An Ethnographic Study of Greater Buffalo, WNY Culture
The Buffalo Project Mission: Develop action-based diversity initiatives that focused on utilizing participant observations of culture as a way to inform the development of intercultural competencies and culture-based programming in college and community environments.
BUFFALO PROJECT Investigators (2010-present)
SUNY Empire State College Principal Investigators: Dr. Rhianna C. Rogers (2010-present), Dr. Elizabeth Bradley (2017-2018), Dr. Rebecca Eliseo-Arras (2019-present)
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: Michelle Patterson (2019-present), Nan Mead (2018-present), Nayury Farber (2019), Rachel Whipple (2019), Krystl Lentz (2018-2019), Cordell Roulhac (2018), Nikki M. Parlato (2018), Carole Machowski (2018), Alexandra B. Valenti (2016-2018), Norma Rivera (2016), Linda Holliday (2014), Maria Tripi (2010-2013), and Vincent Caito (2010-2011)
PROJECT PREMISE: STUDYING STUDENT PERCEPTIONS GREATER BUFFALO, WNY CULTURE
Historically speaking, Western New York (WNY) has long been plagued with economic hardships, long-term segregation, massive suburbanization of whites/European Americans 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.
With the support of a 2018-2019 SUNY Explorations in Diversity & Academic Excellence Award (EDAE), 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 was to leverage survey data to create regional opportunities for community stakeholders to learn from each other in both academic and community settings. With the help of a 2019-2020 Rockefeller Institute of Government – Ernest Boyer Presidential Fellowship, in 2019, Rogers and colleagues plan to expand this study beyond Buffalo and across New York state (Buffalo Project 3.0 details forthcoming.)
Overall, 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)
Student Nayury Farber’s Understanding Intercultural Competencies & Becoming a Global Citizen (2019)
Buffalo Project 2.0 Presentation (Copresenters – R. Rogers, E. Bradley, A. Woznick, K. Twist, D. Murawski, H. Potter, K. Lentz, and N. Mead, 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
Buffalo Project 2.0 Report (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
BUFFALO PROJECT 1.0 AND 2.0 DESCRIPTION (AY 2010-PRESENT)
This project grew out of a two-year student-led ethnographic study* and was originally presented at the 2011 Empire State College All-College Conference in Saratoga Springs, New York. As part of an invited session entitled “Empire State College as an Open University: Open to Whom?” Lead Principal Investigator (PI), Dr. Rhianna C. Rogers, presented the paper titled “Is ESC’s Niagara Frontier Center (NFC) a culturally ‘Open’ Center for learning? If so, ‘Open’ to Whom?”
*NOTE: This study was conducted in a course created by Rogers in 2010, US History through Ethnology, which has been renamed American Cultural History in 2018.
Pilot data (i.e., informal observations and student pilot surveys) from AY 2010-2012 were analyzed to discuss the rates in which diverse students populations engaged each other on campus and across cultural lines. Generally speaking, our pilot data indicated a general lack of cultural understanding among diverse student populations (i.e., across genders, race, ethnicity, settlement/location, class, economic, and technological divides), illustrating that students were not being adequately engaged cross-culturally. Now in its ninth year, the Buffalo Project data set has been successfully used by Rogers and colleagues to address these issues and develop culturally competent, student-centered programming focused on the development of cross-cultural awareness and sensitivities.
Data utilized in the the Buffalo Project (pilot, 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 two formal student surveys (AY 2012-2014 and 2018-2019) to: 1) develop academic and community programming and 2) discuss the level of cultural understanding within the WNY and whether it correlated (or not) with academic inclusiveness and retention.
Based on these aforementioned concepts, the following research question was developed:
1. How can ESC/WNY become a more culturally “open” regional center?*
Based on this question, we developed the following research objectives. Our hope is to:
- Understand and or construct a localized cultural history for ESC/NFC students in the context of the surrounding WNY cultural populations;
- Comment on the role of culture in each representative demographic group at ESC/NFC and the greater Buffalo region; and
- 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 associated Micro-studies may have different research questions and objectives (see reports above for details.)
BUFFALO PROJECT GENERAL FINDINGS (2010-present)
Results of this survey yielded new information about WNY culture not previously considered (see reports and article for more detailed information). As mentioned above, our pilot and formal survey data (AY 2010-present) indicated a general lack of cultural understanding among diverse student populations (i.e., 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 culturally diverse perspectives in an institution of Higher Education. To address this shortfall, we determined that the development of more culturally inclusive programming in the region and increased opportunities for cross-cultural communication and the development of intercultural competencies were needed in order to foster true intercultural competencies among Western New Yorkers and beyond.
ACCOMPLISHMENTS BASED ON THE BUFFALO PROJECT (2010-present)
General Project Awards
2019-2020 SUNY Empire Provost/Associate Dean Innovation Award
2018-2019 SUNY Explorations in Diversity and Academic Excellence (EDAE) Award Recipient (Co-grantee with Dr. Elizabeth Bradley)
2015 James William and Mary Elizabeth Hall Award for Innovation (Dr. Rhianna C. Rogers): https://www.esc.edu/news/releases/2015/hall-award-innovation-rhianna-rogers.php
*NOTE: The Buffalo Project has been included in the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) Council Strategic Plan; the College’s Strategic Plan; and it has been cited in the SUNY Empire Middle States Accreditation Report.
CULTURALLY INCLUSIVE ACADEMIC PROGRAMMING AND COMMUNITY EVENTS
As mentioned above, the Buffalo Project data was collected in order to use it as the baseline for creating academic and community programming. Below is a list of awards and accomplishments associated with this study:
- Created Cultures Across the Curriculum Residency (Fall 2012) *As of 2017, this is now a college-wide residency renamed Virtual Residencies (see below)
- Established a Buffalo Project Academic Plenary Series. (Fall 2010-2016) *As of 2017, these are now college-wide and renamed Cultural Diversity Forum (2015-present) and Deliberative Conversations (2017-present)
- Established a Cultural Diversity Luncheon/Global Food Fest (Fall 2010-2018) *As of 2019, these are now college-wide.
- Established Community Presentations about the Buffalo Project/Diversity topics. (Fall 2013-present)
- Created opportunities for WNY students to get involved in local and state-wide College governance committees as well as conduct research (Fall 2013-present) * As of 2014, students can also conducted undergraduate and graduate Microstudies/Final Projects/ M.A. theses related to the Buffalo Project (see below)
- Provided opportunities for community engagement through special events (e.g. WNY Historic Community Tours, Theatre discounts, and events – See article about 2013 UB Presidenty Obama event here)
- Developed of two clubs focused on inclusivity and student voice, 1) NFC Student Club-SUNY ESC NFC CARES (Jan 2012-2016): http://sunyesccares.wordpress.com/ and 2) the SUNY ESC Graduate Student Collaborative (2016-present): https://sunyescgsc.wordpress.com/
Some of the aforementioned projects (i.e., Virtual Residencies, Deliberative Conversations, Diversity Forums/Plenaries, and Diversity Food Festivals) have become their own affiliated sub-projects. Below is a comprehensive list of affiliated projects and short descriptions:
SUB-PROJECT #1: Virtual Residencies (2017-present)
- Virtual Residencies at SUNY Empire (Rogers interview): https://news.elearninginside.com/suny-virtual-residency/
- Rhianna Rogers, Introduction to VRs at SUNY Empire State College (2018): https://learn.esc.edu/media/FacultyFridayA+Dr.+Rhianna+Rogers/1_ea4g5jmo
- Jeannine Mercer, Katarina Pisutova, Rhianna Rogers, “From Mystery to Mastery: Creating & Enhancing the Ultimate Virtual Classroom Experience,” COIL Conference, 2018.
- Katarina Pisutova, Rhianna Rogers, Jeannine Mercer, “Engaging Students at a Distance: Advantages and Pitfalls of Video-Conference use in Teaching,” 16th International Conference on Emerging eLearning Technologies and Applications, 2018.
VR Awards: 2018-2019 SUNY Empire Provost PILLARs tri-school grant recipient (co-grantee Dr. Rhianna C. Rogers – Social and Behavioral Sciences, Dr. Yvonne Murphy – Arts and Humanities, and Dr. Diane Schictman – Science Math and Technology) and IE.
- Year of Indigenous Peoples (2017 Fall & Spring 2018)
- Digital Studies (Spring 2019)
- Global Studies (Fall 2019)
- Building Community it Times of Social Unrest (Spring 2020)
SUB-PROJECT #2: Deliberative Conversations (2017-present):
Photo Caption: Rogers Moderating Deliberative Conversation, Fall 2017 (Credit: Darlene Hapka)
Deliberative Conversations at SUNY Empire grew out of a partnership between the college’s Division of Student Affairs-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 uniqueness of the Deliberative Conversations format is that it is meant to intentionally bring together individuals who represent diverse perspectives around a topic; sometimes difficult or controversial, to advocate for tangible, joint solutions that give a voice to all invested in the conversation.
(AY 2017-2018 & AY 2018-2019) Student Life and the Buffalo Project piloted a series of conversations, listed below.
NOTE: Hyperlinks below connect to Deliberative Conversation solutions co-created by participants (e.g., conversation notes, videos, articles/papers, websites, call-to-actions.):
- Bridging and Bonding: How Can We Engage Communities in a Time of Change? (Fall, 2017)
- Journeys in Social Stigma: Supporting Formerly Incarcerated Peoples Re-Entry into Education (Fall, 2017)
- Hurricane Maria and Puerto Rico Aftermath: A Student Discussion (Spring, 2018)
- Where have all the Voters Gone (Constitution Day, Fall 2018)
- Deliberative Conversation_MeToo (Spring 2019)
- 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. As of 2019, students who are part of the Student Leadership program and SUNY Empire are also required to participate in these events.
Here is a list of AY 2019-2020 conversations:
SUB-PROJECT #3: 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. This Buffalo Project program partners with the SUNY Empire Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Office (See website here: https://www.esc.edu/diversity-forum/)
- 2015 College-wide Forum #1: Race and Policing
- 2016 College-wide Forum #2: Cultural Diversity
- 2017 College-wide Forum #3: American Politics and Race
- 2018 College-wide Forum #4: Invisible and Visible Disabilities
- 2019 College-wide Forum #5: Microaggressions in Everyday Life
KEYNOTE FOR Spring 2020: How Creative Thinking Sets the Environment for Diversity and Innovation.
Karina Loera-Barcenas, SUNY Buffalo State Small Business Development Center Business Advisor (Date and Time TBD)
- To encourage a positive, collaborative environment at ESC through deliberative planning of engaging college-wide events and conversations;
- To create an inclusive space that actively engages members of the ESC and supports their contributions to an engaged learning community;
- To develop a digital space to post events, share resources, post videos (etc.) that is accessible to all, public facing and can serve as a repository of sorts for collaborative efforts and projects.
To date, the F.U.N. Committee has co-created two major, community building initiatives:
- 2019 College-wide Mascot Competition (partnering with the President’s Office and the Student Academic Committee)
- 2019 College-wide Diversity Food Festival and Community Cookbook -a F.U.N. Committee and Westside Bazaar NGO sponsored event (Nov. 7th, 5pm-8pm)
SUB-PROJECTS #5: Affiliated Microstudies, Undergraduate and Graduate Final Projects, and MA Theses (2014-present)
Dr. Elizabeth Bradley and Nan Mead, AY 2018-2019, Buffalo Project 2.0 Microstudy of ESC Underrepresented Minorities (URM). Completed as part of a SUNY Explorations in Diversity and Academic Excellence (EDAE) Grant.
Kathy Twist, Thesis Chair, Spring 2019- Fall 2019, Transformative Learning Communities as a Diversity & Inclusion Framework: A Buffalo Project Case Study. Anticipated Graduation (Dec. 2019) from 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.
As we have seen in the Buffalo Project, offering safe spaces to hear constituents’ voices and using them to inform the creation of community events and academic programming can improve intercultural competencies within a learning environment. It is when we take time to understand our own worldviews, ask questions, and listen to our students and community stakeholders that we are able to fully address the issues 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 is a replicable framework for creating such an inclusive environment.
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Fry, R., Taylor, P. (2012). The Rise of Residential Segregation by Income. Pew Research Center.Retrieved from http://www.pewsocialtrends.org/2012/08/01/the-rise-of-residential- segregation-by-income/
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Housel, J. A. (2009). Geographies of whiteness: the active construction of racialized privilege in Buffalo, New York. Social & Cultural Geography, 10(2), 131-151.
Jayakumar, U.M., Howard, T.C., Allen, W.R., Han, J.C. (2009). Racial privilege in the professoriate: An exploration of campus climate, retention, and satisfaction. Journal of Higher Education, 80, 538–563.
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Rogers, R. C., & Woznick, A. M. (2015). How to cultivate “cultural openness” among adult learners: Practical examples from the Buffalo Project. All About Mentoring, 46, 49-54.
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Selected Statewide Lectures/Plenaries:
“Building Community in Times of Social Unrest: Rockefeller/Buffalo Project Partnership,” Rockefeller Institute of Government Fellow Lecture. Albany, NY, 2019.
“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
Selected Institutional Presentations:
“The Buffalo Project 2.0,” Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Council. SUNY Empire State College-Saratoga Springs, October 2019.
“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 (2010-2015):
*As of 2017, these are now college-wide and renamed Cultural Diversity Forum (2015-present) and Deliberative Conversations (2017-present)
“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. https://ensemble.annese.com/app/sites/index.aspx?destinationID=aSPB6eUGcku1g7SLDiz5Hg&contentID=9PRpWq-EY0-mbVL0WeswOA&pageIndex=1&pageSize=10
“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. http://vimeo.com/53705437
“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.