Wednesday, January 26, 2022

Concerned LGBT faculty member

SUNY Plattsburgh has a new Chief Diversity Officer, Dr. J.W. Wiley. I would like to detail an interaction I had with this individual.

Several months ago, I was speaking with Dr. Wiley regarding some of my experiences as an out queer faculty and LGBT community member. I was doing so under the assumption that Dr. Wiley, as the head of a center with “diversity” in its name, would respect my decision to reclaim the word “queer” as a positive statement of my identity.

I was speaking of interactions I had had with my “fellow queer colleagues” and various “straight colleagues” on campus. I was talking about blind spots and where our community could work to improve. I was looking forward to Dr. Wiley’s input; after all, he was a diversity professional.

Instead, Dr. Wiley stopped me mid-sentence and said, “I don’t call myself straight.” I said, “OK, I won’t call you that then. But as I was saying, with those straight colleagues I was talking about…”

Dr. Wiley again interjected, “Do you know why I don’t call myself straight?” “No.” “Because the opposite of straight is crooked,” he proclaimed. He then sat back, satisfied. In the rhetorical corner he had just backed me into, if I wished to talk about challenging interactions I have had with straight colleagues, I was effectively calling myself crooked.

Yet just as I would never tell Dr. Wiley – or any African-American – whether or how to use the n word, Dr. Wiley has no right to imply that I may not define myself as queer. And just as I, a beneficiary of white privilege, have no right to tell people of color not to call me white, Dr. Wiley has no right to tell me not to call him straight – for a beneficiary of straight privilege (I have since learned) he most definitely is.

Thus, I wish to state publicly that Dr. Wiley does not represent me on issues of diversity pertaining to sexual orientation. Indeed, his appointment leads me to consider whether this institution is remotely safe for myself or my partner.

For crooked is as crooked does. With someone like Dr. Wiley the public face of diversity for our institution and apparently unaccountable to his own privilege as a straight man, crookedness will prevail, and LGBT faculty like myself will seek out other institutions in which to grow and advance our careers.

Sarah Owocki
Lecturer in the English Department

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