The dust has settled from the presidential election, but the damage continues to echo. In its aftermath, people’s beliefs have been buckled in firmly, and their intolerances have accelerated.
From white nationalists to Bill O’Reilly, Washington D.C.’s mascot has been hailed by the worst our country has to offer. A menacing atmosphere has drifted across communities and rejuvenated age-old issues.
In the midst of today’s gloomy political climate, is Plattsburgh State doing enough to ensure every student feels comfortable? Some students, especially those belonging to a marginalized group, feel alienated. They don’t know who’s on their side. Few aren’t even aware of the organizations and people who desperately want to help. Perhaps because they aren’t visible enough.
Fortunately, the fear lingering in the hearts of many hasn’t gone unnoticed here in Plattsburgh. And although the college faculty’s reassuring emails and topical discussions in response to the election helped, the real charge was led by students.
Last semester, public relations students recognized the unsettling nature that was beginning to dig its roots in our country’s ground. So, they forged a campaign meant to create a safe and understanding environment for everyone and named it: I Am an Ally.
They exclaimed to anyone who feels estranged: You’re not alone.
These students refused to let a resurgence of closed-mindedness and ignorance take shape. The void of empathy that exists in the few would not speak on the behalf of the many.
More people on campus care to defend the rights of their peers than may be presumed. The I Am an Ally campaign has the paperwork to prove it. More than 1,000 individuals have signed the campaign’s pledge, which includes promising to demonstrate empathy toward those dealing with emotional distress as well as striving for inclusiveness. Their idea was to create something small that wouldn’t ask much of everyone, but would collectively create a bigger picture.
In the PR students’ preliminary research, they found that there were many students on campus who were afraid to leave their rooms. However, they also found there were plenty of people who were willing to befriend others from all walks of life.
“When my students analyzed our survey, we saw more than 90 percent of students on campus said they were very comfortable being friends with somebody of a different race, religion, socioeconomic class or with a disability,” PSUC public relations Professor Michelle Ouellette said.
The team may have been happy with those results, but they weren’t naive. They were conscious that it’s easy for someone to say that they will stand up for the rights of others. But, when faced with a situation where they’d have to do just that, the students wondered how many are going to follow through?
The team knew they had to inspire action. They believe their pledge helps do that.
“The pledge asks people to not just be an ally, but to act,” Ouellette said.
I Am an Ally isn’t the only beacon for students on campus. The Center for Diversity, Pluralism and Inclusion is another. Part of their mission is to assist the college in its efforts to further create an academic environment that will attract, recruit, retain and prepare a diverse group of students to assume leadership roles in the world wide community.
Though it may not always seem true, we have a diverse student body who represent more than 60 countries. Striving to increase that number as well as retain the international students who are already enrolled is vital for our community’s enrichment. Without them, we’re bland and cultureless.
PSUC can do better to further its diversity. But so could every campus. Students involved with the I Am an Ally campaign has already expressed Interest in continuing the program into next fall. With its extended presence at the college and the ongoing dedication from our faculty, our campus will be in good hands.
Email Steve Levy at firstname.lastname@example.org