An Open Letter to the University of Rochester Community Regarding the Current Campus Racial Climate:
My name is Nelson Pichardo Almanzar, class of 1980. I am currently employed as a tenured professor in the Department of Sociology at Central Washington University where I also direct the Ethnic Studies program. I recently read in the alumni magazine an article regarding the less than desirable racial climate at U of R. And if I may, I would like to chime in on the discussion.
To begin, I credit my education at U of R for opening up and creating the opportunity for my success. As a Dominican student from NYC, I found the whole “college thing” fairly intimidating at first. I came to campus with the intent of majoring in history but after taking a course in which the professor assigned a book describing German settlement patterns in western Pennsylvania as a function of soil analysis, I decided that I needed to find a better major for me. Looking over the catalog of next semester’s course offerings I noticed that a section of Introduction to Sociology was listed and enrolled. I found Dr. Barbara Sobieszek’s class deeply engaging and promptly decided to major in sociology.
There, I found what I had been searching for: a major that responded to my personal experiences and identity. A major that examined in an open and critical fashion the issues of race, class, and gender and their roles in society. Sociology provided a home and a mission that turned me around as a student. Before my decision to switch majors, my GPA was fairly pathetic. But afterwards, my academic performance elevated considerably and with the support of the faculty was admitted into the Sociology doctorate program at the University of Michigan.
You may be asking what is the relevance of this all? My point is that in order to make the campus climate more open and inclusive that U of R should reopen its department of sociology. The presence of an academic discipline that takes the examination of race, class, and gender as part of its core mission can only serve as a welcome haven to students of color. Such a presence would broaden the opportunities for all students to develop critical thinking skills directed at the social issues and problems that currently animate society, but also (through the activities of a sociology faculty) bring an academically diverse voice to campus in terms a diverse curriculum, public events and presentations, mentoring students of color, and supporting student organizations of color.
As an important aside, with the recent announcement of Washington University at St. Louis of the reopening of their program, U of R is currently the only major university in the country without a Sociology department! The presence of a Sociology department, in my opinion, would go far toward promoting a more open and inclusive campus climate for the variety of racial and gender identities within the student body.
Nelson Pichardo Almanzar, PhD
Central Washington University