Throughout his 30-year teaching career, Dr. Robert P. Amico has been passionate about making St. Bonaventure University a place where all members of the campus community are confident they are respected and listened to. For the past 20 years, the philosophy professor has directed the university’s Council on Discrimination and Harassment (CODAH). He was recently honored by colleagues and the Board of Trustees for his commitment to a role that can be emotionally draining and intellectually challenging.
“Bob’s contributions and commitment speak to the heart of St. Bonaventure’s mission of respect for the individual dignity of every person,” said University President Sr. Margaret Carney, O.S.F. “His advocacy and leadership have made St. Bonaventure University a better place to work, learn and serve.”
Fellow advocacy officer Dr. Lauren Matz, a longtime English professor at the university, lauds Amico’s leadership in bringing St. Bonaventure to “the forefront of American colleges and universities in educating its community about harassment and discrimination and in establishing internal systems for investigating complaints.”
She describes him as unfailing as he approached the arduous work — whether the careful consideration of a case or directing the scores of revisions to policies and procedures needed to keep in line with changes in state and federal legislation.
“He has worked as a scholar, a teacher, a leader and an activist for the right of every person on our campus to live, work and study with dignity and freedom from injustice,” said Matz.
Amico joined the university faculty in the mid-1980s shortly after earning his master’s and doctorate degrees in philosophy from the University of Rochester. This was a second career for Amico. As a Beverly Hills restaurant chef, Amico was ready to get out of the business and return to his first love — philosophy.
In 1995, after being in charge of AIDS education on campus for 10 years, Amico was named the university’s first advocacy officer. That was also the year a Sexual Harassment Committee was formed and began to write university policy. The committee’s focus was later expanded to include all forms of discrimination and in 2000 it was named CODAH.
Amico’s service to CODAH and the university Diversity Action Committee (which he was also asked to chair in 2000) has always been informed by his scholarly work and his teaching. He teaches core curriculum courses on oppression and privilege as well as upper-level courses in philosophy such as Philosophy of Economics and Social & Economic Justice.
He wrote the book “Antiracist Teaching” to help other educators address the issue of race. The book draws on how, over the course of 14 years, he has learned to teach students about antiracism. A companion book, “Exploring White Privilege,” written from a student’s perspective, is scheduled for release this spring.
Amico has become a national leader in curriculum transformation as he helps other faculty members see how various kinds of oppression and privilege have shaped academia.
What began as a small pilot project for a few faculty members from three institutions in the summer of 2002 is now the Five-College Faculty and Staff Summer Seminar in Curriculum and Program Transformation. Faculty and staff from St. Bonaventure, Alfred State College, Alfred University, Jamestown Community College and Houghton College are invited annually to participate. The weeklong summer seminar helps participants to create more inclusive curriculum and programming that address issues of race, class, gender, sexual orientation and other institutionalized systems of inequality.
“We make it transparent,” said Amico. “We welcome administrators. We have faculty who work on curricular changes and staff who work on program changes.”
The program has also been expanded to offer a one-day advanced seminar for previous participants, giving them an opportunity to share success and difficulties and develop new action plans.
When he considers discrimination issues, Amico feels he has always had a dual role — to effect personal change and structural change.
“It’s hard to change an institution,” Amico said. And he acknowledges he had his own personal transformation.
As an advocacy officer, he learned that the experiences of some of his female colleagues were fundamentally different than that of their male counterparts. That was eye-opening for him, and ingrained in him the importance of providing a harassment-free workplace.
Though his early years as an advocacy officer were more narrowly focused on specific types of discrimination, “Today we want to make changes on all fronts,” Amico said.
Today that means sponsoring a transgender awareness program with Alfred; a film festival that brings developmental disability issues to light; and programming for first-year students on heterosexism, micro aggression and classism, among others.
He has also joined with gay and lesbian students to push for the Student Government-sanctioned club Spectrum, the university’s LGBTA alliance.
“We’ve been able to cross that bridge. We’ve been able to bring programming about LBGT and gender issues to campus,” he said.
As he reflects on his two decades of leadership with CODAH, Amico is grateful for the opportunity to keep educating and keep learning.
He is now editor of the online journal Understanding and Dismantling Privilege, a forum for research and creative work that critically examines issues of privilege, power, oppression, white supremacy and social justice.
“I don’t think most of us who are white have taken the time to face our own history,” he said.
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