throughout SUNY have resulted in noticeable gains, especially for Under-Represented Minority students. For example, SUNY has narrowed the achievement gap between Under-Represented Minority students and White students to 8.1 percent for six-year graduation rates (as compared to the 17% gap reported for national public and comparable private colleges). As a percent of SUNY’s total, Under-Represented Minority enrollment has grown from 14.7 percent to 23.8 percent over a 10-year period.

The new policy is centered not only on ensuring that SUNY’s diversity is representative of New York State’s projected demographics, but on expanding the evidence-based programs and supports that help diverse students succeed.

The number of Hispanic public high school students, for example, is projected to grow by 13 percent between 2008-09 and 2019-20, and the number of Asian/Pacific Islanders could grow by as much as 40 percent. To better serve these students, many of whom are the first in their family to attend college, SUNY will expand services like the Educational Opportunity Program and other K-12 interventions that prepare students for a college-level education.

A detailed data brief, which includes a summary of these and other key takeaways used to inform the new policy, is available online, and additional information is available on the Diversity Task Force website.

SUNY Trustee and President of the SUNY Students Assembly Thomas Mastro said, “SUNY students were proud to play a role in the development of this progressive policy and new student information tool. We applaud the value that diversity brings to the classroom and recognize that this approach allows all students to be counted and to have campuses held accountable for meeting their needs.”

SUNY Trustee and University Faculty Senate President Peter Knuepfer said, “This policy is an important step forward for SUNY as we meet the needs of an increasingly diverse student population. Enhancing the diversity of faculty and staff is key to reaching these goals.”

SUNY Trustee and President of the Faculty Council of Community Colleges Nina Tamrowski said, “SUNY’s community colleges are open access institutions and that special role aligns well with the inclusive focus of this policy.”

SUNY Provost, Executive Vice Chancellor, and Task Force Co-Chair Alexander N. Cartwright said, “Inclusion goes beyond just making sure we meet our diversity commitments. It also addresses the way that our students, faculty, and staff feel about being on campus every day. Are they respected? Do they feel supported? We want everyone who comes to SUNY to know that they are welcome and that they can succeed here.”

SUNY Chief Diversity Office and Task Force Co-Chair Carlos N. Medina said, “The System Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion wholeheartedly supports this policy and looks forward to supporting its implementation. Importantly, this policy endorses the principles of inclusive excellence, recognizes the value of diversity in the classroom and throughout our communities.”

University at Albany President and Task Force Member Robert Jones said, “I am a strong believer in the principles of inclusive excellence. This policy is in line with the principles that have guided me during my 38 years in higher education administration, and aligns with the goals I have set for my campus. It was an honor to work with the Diversity Task Force on the policy, which I believe will elevate SUNY as a national leader in diversity and inclusion.”

SUNY Potsdam President and Task Force Member Kristen Esterberg said, “I was so pleased to serve on the SUNY Diversity Task Force. The recommendations are bold and unflinching, ensuring that we continue to evolve to meet the needs of our diverse student population.”

About the State University of New York
The State University of New York, which celebrates its 75th anniversary this year, is the largest comprehensive system of higher education in the United States, and more than 95 percent of all New Yorkers live within 30 miles of any one of SUNY’s 64 colleges and universities. Across the system, SUNY has four academic health centers, five hospitals, four medical schools, two dental schools, a law school, the country’s oldest school of maritime, the state’s only college of optometry, and manages one US Department of Energy National Laboratory. In total, SUNY serves about 1.4 million students amongst its entire portfolio of credit- and non-credit-bearing courses and programs, continuing education, and community outreach programs. SUNY oversees nearly a quarter of academic research in New York. Research expenditures system-wide are nearly $1.1 billion in fiscal year 2022, including significant contributions from students and faculty. There are more than three million SUNY alumni worldwide, and one in three New Yorkers with a college degree is a SUNY alum. To learn more about how SUNY creates opportunities, visit

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