On March 2, Ruth Turner ’15 was appointed to the New York State Board of Regents as the representative of the 7th Judicial District.
Her journey to the appointment began when she moved to New York City from the East African country of Eritrea at the age of seven. As a first-generation immigrant, she grew up in poverty and faced discrimination for both her race and gender, which was one of the major factors that drew her into the field of social work.
“I had to constantly overcome obstacles to prove myself, such as poverty, discrimination as a Black woman and English not being my native tongue,” Turner said. “I know firsthand how detrimental that can be for someone’s sense of self. It is part of the core value of social workers to dismantle systems of oppression, and I wanted to be a part of that.”
After earning her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in social work, Turner began working in the Rochester City School District (RCSD) as a school social worker, allowing her to combine her passion for social work and mental health. While working for the RCSD, she also began teaching as an adjunct lecturer in the SUNY Brockport Department of Social Work.
“I normally teach a course on cultural humility that trains students to appreciate different cultures, diversity, and inclusion,” Turner said. “The goal of the course is for my students to truly appreciate and understand the importance of diversity throughout our country.”
While Turner was helping others as a professor and school social worker, she knew that she wanted to do more for her community. She decided to attend SUNY Brockport for her master’s degree in educational administration in 2015. Before graduating, she secured a job as the director, and later executive director, of social work and counseling for the RCSD.
“A major push for why I went back to school was because I wanted to have a greater influence on trying to change how Black and brown children are served compared to their white counterparts in education,” Turner said.
As the representative for the 7th Judicial District on the New York State Board of Regents, Turner represents the counties of Cayuga, Livingston, Monroe, Ontario, Seneca, Steuben, Wayne, and Yates. The Board meets a minimum of once a month in Albany, NY. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the meeting is held virtually and is available to the public. The members discuss statewide education policies ranging from pre-K to higher education while reflecting on education across the state.
“We recently discussed and applied for an official waiver to the United States Department of Education to cancel the 2021 Regents exams,” Turner said. “We needed to have a backup plan in case the request was denied, which meant that we were still required to administer four Regents exams.”
Turner balances her experience working with children and families within the Rochester community, her devotion to equity, diversity, and inclusion, and her knowledge of how policies are formulated to best serve not only her community, but also the state of New York.
“My role on the Board allows me to work with my colleagues on a state-wide level, reimagining and making positive contributions to education in New York State,” Turner said. “We are currently working on some great changes, including a framework for diversity, inclusion, and equity.”
On top of her newly appointed role on the Board, Turner continues to teach at SUNY Brockport. While balancing the workload can be a challenge, she hopes to serve as a role model for African-American women throughout higher education.
“My motivation to teach came when I reflected on my time in higher education, realizing I had only one Black or brown professor throughout my entire college career,” Turner said. “I teach because I believe the representation of having an African-American professor is important for our students to see.”