UB Needs to get it Right (By: Michele Babcock-Nice)

When I was a student at the University at Buffalo (UB), I had some really great experiences.  In prior posts in this blog, I have described many of my wonderful experiences.  I also had many unpleasant, hurtful, and traumatic experiences.  Describing about some of these situations, to follow, I will also provide some suggestions to officials at UB so that such situations are not repeated with other students.

1) In 1993, I earned a baccalaureate degree in psychology and a bachelor’s degree in political science.  This is a particular detail that is important to me, especially because the University at Buffalo Records and Registration Department (R&R) erred in identifying my accomplishment over a period of 10 – yes 10 – years. Additionally – and while I still very much appreciate it – UB’s President at the time, Dr. William Greiner – also erred on this detail in a recommendation he completed for me, such recommendation that is published in it’s entirety elsewhere in this blog.  On my official UB transcript from 1993-2003, R&R reflected that I earned only one BA, however that was incorrect.

When I went to R&R, personally, several times during the course of that decade, no one would listen to me.  I was brushed off and not taken seriously at all when I repeatedly told people in R&R that their records were incorrect.  Personally, I went to R&R and I wrote letters to several individuals over that period of 10 years until someone finally listened to me, verified that what I stated about my degrees was correct, and corrected my official transcript to reflect both of my degrees earned.

I am sure that anyone in my situation would feel similarly, particularly after experiencing what I have in regard to years of trying to see to it that my educational achievements have been correctly recorded and documented by UB officials.  This is particularly important when people read my resume, and other career-related documents, because I list my educational achievement of the two degrees correctly.

When this error was made during that decade, many believed that I was in error, and therefore, also dishonest, when it was UB that was in error.  I spent $10,000s on my education, including for the acquisition of my second BA at UB.  I also invested an obscene amount of credit hours to earn both of those degrees over a period of less than 3.5 years.  It is important, therefore, that UB has it right!

UB Partial View of Governor's Complex Dorms (Retrieved on May 28, 2014 fromhttp://housing.buffalo.edu/roosevelt.php)

UB Partial View of Governor’s Complex Dorms (Retrieved on May 28, 2014 fromhttp://housing.buffalo.edu/roosevelt.php)

2) In my first semester at UB, I experienced bullying by my roommate.  She was often disruptive in our dorm room by coming back in the wee hours of the morning with her boyfriend, who would also spend the rest of the night in our dorm room.  She also often moved my things and made many attempts at taking over my space, which we had originally divided evenly.  On frigid winter nights, she would also open the window to it’s full four feet, and expect that it would be acceptable to me that we should freeze.  She would often turn up her stereo volume loudly when I was quietly studying in our dorm room.  And, she had a nasty habit of slamming the door to our dorm room, which as you can imagine, endeared her to everyone on the hall (realize I am being sarcastic here).

I tried to speak with my roommate many times about my concerns, trying to reach agreement and compromise with her, however she always refused.  It always had to be her way.  Therefore, I repeatedly reported these situations to my graduate resident advisor, and repeatedly asked to move, though he did nothing until a situation occurred in which we were both required to move out of the dorm room as a result of our behavior toward each other.  Bullying and the creation of a hostile environment in dorm rooms are issues that UB definitely needs to take more seriously.

Ejaculating Snow Penis at UB in 2010 (Retrieved on May 28, 2014 from http://photographsbyseon.wordpress.com/2010/02/27/the-snow-phallus-is-back/) (Definitely offensive to UB rape survivors)

Ejaculating Snow Penis at UB in 2010 (Retrieved on May 28, 2014 from http://photographsbyseon.wordpress.com/ 2010/02/27/the-snow-phallus-is-back/) (Definitely offensive to UB rape survivors)

3) What I will always remember as a traumatic and negatively life-changing experience at UB was when I was sexually assaulted in my dorm room during my last semester there.  Four people were aware of what occurred, though no one reported it.  Two of those people became accomplices to the man who raped me by not reporting it.  It took me about 2.5 years to gain the courage and overcome the humiliation to report this crime.  When I did so at UB, one of the public safety chiefs laughed out loud about what had occurred.  I felt like an ant that had just been smashed.

That was only the beginning of the repeated process of revictimization I experienced as a result of this crime that, to this day, has not been resolved to my satisfaction, and regarding which the offender was never charged or prosecuted.  Additionally, a description of what occurred, as well the offender’s name and other identifying information such as his birthday (both of which I will always remember, by the way), have been deleted from the report that I filed at UB.  I am thankful, however, for the female public safety officer who treated me with kindness and respect.  She was the only person in the entire legal process who supported me in any way.

When I attempted to reach out, prior to finally officially reporting the sexual assault, to several UB administrators and/or their family members, I was ostracized and turned away.  On a number of occasions, I tried to reach out to UB President Bill Greiner by sending him short correspondence.  The answer that I received to my correspondence was from then-Dean of Students Dennis Black, threatening criminal action against me if I continued my communications with Bill!  These were communications that were appropriate, and in which I was merely attempting to reach out for some emotional support and assistance.  I did not get that from anyone at UB except the female public safety officer who originally took my report, and who was kind and professional toward me.

Shortly after reporting the sexual assault and experiencing repeated revictimization through the legal process of doing so, I wrote and posted about my experience at UB and other area campuses in an effort to educate and inform other students about my experience, in the hope that they would be able to protect themselves against something similar happening to them.  One day when I posted my writings at UB, a UB official approached me and told me not to post my information.  This only caused me to post and write about it more.  Such insensitivity and lack of understanding was incredible to me!

UB Partial View of Ellicott Complex Dorms (Retrieved on May 28, 2014 from Google Images of the University at Buffalo)

UB Partial View of Ellicott Complex Dorms (Retrieved on May 28, 2014 from Google Images of the University at Buffalo)

Therefore, I have a number of suggestions to UB officials in regard to these situations.  For #1, there should be an audit process at UB that reviews students’ degrees to be sure that the information on record is accurate.  For the information about my degrees to be recorded and repeatedly documented incorrectly, over a period of 10 years, and still to the present day, is absolutely unacceptable.  Also unacceptable was the treatment that I received by individuals in R&R who repeatedly refused to listen to me, nor consider that my information to them was correct and that they were in error.

In association with #2, all too often bullying and a hostile environment are created when people take no action to stop it and/or resolve the situations.  The graduate resident advisor to whom I repeatedly reported these situations did nothing until a serious situation occurred that was unresolvable.  Those who oversee the welfare of others must take seriously the issues of bullying and a hostile environment so that worse situations are not provoked into occurring.

Regarding #3, no one was there for me at UB when I was sexually assaulted.  When I turned to many people, no one helped me.  Being so hurt and humiliated by this violent and traumatizing experience in which I was internally-injured, I blocked it out for a period of a few years before returning to UB to report it, as well as to seek support and assistance for my recovery outside of UB.  I have spent $1,000s on my recovery from this painful trauma, such assistance having been a great benefit and self-help for me.  For any UB official to minimize, ridicule, disbelieve, overlook, deny, and/or cover up this crime, as well as to revictimize me as the survivor is abominable, and there were a number who did so.

UB can establish programs to support sexual trauma survivors, and can also educate about sexual trauma, including how it occurs and how vulnerable individuals can protect themselves from it.  UB can also train it’s officials in regard to responding more sensitively and effectively to those who have experienced sexual traumas on campus.

Myself on Graduation Day at the University at Buffalo, New York, May 16, 1993

Myself on Graduation Day at the University at Buffalo, New York, May 16, 1993

Individuals at UB are what make up UB.  Each individual is a part of the whole, and when any individual is harmed, the whole is also harmed.  The institution should not be more important than the individual, however that was repeatedly proven to me in what I experienced.  So, while I had many wonderful experiences at UB, many of which I have written about in this blog, I have also experienced these hurtful situations.  I expected more from UB, but in regard to these specific situations, I received less.  As a result, I am speaking out, and have already spoken out in several capacities, particularly in regard to being sexually assaulted.

UB will not silence me, nor overlook, minimize, or ridicule my experience, nor succeed in revictimizing me.  Rather than attempt that, why not take action to help and support survivors and victims of sexual trauma that has occurred on campus? Indeed, I have become an activist and advocate for those who are minimized and bullied, as well as for those who have experienced sexual trauma.  I am also a supporter for the recovery of those of all ages, including children, who have suicidal ideation, particularly as a result of sexual trauma.

My experience of being sexually assaulted at UB has been singular in my advocacy for sexual trauma survivors.  So, while being sexually assaulted at UB created much hurt and pain in my life, the good thing is that it has caused me to become an advocate for others who have had similar experiences.  I also try to be aware of speaking and reaching out to those who will actually be helpful to survivors and victims.  Particularly in this area, UB can do better!

Recently, a UB official contacted me via LinkedIn through my personal email account, and requested that I write a recommendation for UB.  Due to the above-described information, I am unable to author a recommendation for UB, however information about many of my positive experiences as a student at UB can be found in prior posts within this blog.

There is good and bad everywhere and in everything, however UB still needs to show me that it can get it right with regard to these issues!

Author’s Note (June 5, 2014): Since posting a UB article about Nursing Week, and how UB could potentially take some initiative within the nursing program to implement programs for student survivors of sexual trauma that has occurred on campus, my comments and posts in the LinkedIn group, University at Buffalo Alumni, have been restricted.  I have attempted to post additional comments and articles, and have requested of the group manager that I be free to post, however she has responded to me that I am, however she has not approved my comments or posts.  Currently, this is the only LinkedIn group (out of 51 groups) in which a manager has not changed my settings to be free to post, nor has approved all of my comments and posts.

It also seems that this is a greater reflection on UB that when controversial issues arise, there are attempts at silencing them.  This is another reason why The Spectrum, the student newspaper at UB, is independent of the university – because of the politics involved in students previously being unable to publish freely, without experiencing retaliation, threats, and/or attempts at silencing them from UB officials.  My view is that my article is an opportunity for people at UB to take initiative regarding these issues and make improvements rather than attempt to silence them and prevent freedom of speech.

 

 

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“Society Must Hold Offenders Responsible, Not Punish Victims” (By: Michele Babcock-Nice)

Mother Nature Crying (Retrieved from http://www.free-hdwallpapers.com/wallpaper/abstract/mother-nature-crying/22445, January 11, 2014)

Mother Nature Crying (Retrieved from http://www.free-hdwallpapers.com/wallpaper/abstract/mother-nature-crying/22445, January 11, 2014)

Very often in our society, we are informed of criminal offenders who are held responsible and accountable for their actions.  There are those in our society who work hard to see to it that perpetrators of crimes are brought to justice, that they are removed from the greater society for a period of time, and so that, potentially, they do not commit the same or similar types of crimes in the future.  There are many people, such as a police officers, attorneys, prosecutors, and judges whose hearts and minds are in the right place when it comes to holding responsible and accountable those who commit crimes, particularly violent crimes, including sex crimes.

Conversely, there are also times when people who have committed crimes are not held responsible or accountable for their crimes, nor are they ever required to answer for their criminal actions.  In these situations, there may or may not be extenuating circumstances in which evidence has been removed or destroyed by the perpetrators and/or accomplices; corroboration and/or substantiation of facts regarding the crime may not be obtained; confessions of those who committed the crimes were not secured; evidence and/or facts regarding the crime were concealed or never located; and other reasons.

Sometimes, in cases involving child sexual abuse, there is the possibility that police, attorneys, prosecutors, and/or parents do not desire to place children on the stand in court to testify against the person(s) who assaulted them.  In other situations, it is possible that a particular network of people, such as athletes or fraternity brothers in a college, promote and live a culture of disrespect and/or violence, covering up for each other when sexual assaults are committed.  Or, has often occurred in the Roman Catholic Church when religious have committed sex crimes, they may be protected by higher authorities in the Church.

Many years ago, a local pediatrician in my area informed me that preschools are commonly places where young children are sexually abused.  I have always remembered that, and have often wondered why doctors do not do more to inform about this and/or take measures aimed at protecting children.  Too often, physicians are more interested in treating a problem or issue after it arises rather than seeking to inform, educate, protect, and prevent such things from occurring in the first place.

In 2007, there were two police reports made regarding a preschool teacher at Sola Fide Lutheran Church Preschool in Lawrenceville, Georgia, describing her repeated sexual abuse of children, aged 2-4, who were in her care.  Four children were identified as having been repeatedly emotionally, physically, and sexually abused by the preschool teacher.  All four children were interviewed by a special investigator with the county police department.  Out of fear, three of the four children denied any sexual abuse by the teacher.  Without corroboration, evidence, or a confession by the accused, the case was unable to be substantiated and was closed.  Without a formal charge or conviction against the teacher, the case was never made public.

One of the children who had been identified as having been abused was the school principal’s two-year-old daughter, who regularly participated in classes with the three and four-year-olds that were taught by the teacher.  In these classes, there was an assistant teacher, as well as a volunteer.  The lead teacher perpetrated the abuse that was ignored and overlooked by the other two women.  Abuse was perpetrated in the bathroom, storage room, and empty classroom in the trailer that was used for classrooms.  During the investigation, the principal destroyed evidence related to the abuse so that it was never identified or recovered by police.  Following the close of the investigation, the school promoted the lead teacher who had perpetrated the abuse by providing her with her own classroom and extending the hours of her classes.  Two years later, the principal got another job, and he and his family left the school.

Child Angel Statue Crying (Retrieved from http://www.watchmanscry.com/article-get-your%20house-in-order.html, January 11, 2014)

Child Angel Statue Crying (Retrieved from http://www.watchmanscry.com/article-get-your%20house-in-order.html, January 11, 2014)

In 1995, a rape was reported to campus police at the University at Buffalo that had occurred in 1992 on the Amherst Campus.  The rape was committed by a male student against a female student.  Both students had been arranged by mutual friends to have a date.  The man took the woman to a local bar, and entered the bar and drank though he was underage, having used an inauthentic driver’s license to enter the establishment.  During the date, the man persistently encouraged the woman to drink, though she drank little.  Following the date and because the student lounge of the woman’s dormitory was a shambles, the woman invited the man in to her dorm room, where he proceeded to deceive her into trusting him, and raped her.  The action was against the woman’s will as the man held her down and caused internal injuries to her while raping her.  The attack was extremely traumatic for the victim who told her friends about it, and they did nothing, in effect becoming accessories to the crime.  In fact, those “friends” never spoke to the survivor again.  No one helped the survivor at her university; she coped the best that she could on her own.

When the rape was reported in 1995 to the campus police at the university, one of the police chiefs laughed about it, demoralizing and dehumanizing the survivor.  The case went to the county district attorney’s office, but was conveniently found to have exceeded the statute of limitations for the category in which the crime was placed.  No support or understanding was offered or provided to the survivor at the university or through the district attorney’s office.  Worse, the district attorney who handled the case told the survivor that she had not been raped, thus blaming and revictimizing the victim.  The offender got away with his crime, was never required to answer for it, and ended up being protected by the DA’s office and the university police by not being brought to justice for it.  Several years following the closure of the case, the perpetrator’s name was deleted from the police report by the campus police, as was the description of the crime that had occurred.  Neither the description of the crime, nor the offender’s name were maintained by campus police in the police report, essentially absolving him of the crime and revictimizing the victim.

These are two examples of crimes in which the perpetrators got away with their offenses.  They were not held accountable, charged, or prosecuted by the very individuals and agencies that are supposed to be protective against crimes, including sex crimes.  While these are just two examples of such situations, there are many more that occur in society every day, and from which perpetrators walk away.

It is important that society be sensitive, understanding, and insightful about victims and survivors of crimes and trauma, including sex crimes.  It seems that most people, because they have not been properly trained in relating with crime victims and trauma survivors, stigmatize and revictimize survivors by blaming, shaming, and punishing them.  Those who should be held accountable and responsible are the perpetrators, themselves, however and often, people make incorrect assumptions and judgments regarding appearances and surface information without knowing all of the details and information that is confidential.

Jesus was also a person who was inaccurately judged by many.  He was a good and merciful person of whom many in power positions were jealous.  Jesus was also different in his goodness, different in that he was so good that he tended not to fit in and was, therefore, ostracized and resented by many.  Jesus was a person who died as a result of jealousy, hated, and evil of those who were unable to tolerate a good and merciful person, a person who was unique and unsurpassable in his goodness and mercy.

Therefore it follows that it is important for people not to inaccurately judge and/or make incorrect assumptions about each other, especially without having all of the details or confidential information.  It is also important that people not stigmatize, blame, punish, and revictimize survivors and victims of crimes, simply out of their own fear, and lack of both insight and understanding.  As people, we should strive to be understanding, helpful, and supportive to each other, as well as forgiving, even in the worst of circumstances, yet also stand up for ourselves and the truth, whether or not we are blamed, stigmatized, punished, or revictimized.

Silence protects and empowers the perpetrators of crimes.  We must seek to speak out about crimes so that criminals are not protected, and so that the greater society is informed and educated about them.

References:

American Psychological Association (2014).  “Understanding child sexual abuse: Education, prevention, and recovery.  What are the effects of child sexual abuse?”  Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.   http://www.apa.org/pubs/info/brochures/sex-abuse.aspx?item=4.  Retrieved January 11, 2014.

Babcock-Nice, M. (November 23, 2013).  “Trauma-focused group therapy proposal for adult female rape survivors.” Atlanta, GA: Argosy University, Atlanta.

Baldor, L.C. (January 10, 2014).  “‘Culture of disrespect’ fuels academy sex assaults.”  MSN.com.   http://news.msn.com/us/culture-of-disrespect-fuels-academy-sex-assaults.  Retrieved January 10, 2014.

“Gwinnett Tech Screens out it’s Own Honor Student, Twice” (By: Michele Babcock-Nice)

'Gwinnett Technical College' Wording on Diploma Cover

‘Gwinnett Technical College’ Wording on Diploma Cover

Sometimes, a person just has to let some things go.  However painful, this has been one of those things… 

In 2010-2011, I returned to school at my local Gwinnett Technical College (GTC) on Georgia’s Hope Grant, pursuing studies that certified me in healthcare.  In transferring courses from my undergraduate university, as well as completing required prerequisite courses to pursue further program studies in healthcare-related fields, I successfully completed all courses and requirements, maintaining a 4.0 grade point average, being named to the dean’s list on two occasions, being named to the college’s honor society – as well as being an active participant in it – and earning a percentile score of 97% on the HOBET, a healthcare admissions examination.  In two of my courses completed at GTC, I also earned the highest possible ethics score of 3/3 for my performance, a score that is rarely issued to students unless exceptional ethics and mastery is reflected.

Having been unable to re-enter into the teaching field for two years – at that time in 2010 – I chose to pursue a career change.  It was my desire to pursue my interest in healthcare, and to enter into a nursing or other healthcare-related field.  Reflecting my interests, schedule availability, and financial need, I applied – twice – to GTC’s program in medical assisting, and was twice rejected from it.  Being eligible for the Federal Workforce Investment Act Grant in Gwinnett County, since I had been laid off from my previous employment, I met all the criteria for receiving the Grant due to employment as well as financial circumstances.  Unfortunately, I also discovered that the Grant was not transferrable to other counties and was required to be used – if issued – in Gwinnett County, since that was the location of the employer that had laid me off one year prior to that.

Devastated that I had been rejected from my desired program of study on the first occasion, I went through the appropriate channels of college administration and made a formal complaint.  In part, I expressed how the majority of the individuals who met with me in the formal interview process were nearly 30 minutes late to the arranged interview time, that there was no apology provided for their lateness, that the program director basically told me that I was overqualified and wondered why I was pursuing a program in which the income was low, and that the interviewers’ questions were extremely negatively-focused.  I also informed college administrators (the president and two vice presidents) that I was told by one interviewer that I would fail (!) the program.  I stated in my complaint that it was obvious to me that the decision had been made to reject me from the program long before the formal interview, and that the interview only sealed the fate they already had planned for me. 

When – as I expected – the president finally responded in writing (see letter to follow) to my complaint and appeal, she upheld the decision of the interview panel to reject me, as well as the decision of one of her vice presidents in refusing to reconsider my application to the program for that semester.  I then met with the vice president who refused to reconsider me, and discovered, in part, that the program director told her that she believed that I would be unable to complete the program due to my financial status.  What?!  The Workforce Investment Act Grant would have paid for my studies, and with my 4.0 GPA and outstanding ethics, I would have likely had nothing but success in the program, once accepted.  The vice president was further concerned that I had written to certain state government officials, particularly the state labor department commissioner, about the rejection that I had experienced, stating that the manner in which I was rejected was unprofessional.  Was it not unprofessional?

Gwinnett Technical College President's Response to my Complaint and Appeals Regarding GTC's First Rejection of me, August 2011

Gwinnett Technical College President’s Response to my Complaint and Appeals Regarding GTC’s First Rejection of me, August 2011

I, therefore, wrote additional appeals for consideration for entry into the medical assisting program at GTC – and explained all of the circumstances surrounding my desire to pursue the program and being rejected from it – to a number of state and federal government officials, some of whom included the governor and his wife, a Congress member and his assistant, the technical college commissioner and his assistant, and higher ranking members of our national government, including the President, First Lady, Vice President, and Secretary of State. 

I received kind responses from the Governor (see letter to follow), the Congress Member’s assistant, an assistant to the US President, and the US First Lady, Michelle Obama.  The technical college commissioner’s assistant also heard me out on a couple of occasions, though nothing was done to overturn the decision that was already made to reject me, nor to reconsider me in any way at that time. 

Honorable Georgia Governor Nathan Deal's Response Letter Regarding Gwinnett Technical College's Rejection of me, July 2011

Honorable Georgia Governor Nathan Deal’s Response Letter Regarding Gwinnett Technical College’s Rejection of me, July 2011

The response that included much common sense and understanding about my personal situation was that which I received from First Lady Michelle Obama.  She, in part, suggested to me that I do something else to benefit my community (see letter below).

Letter to me from Honorable United States First Lady Michelle Obama Regarding Gwinnett Technical College's Rejection of me, August 2011

Letter to me from Honorable United States First Lady Michelle Obama Regarding Gwinnett Technical College’s Rejection of me, August 2011

A number of efforts were made by staff at GTC to usher me into different healthcare-related programs, and/or to encourage me to consider other options, including applying for several positions as an instructor at the college.  My heart, however, was set on pursuing the medical assisting program, and so, less than one year later, I applied to the program for a second time. 

On the second occasion in which I interviewed for the medical assisting program, a brand new program director had been hired and who was present in the interview, as well as an entirely different interview team.  Though I thought the interview to have proceeded professionally and well, and believed that I had a wonderful chance at acceptance – even though my second application to the program was overlooked in Admissions and I had to follow-up on it several times in order for it to be recognized – I was rejected again, for the second time. 

Devastated again, for the second time, I decided that enough was enough.  After spending three years in trying to pursue medical assistant studies at GTC and being rejected twice – after also being an honor graduate there – it was time to walk away.  I could see that there was no convincing the folks there of my interest, desire, and need to pursue this career.  They had not provided me with an opportunity to succeed, but only to fail, and it was imperative that I find success elsewhere.  Perhaps they felt threatened by my education, perhaps they did not believe in me, perhaps they just didn’t like me.  After all, the new program director was less educated than I am.  Whatever the reason(s), I don’t know, and it doesn’t matter anymore.

Following this second rejection, I did not write any letters.  I did not make any formal complaints.  I did not call any government officials.  Instead, I was just heartbroken and I cried.  It was just too sad and too much for me to bear.  I discovered that it was actually true that so many people did not want me to succeed.  Even one of the professors about whom I had written a compliment letter to admininstrators, and who was an interview panel member in my second interview, rejected me.  So many people withheld an opportunity for me to be successful, to pursue an interesting career, to be able to care for myself and my family in a manner that would have provided increased financial security.  I resolved that it was their problem and their loss.

It would have been easy to give up following these rejections.  It has been these rejections added to so many other rejections.  It is easy for people to say to try again, to keep trying, not to give up.  However, one cannot get ahead when one continually runs into a brick wall.  A single, divorced mother without employment and who is highly-educated cannot give up.  No matter how much I am down, I always, always find a way back up.  I have strength.  I have faith.  And, I know that God is always there for me, no matter how difficult and impossible the circumstances.  I know that life may often seem unfair.

Needless to say, I have not applied to GTC’s medical assisting program for a third time.  No, I’m not going to do that.  Why waste any more of my time, effort, hope, emotion, and money?  I’ve already walked away.  My hurt has healed.  I realize that the door was closed to me long before I even went to my first interview for consideration into the program.  I need something that can deliver.  I do not desire to be in a place where I am not valued or understood, so I am now thankful for being rejected from a place in which so many did not value or understand me, my interests, or my needs.

So, I look back on all of this, now, and believe that – as I always do – everything happens for a reason.  When one door shuts, another is opened.  I have faith, and I have hope.  And only time will tell.

Dr. Phillip Santa Maria: A Tribute By: Michele Babcock-Nice

Personal Tribute to Dr. Phillip Santa Maria,*

Former Associate Vice President for Student Affairs

and Dean of Students

at the State University of New York College at Buffalo

(March 10, 1943 – June 29, 2005)

By: Michele Babcock-Nice

 

Dr. Santa Maria
Dr. Santa Maria and I in 2000 at Buffalo State College
 

Having recently learned of the death of a wonderful college administrator, colleague, professor, leader, musician, Christian, mentor, and friend, Dr. Phillip Santa Maria, I have been moved to write this tribute to him.  Sadly, not having previously known of his passing shows how out-of-touch I have been about people and activities at the State University of New York College at Buffalo, my alma mater.  I recently sought to reconnect with Dr. Santa Maria through LinkedIn, and was informed by another administrator at the college of his passing. 

Dr. Santa Maria was Associate Vice President for Student Affairs and Dean of Students at the State University of New York College at Buffalo – or Buffalo State College – in Buffalo, New York.  I had the privilege of meeting and knowing Dr. Santa Maria through my studies in the Master’s Degree Program in College Student Personnel Administration, offered at the college.  Attending the college and earning my degree in 1997, I again returned there in 1999-2000 to earn my secondary social studies teaching certificate. 

Throughout both periods of my attendance at Buffalo State College, I met and got to know Dr. Santa Maria on a professional level.  During the time that I was studying for my graduate degree, I was interested in completing an internship with Dr. Santa Maria, though he already had one or two interns working with him at the time.  

Returning to the college, later, to earn my teaching certification, I was determined to make myself known to Dr. Santa Maria.  His wonderful secretary, colleague, and friend, Nancy Terreri, initially arranged a time in which he and I could meet.  He and I, then, mutually decided upon a way in which we could work together – through collaborating on the “Issues of Interest” Series, a collection of articles that I wrote through interviews with him for the college newspaper, The Record.  

As I sit here and type this, I cannot help but cry in remembering Dr. Santa Maria.  In everything that he did, “Dr. Phil,” as some of us jokingly called him, exemplified the utmost and highest possible professionalism.  Dr. Santa Maria was that rare and unique person whom one meets and knows in his or her life who makes a positive difference in everything that he does.  He was a man of the greatest humility, ethics, and morals; highest intelligence, competence, and standards; and most outstanding dignity, integrity, and respect.  

Dr. Santa Maria led by example.  He was a man, leader, and role model who was open to people of all backgrounds, religions, races, ethnicities, and religions.  Dr. Santa Maria was the professional of all professionals.  Anyone whom Dr. Santa Maria met and with whom he interacted, he touched their lives in profound and wonderful ways.  The talents and skills of Dr. Santa Maria went beyond his office and boundaries of the college. 

Dr. Santa Maria was a well-known Russian historian, had visited Russia, and led educational tours of Russia.  He was a professor in the College Student Personnel Program, and taught classes in the program when called upon.  He was a guitarist in his band that played classical guitar music throughout Western New York and in Canada.  I was privileged to hear him play guitar with his band on two occasions, and brought my family to hear him play, as well.  

Dr. Santa Maria was always interested in the progress of the college and activities of the students.  I was a senator in the United Students Government at the college, and Dr. Santa Maria and I would sit and discuss some of the contemplations, plans, and activities of the group. 

Beginning as a writer and columnist for the college newspaper, The Record, Dr. Santa Maria provided me with many hours of his time over the course of one year, in interviews about issues that were of interest to students and others at the college.  I, then, fashioned those interviews into articles for the newspaper, calling them the “Issues of Interest” Series, a title mutually decided upon by both of us. As Dr. Santa Maria and I collaborated for the “Issues of Interest” Series, we got to know and trust each other more. 

When something came up and I had a couple of questions about sensitive issues at the newspaper office, I called him for his advice and guidance.  Dr. Santa Maria also placed much trust and confidence in me, as well, in inviting me to sit on the Student Judicial Appeal Board and hear cases of fellow students.  

This wonderful college leader further elevated me by inviting me to participate in the Faculty and Staff Committee on Alcohol and Other Substance Abuse as a student representative.  In regard to this Committee, Dr. Santa Maria was the Chairperson, and desired to spread awareness about the seriousness of alcohol and drug misuse and abuse on college campuses throughout the country. 

I can still hear Dr. Santa Maria now with his 1999 statement to me, “Students have certain freedoms, but with those freedoms come responsibilities.”  Dr. Santa Maria always desired for students to be good and intelligent citizens who were responsible for their actions. 

Yet again, Dr. Santa Maria continued his trust and confidence in me by inviting me to the annual dinner of the Buffalo Council on World Affairs, as one of a few student representatives of the college.  There, my horizons were expanded more still by hearing the speaker address the audience about important world social issues, as well as those affecting our local area. 

As a member of the student government, I was also one of a few college student representatives to attend SUNY Day in Albany – an opportunity for college student leaders to visit the state’s capital and speak with state government representatives.  It was there that I met several state government leaders, including the Hon. Sam Hoyt, New York State Assembly Member for Buffalo, and was invited by him to intern in his office.  I believe that it may have been due to the professional reputation that Dr. Santa Maria had provided me in developing that led to yet another wonderful experience in interning with Assembly Member Hoyt. 

On one occasion while meeting with Dr. Santa Maria in his office for an interview, he was conducting a conference call with University Police Lieutenant Sam Lunetta, giving me the privilege of introducing me to him and listening to their conversation about campus safety.  Dr. Santa Maria and Lieutenant Lunetta regularly communicated with each other about happenings on campus related to public safety. 

Lieutenant Lunetta performed his work remarkably, which I shared with Dr. Santa Maria.  Dr. Santa Maria asked me if there was anything that I thought could be improved regarding campus safety.  As I was unable to think of anything, I responded to him that I believed they had all the bases covered.  In encouraging everyone on campus to be safe, using the Blue Light system, having parking lot bussing to the main part of campus, and a visible presence of public safety officers on campus, Dr. Santa Maria and Lieutenant Lunetta did their best to make sure that everyone on campus was safe at all times.  

Through Dr. Santa Maria’s introduction to me of Lieutenant Lunetta, I also interviewed him for a newspaper article on student drinking and thoughts about potential parental notification regarding it.  Dr. Santa Maria also encouraged me to meet and interview many other administrators, leaders, professors, and students at the college for the “Issues of Interest” Series, as well as to report on the “Great Decisions” Lecture Series on campus, which I did. 

Working with Dr. Santa Maria on this basis expanded my horizons and provided me with a broader knowledge of issues affecting college campuses. As a person of high expectations, ethics, morals, standards, and values, Dr. Santa Maria brought out the best in everyone.  This was no different with me – he brought out the best in me.  The more I interacted with him, the more I had the desire to excel and succeed, and to please him, professionally. 

The professionalism, integrity, and energy with which Dr. Santa Maria continually worked and led his life were a huge inspiration for me. Dr. Santa Maria had that gentle, caring, sensitive, and soft-spoken way about him that reached my heart and my soul.  It was as if he reached in and provided comfort and peace to my heart.  Talking with him, seeking his advice, and receiving his professional and personal guidance brought me a profound sense of calmness and trust in him.  We always conducted ourselves professionally and respectfully toward each other, and this provided the foundation for our trust and confidence in each other. 

On occasion, Dr. Santa Maria and I discussed personal issues that presented concerns to us.  I remember asking him what his thoughts were about whether or not I should move out-of-state to accept employment in teaching.  I shared with him that I was afraid to do so; he told me not to be afraid.  And, in telling me that, he had a way of comforting me that convinced me that everything would be okay.  

At one time, Dr. Santa Maria shared with me that he had considered taking work in a warmer part of the country, namely Florida, because he had just been there for a professional conference.  I stated to him that everyone at the college needed him, and I asked him what everyone would do without him.  He accepted that, though I am not sure that is the answer he was looking for.  

Dr. Santa Maria silently managed his career stresses every day, working extremely long hours, arriving very early and sometimes, going without lunch and dinner in order to complete his work.  He handled his professional stress with so much humility and acceptance.  He was a man who loved what he did, professionally, and was the best at it. 

He was also a man, who, in my observations, was deserving of more credit and respect for his work from his superiors, though he would never breathe a word about it.  I once accompanied Dr. Santa Maria to a board meeting of higher level administrators, and observed him sit quietly while others spoke.  It was then that I noticed that his work and accomplishments should have been more appropriately recognized by his superiors. 

Dr. Santa Maria was an excellent listener, as well as an outstanding communicator.  I personally wished that he was able to serve in a position of even higher leadership at the college as his professionalism and sensitivity would have reached even further than it already has. It was at this particular board meeting that Dr. Santa Maria introduced me to several college leaders, some of whom I had already met and others whom I had not.  There, he introduced me to Vice President for Student Affairs Hal Payne and International Student Affairs Director Jean-Francois Gounard, and some others.  I was also re-introduced to President Muriel Moore, whom I had previously known as a student at the University of Buffalo.  

Yet, again, Dr. Santa Maria provided me with another opportunity to network, and build and develop my professional experiences and reputation.  Dr. Santa Maria’s introduction of me to Dr. Gounard provided another professional friendship that developed while I was a student at Buffalo State College.  Dr. Gounard invited me to his offices, gave me a tour of them, and explained what services were provided there.  

I shared with Dr. Gounard that I had studied abroad in Krakow, Poland through the University at Buffalo, and had independently traveled throughout Eastern and Western Europe, the British Isles, and Canada.  Dr. Gounard invited me to write an article for the International Student Affairs newsletter about my travels, which I did, while also providing an accompanying photograph.  Dr. Gounard further invited me to attend a professional luncheon that welcomed to Buffalo a fellow Frenchman, Phillip Jenkinson, who spoke there and who was very successful in business.  Thus, Dr. Santa Maria provided me with an experience of developing a positive relationship with another of his trusted colleagues. 

Dr. Santa Maria, being a person who was open to meeting, and networking and communicating with everyone, also allowed me to introduce him to a successful business leader and entrepreneur whom I knew from my hometown.  This business leader – now semi-retired – was the head of a successful sand, gravel, and asphalt company that has nine large business enterprises throughout Western New York and Eastern Pennsylvania.  Providing leading professionals with an opportunity to connect was important to me, as well as to Dr. Santa Maria, since one of my main interests in college administration is in career development. 

On another note, Dr. Santa Maria was an avid walker, and would walk late in the evenings after returning home from work, as he shared with me.  I was always happy that he was able to relieve some of his work stresses through exercise and other activities that he enjoyed, such as playing his guitar.  He and I had something in common in relation to these activities since I also enjoy walking and jogging, as well as having played piano and clarinet.  It is important for people to have recreational and creative outlets. 

I could reflect upon some of Dr. Santa Maria’s life, though I only became aware of so much more of what he did in his life following his death.  Dr. Santa Maria was a person who was so focused on his work and the current events occurring in his life that the past was not something that we often discussed.  Dr. Santa Maria once shared with me that he worked the night shift at the Bethlehem Steel Plant in Lackawanna, New York while he was attending college.  He was proud that he worked his way through college with employment in the steel industry.  He and I also spoke of our families, and he shared with me about his daughter and son, as well as their studies and hopes for the future. 

The best way to remember Dr. Santa Maria in tribute is to recall and reflect upon the person whom he was.  Dr. Santa Maria is the epitome of a man – a professional, a leader, a fellow Catholic and Christian, and a true gentleman.  He is the type of man that all men should aspire to be.  He was a true reflection of a man among men. As the tear stains have now dried upon my face, though my eyes are welling up again, I remember Dr. Santa Maria and the man whom he was. 

Dr. Santa Maria was and is a man whose spirit touched the lives of so many people in such wonderful ways.  My tribute and description here pale in comparison to the person whom he was.  I am so honored, privileged, and blessed to have known Dr. Phillip Santa Maria, to have him as a colleague, friend, and mentor.  One would be truly blessed to have met Dr. Santa Maria or even one like him throughout their entire lives.  He continues to serve as a role model and inspiration to me, professionally and spiritually.  

Dr. Santa Maria, as a professional, I hold you in the very highest regard.  As a friend, I will always love, honor, and respect you, in the most moral, ethical, and appropriate ways.  Thank you for the time that you spent with me, guiding me and shaping me through your wisdom, intelligence, and leadership.  Thank you for sharing your life and experiences with me.  Thank you for your friendship, trust, and confidence.  I am so sad that I was not aware of, nor informed of your illness or passing until now, though I will always remember you and honor your spirit.  Let us remember better times.  Until we meet again…                                         

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Please consider making a financial contribution to the Dr. Phillip Santa Maria Memorial Fund through the Buffalo State College Foundation.  Monies contributed in this fund are awarded as scholarships to outstanding students at Buffalo State College.

*Note: This article has been posted twice since online searches for it were providing error results.