The Buffalo Project

An Ethnographic Study of Greater Buffalo, NY Culture

R Rogers Creative Mornings


SUNY Empire State College Principal Investigators: Dr. Rhianna C. Rogers (2010-present) and Dr. Elizabeth Bradley (2017-2018)

SUNY Buffalo State College Principal Investigator: Dr. Aimee Woznick (2013-2014 and 2018-2019)

University at Buffalo Principal Investigators: Kathy Twist (2017-2019)

ESC Alumni Research Consultants/Affiliated Projects: Dominique Murawski, M.A. (2017-2019) and Halee Potter, B.A. (2017-2019)

ESC Research Associates/Affiliated Projects: Rachel Whipple (2019-present), Nan Mead (2018-2019), Krystl Lentz (2018-2019), Cordell Roulhac (2018), Alexandra B. Valenti (2016-2018), Linda Holliday (2014), Maria Tripi (2010-2013), and Vincent Caito (2010-2011)


Historically speaking, Western New York (WNY) has long been plagued with economic hardships, long-term segregation, massive suburbanization of whites and the middle class, political division, and racial tensions (Goldman, 1983; Fry 2012; Price 1991; Trudeau, 2006; Housel, 2009; Kucsera & Orfield, 2014.) Additionally, economic downturns post-WWII and during the 2008 Great Recession have pitted populations in this region against each other as they struggled to find jobs and gain access to education. As a way to address these issues, since 2010, Principal Investigator (PI) Dr. Rhianna C. Rogers, co-PIs, colleagues, and research associates have worked with community stakeholders and WNY data to engage in an ethnographic study of perceptions of culture in the region. Coined the “Buffalo Project,” this study is an action-based diversity project focused on utilizing participant observations of culture as a way to inform the development of culture-based programming in college and community environments. Based on the success of the Buffalo Project at SUNY Empire – Buffalo, in 2018, Rogers and her colleagues have expanded this study into the Buffalo Project 2.0 (AY 2018-present), a joint ethnographic study of three SUNY campuses in WNY (i.e., SUNY Empire State College, SUNY Buffalo State College, and the University at Buffalo). The main goal of the Buffalo Project 2.0 is to leverage survey data to create regional opportunities for community stakeholders to learn from each other in both academic and community settings. We believe that this joint endeavor will encourage the development of cross-cultural competencies across a larger population of students, faculty, and administrators in the region. The goal is to teach cross-cultural understanding, respect, personal reflection and compassion for each other as members of a globalized community. The more we understand each other, the more we can make the world a better place for all.

Recent Presentations (Watch Here)

R.Rogers’ Creative Mornings Presentation: Wonder and WNY Culture: An Activist Approach (2019)

Buffalo Project 2.0 Presentation (2019)

Buffalo Project 1.0 (2010-2018) Reports (Read Here)

AY-2012-2013-Report-for-IRB (R.Rogers and M. Tripi)

AY 2013-2014 Report for IRB (R.Rogers and A. Woznick)

AY 2016-2018 Buffalo Project Report (R. Rogers, D. Murawski, H. Potter, and A. Valenti)

Buffalo Project 2.0 (2018-present) Reports

BP 2.0 – 2018_2019 Grant Report v3 7.16.2019 (R. Rogers, E. Bradley, A. Woznick, K. Twist, D. Murawski, H. Potter, K. Lentz, and N. Mead)

Articles (Read Here)

Effectively Facilitating Cross-Cultural Learning: Lessons Learned from the Buffalo Project” (R.Rogers, D. Murawski, and H. Potter) SUNY Empire State College, All About Mentoring, Spring 2019

How to Cultivate ‘Cultural Openness’ Among Adult Learners: Practical Examples from the Buffalo Project” (R.Rogers and A. Woznick) SUNY Empire State College, All About Mentoring, Winter 2015

This research project grew out of a paper presented at the 2011 Empire State College All-College Conference in Saratoga Springs, New York. As part of an plenary session entitled “Empire State College as an Open University: Open to Whom?” Lead Principal Investigator (PI), Dr. Rhianna C. Rogers, presented an invited paper titled “Is ESC’s Niagara Frontier Center (NFC) a culturally ‘Open’ Center for learning?” Now in its ninth year, the Buffalo Project has been used to develop student cross-cultural competencies, develop “safe space” for diverse student voices and perspectives as well as create student-centered programming focused on the development of cross-cultural awareness and sensitivities.

Data utilized in the the Buffalo Project 1.0 and 2.0 combined Western New York (WNY) history, regional Census reports, ESC Census data, recent cultural initiatives, informal communications with community stakeholders, general findings from the pilot study (AY 2010-2012) and formal student surveys (AY 2012-2014) to discuss the level of cultural understanding within the Niagara Frontier/Greater Buffalo region and whether it correlated (or not) with student academic inclusiveness.

Based on these aforementioned concepts, the following research question was developed*:

1. How can ESC/NFC become a more culturally “open” regional center?

Based on this question, we developed the following research objectives. Our hope is to:

  1. Understand and or construct a localized cultural history for ESC/NFC students in the context of the surrounding WNY cultural populations;
  2. Comment on the role of culture in each representative demographic group at ESC/NFC and the greater Buffalo region; and
  3. Determine what elements of “culture openness” have been identified in or around ESC/NFC that may have positively or negatively impacts on the learning processes for diverse populations.

*NOTE: The Buffalo Project 2.0 and Micro-studies associated with this project may have different research questions and objectives (see reports above for details.)


Results of this survey yielded new information about NFC culture not previously considered (see reports and article for more information). Generally speaking, our pilot and survey data (AY 2010-2014) indicated a general lack of cultural understanding among diverse student populations (e.g., across genders, race, ethnicity, settlement/location, class, economic, and technological divides). Some students did not understand the definition of culture and simplified the term to a study of race and ethnicity, thus minimizing its scope to exclude many standard culture-based classifications (e.g., economic, social, linguistic, political, religious and cultural variables). These results suggested that students were not being adequately engaged cross-culturally and/or being taught the importance of cultural diversity in an institution of Higher Education. We determined that the development of more culturally inclusive programming in the region and and increased opportunity for cross-cultural communication was needed in order to foster greater understand among students.



2019 SUNY Empire “You Make A Difference Award,” – Buffalo Project Deliberative Conversations Series (Dr. Rhianna C. Rogers)

2018-2019 SUNY Explorations in Diversity and Academic Excellence Grant Winner (Co-grantee with Dr. Elizabeth Bradley)

2015 James William and Mary Elizabeth Hall Award for Innovation (Dr. Rhianna C. Rogers):


As mentioned above, this survey information has been used to create  a variety of activities in the region in order to engage students cross-culturally; some of these events include culture-based plenary discussions, documentary film round tables, community tours, student clubs, and food events. The student survey results have also been used to inform local and state-wide governance committees at the college.

As alluded to earlier, this data set was meant to help students in the Greater Buffalo region to improve communication across diverse student populations and increase its retention of diverse learners. Below is a list of awards and accomplishments associated with this study. NOTE: There are many events still to be scheduled, so expect to see this page updated regularly.

  1. Create Cultures Across the Curriculum Residency (Fall 2012)
  2. Established a Buffalo Project Academic Plenary Series. Local Presentations/Lectures listed below. (Fall 2010-2016) *As of 2017, these are now college-wide.
  3. Established a Cultural Diversity Luncheon/Global Food Fest for NFC faculty, staff, and students. Semi Annual (Fall 2010-present)
  4. Established Community Presentations about the Buffalo Project. Lectures listed below. (Fall 2013-present)
  5. Created opportunities for WNY students to get involved in local and state-wide College governance committees (Fall 2013-present)
  6. Provide opportunities or community engagement through special event opportunities (e.g. See article about 2013 UB Presidenty Obama event here)
  7. Development of two clubs focused on inclusivity and student voice, 1) NFC Student Club-SUNY ESC NFC CARES (Jan 2012-2016):  and 2) the SUNY ESC Graduate Student Collaborative (2016-present):
  8. Diversity Forums (Fall 2015 -present)
  9. Deliberative Conversations (Fall 2017-present)
  10. Undergraduate and Graduate Final Projects/Thesis (see below)

Buffalo Project Deliberative Conversations (2017-present):

20170918_181832_Delib Con 2017

Photo Caption: Rogers Moderating Deliberative Conversation, Fall 2017 (Credit: Darlene Hapka)

Deliberative Conversations at SUNY Empire State College grew out of a partnership between ESC Student Life and the Buffalo Project. These conversations are an effort to increase cultural awareness, interaction and discussion among students, faculty, and staff around difficult topics. The uniquness of Deliberative Conversations format is that they are meant to intentionally bring together individuals who represent diverse perspectives around a topic, sometimes difficult or controversial, in order to advocate for tangible, joint solutions that given voice to all invested in the conversation.

From AY 2017-2018 & AY 2018-2019, Student Life and the Buffalo Project piloted a series of conversations, listed below:

  1. Bridging and Bonding: How Can We Engage Communities in a Time of Change? (Fall, 2017)
  2. Journeys in Social Stigma: Supporting Formerly Incarcerated Peoples Re-Entry into Education (Fall, 2017)
  3. Hurricane Maria and Puerto Rico Aftermath: A Student Discussion (Spring, 2018)
  4. Where have all the Voters Gone (Constitution Day, Fall 2018)
  5. #MeToo (Fall, 2019)
  6. Immigration in the Trump Era (Spring, 2019)

Based on the success of the pilot conversations, as of AY 2019-2020, Deliberative Conversations are now regularly offered as Student Life/Buffalo Project college-wide events. Here is a list of AY 2019-2020 conversations:

FALL 2019
1. Constitution Day- How can we use the Internet Safely? – A Joint Conversation (Sept. 17)
2. Challenges in Adult Learning (In Honor of Wales Brown) – (Student Academic Conference in Oct 24-26)
3. Developing Community in times of Social/Political Unrest (Dec. 2)
1. Gentrification in NY State: Reframing the Conversation (Jan. 29)
2. Get out to Vote: Political Fix – DATE PENDING
3. TBD- Section from Survey of Students (March/April) – DATE PENDING

Buffalo Project College-wide Diversity Forum Series (2015-present):

The College-wide Cultural Diversity and Inclusion forum series is an expansion of the highly successful Western New York student survey project, coined the Buffalo Project, co-facilitated by Dr. Rhianna C. Rogers, associate professor at SUNY Empire State College. (See website here:

KEYNOTE FOR Spring 2020: Karina Loera-Barcenas, SUNY Buffalo State Small Business Development Center Business Advisor (Date and Time TBD)

The keynote speaker will be discussing the creative problem solving process and how we, as individuals, use creative ways to solve things, create and express our cultural preferences, and illustrate aspects of our personal life, experiences, travels, influences, and knowledge.

Buffalo Project Undergraduate and Graduate Final Projects/ MA Theses (2014-present):

Kathy Twist, Thesis Chair, Spring 2019- present, Anthropological Analysis of Soft Skill Acquisition among the Student-Athlete Population. In Progress in the MA in Liberal Studies Program at SUNY Empire State College.

Cordell Roulhac, Undergraduate Final Project Chair, Spring 2018, Linguistic Code Switching and the Mental Health of African American Women. Graduate from the IMS Program at SUNY Empire State College.

Halee Potter, Undergraduate Final Project Chair, Fall 2017, Race, Gender, and Neighborhood in the Buffalo Project: An Ethnographic Study of WNY. Graduate from Social Science Program at SUNY Empire State College.

Alexandra Valenti, Undergraduate Final Project Chair, Spring 2017, Race, Gender, and Income: An Ethnographic Study of WNY. Graduate from Social Science Program at SUNY Empire State College.

Linda Holliday, Undergraduate Final Project Chair, Fall 2014, Melting Pot versus Salad Bowl: The Formation and Evolution of the Multicultural Mosaic of the United States (1960-present). Graduated from the Historical Studies Program at SUNY Empire State College.

Selected Statewide Lectures/Plenaries:

“The Buffalo Project” SUNY University at Buffalo Distinguished Lecture Series – Department of Anthropology, University at Buffalo, Buffalo, NY, March 2018.

Rhianna C. Rogers et. al, “MAC Diversity Summit – UB Invited Panel on Diversity and Inclusion.” Panelists: UB student athlete Devon Patterson, Rhianna Rogers, associate professor of interdisciplinary studies at Empire State College; and Helen A. Drew, professor of sports law, MAC Office, Cleveland, Ohio, February 2018.

Rhianna C. Rogers et. al, “Taking a Knee and Other Issues of Speech and Expression in Sport.” Panelists: UB law student Michael Schwartz; Devon Patterson, vice president of the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee; James Jarvis, associate counsel; Rhianna Rogers, associate professor of interdisciplinary studies at Empire State College; and Donald Grinde, director of graduate studies in the Department of Transnational Studies in the Difficult Conversations (DifCON) at the University at Buffalo, Buffalo, NY, October 2017.

“The Importance of Cultural Awareness and Sensitivity to WNY Realty: More Insights from the Buffalo Project” in WNY Relators Association-Women’s Council of Realtors Business Meeting, Amherst, NY Oct. 2015

Rhianna C. Rogers and Aimee Woznick “How to Cultivate Cross Cultural Awareness among Adult Learners: Practical Examples from the Buffalo Project SUNY Diversity Conference – Making Diversity Count: Ensuring Equity, Inclusion, Access and Impact.  Albany Mariott, Albany, NY, Nov. 2014

“Keynote Address: How Culture Can Impact WNY Settlement Patterns: Case Studies from the Buffalo Project” Realty Edge Business Meeting. Millennium Hotel, Cheektowaga, NY Nov. 2013

“The Importance of Cultural Awareness in WNY Realty: Case Studies from the Buffalo Project” WNY Relators Association, Hyatt Regency Hotel, Buffalo, NY Oct. 2013

“The Importance of Cultural Awareness and Sensitivity to WNY Realty” in WNY Relators Association-Women’s Council of Realtors Business Meeting, Amherst, NY Oct. 2013

Institutional Presentations about the Buffalo Project

Rhianna C. Rogers “The Buffalo Project: Exploring Cultural Inclusiveness at Empire State College-Niagara Frontier Center,” Dialogues Discussions. SUNY Empire State College-Niagara Frontier Center, Manhattan, NY, Mar. 2015.

Rhianna C. Rogers and Aimee Woznick “How to Cultivate Cross Cultural Awareness among Adult Learners: Revisiting the Buffalo Project ” Brown Bag Discussions. SUNY Empire State College-Niagara Frontier Center, Cheektowaga, NY, Nov. 2014.

“The Buffalo Project: How Can Empire State College’s Niagara Frontier Center Become a Culturally ‘Open’ Regional Center,” ESC Virtual Academic Conference, Cultural Studies AOS Meeting, SUNY Empire State College-Coordinating Center (Main Campus), Saratoga Springs, NY, Oct. 2012.

Rhianna C. Rogers and Maria L. Tripi “How Can Empire State College’s Niagara Frontier Center Become a Culturally ‘Open’ Regional Center, 8th Annual Empire State College Student Academic Conference, SUNY-Empire State College, Adams Mark Hotel, Buffalo, NY, Oct 2012.

“ESC as an Open University: An Ethnographic Study of SUNY ESC-Niagara Frontier,” in ESC as an Open Institution: Open to Whom? SUNY Empire State College All College Conference, ESC Coordinating Center (Main Campus), Saratoga Springs, NY, March 2011.

Buffalo Project Plenary Series/Lectures:

“Discussion of Iroquois Culture-Matriarchy and Disabilites by Michael Bastine” Semi Annual Buffalo Project Plenary Series Presentation with Brian Murphy and Drs. Sandra Johnson and Rodney Haring  (Event Co-Organizer with Sandra Johnson and Eric Bridges), SUNY Empire State College-Niagara Frontier Center, Cheektowaga, NY, April 2015.

“Native American Keynote Address by Dr. Rodney Haring and Tribal Sovereignty Plenary Session” Semi Annual Buffalo Project Plenary Series Presentation with Brian Murphy and Drs. Sandra Johnson and Rodney Haring  (Event Co-Organizer with Sandra Johnson and Panel Moderator), SUNY Empire State College-Niagara Frontier Center, Cheektowaga, NY, Nov. 2013.

“African American Plenary Event” Semi Annual Buffalo Project Plenary Series (Panel Organizer with Drs. Mark Soderstrom and Sonja Brown Givens and Event Moderator), SUNY Empire State College-Niagara Frontier Center, Cheektowaga, NY June 2013.

“Native American Event: Why do we celebrate Native American Month?,” Semi Annual Buffalo Project Plenary Series (Panel Co-organizer with Dr. Sandra Johnson and Prof. Ann Garner and Event Moderator with presenters Brendalee Piccone, Brian Murphy, Ann Garner, Sandra Johnson, and Sierra Adare-Tasiwoopa api), SUNY Empire State College-Niagara Frontier Center, Cheektowaga, NY, Nov. 2012.

“What is Cultural Sensitivity?” Panel Organizer and Moderator with Bob Gerulat, Sandra Johnson, Hartley Hutchins and Brian Murphy, Cultures Across the Curriculum Residency, SUNY Empire State College-Niagara Frontier Center, Cheektowaga, NY, Nov. 2011.


As we have seen in the Buffalo Project, having campuses offer safe spaces to hear constituents’ voices and encourage cross-cultural events and learning opportunities supports an atmosphere of inclusivity. It is when we take time to understand our own worldviews, ask questions about others, and listen to our students and community stakeholders that we are able to fully address the issues that are affecting them. As institutions of Higher Education, it is our responsibility to prepare our students to be successful graduates and cultural competent members of the 21st century globalized workforce. We believe the Buffalo Project format is one such platform for creating such an inclusive environment.


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