Niagara University's Rose Bente Lee Ostapenko Center for Race, Equality and Mission establishes critical interdependencies both on and off campus, working together with faculty and students across colleges and disciplines of study to leverage change in the academy and across sectors of education, business, government and the community. As such, the center serves as a resource to the community on issues of racial equity.
Last week, the Ostapenko Center presented the University, Community, and Government Partnerships for Race and Equality Conference. Its focus was on implementing systemic changes to improve the social conditions of society's most vulnerable individuals and promote social and racial equality.
Approximately 175 attendees engaged in topics that included recidivism; perceived social-psychological barriers of underrepresented undergraduate students; a restorative model for addressing the harms experienced by mentors with a history of incarceration; electoral power disparities; and student-led efforts to advance change.
"A central component of our Catholic and Vincentian mission at Niagara University is uniting people and organizations to have healthy conversations about how we can all help overcome marginalization and oppression in our communities," said Dr. Rolanda L. Ward, the endowed faculty director of the Ostapenko Center, which was established in fall 2017.
The conference's keynote speaker was Dr. David Anderson Hooker, associate professor of the practice of conflict transformation and peacebuilding at the University of Notre Dame. Hooker has worked with communities, governments, international NGOs and civil society organizations on post-conflict community building, environmental justice and other issues of public policy and social justice. A former assistant attorney general in Georgia, he serves as president and principal consultant of CounterStories Consulting LLC, where his work focuses on narrative alignment for civic, community and faith leaders.
"Most of us, because of the way we get funded and the way we understand our own precarity in our employment situations and in our communities, do crisis work," Hooker said. "Crisis work can't undo multigenerational transmission of trauma and structure. Crisis work doesn't undo structural violence. Crisis work doesn't undo cultural violence. Who's shifting the narrative? Who's working on changing the narratives about who people are, because that's the work that's going to make an impact? So if you're doing crisis work, at the very least you have to partner with somebody who has a decade-based strategy that will impact over the era, or over the age, and then align your work so that you all are doing the same thing."
The Ostapenko Center also co-sponsored a CLE (continuing legal education) program on "Implicit Bias, Diversity and Inclusion in the Legal Profession." Four attorneys from the Buffalo law firm of Harter Secrest & Emery LLP served as panelists: the moderator, partner John G. Horn, was joined by partner Sheldon K. Smith and associates Adam W. Braverman and Anna S. M. McCarthy. The program offered two CLE credits in the state's newly mandated category of diversity, inclusion and elimination of bias.
In addition to Niagara University's Ostapenko Center, the conference was presented by the New York chapter of the National Association of Social Workers, Catholic Charities and Harter Secrest & Emery LLP.
Niagara University's Ostapenko Center is named in honor of Rose Bente Lee Ostapenko, a native of Germany who immigrated to the U.S. in the 1930s before becoming a successful entrepreneur and philanthropist. To learn more, call 716-286-8520 or visit www.niagara.edu/ostapenko-race-equality-center