Hundreds of people gathered in support of diversity at Plattsburgh State President Ettling’s public forum Wednesday evening.
There, PSUC President John Ettling voiced his intention for campus measures to promote diversity. Other faculty members, such as Center for Diversity, Pluralism and Inclusion and Chief Diversity Officer J.W. Wiley, Provost James Liszka, Dean of the School of Business and Economics Rowena Ortiz-Walters and Dean of Education, Health and Human Services Michael Morgan spoke at the event, as well.
Ettling started by outlining steps the college administration has taken since the publication of the Oct. 23 front-page Cardinal Points graphic.
“At the request of students, I appointed a three-person panel,” Ettling said.
The panel will include for Press-Republican editor, Bob Grady, PSUC English professor Jose Torres and a PSUC student.
“What I asked them to do was just find out why this happened.”
He said he expects a report from the panel before Thanksgiving break.
Ettling also appointed J.W. Wiley as Chief Diversity Officer, who is working with a Diversity Task Force that is responsible for arranging a diversity plan for the college. The purpose of this plan, Ettling said, is to provide goals against which the college can measure progress.
Ettling said he and Wiley will host a Diversity Week “at some point” in the spring semester.
“One of the things that we want to do is to extend this conversation off-campus and out into the community,” he said.
When Morgan spoke, he announced he has attended every forum on campus regarding diversity.
“It’s something that’s very meaningful to me, very important to me, and that might seem strange coming from a farm boy from Kansas saying that,” he said.
Morgan said that there was only one Hispanic family at his high school.
“I didn’t have a lot growing up other than a very racist grandfather, too,” he said. “I came from a background that could have made me being a very different person, but it was my choice not to be.”
Morgan outlined the shared values of the college, which now include, among others, the courage to discuss sensitive issues and sit with discomfort.
After presentations by faculty, students were given the opportunity to voice their opinions, comments, concerns and observations.
Ambar Jimenez, a PSUC student, made a point to recognize that not only white people are racist, but rather, racism applies to a wide spectrum and is not a unidirectional prejudice.
“My mom is racist, and she’s not white,” Jimenez said, adding that there is racial tension in the Dominican Republic between Haitians and Dominicans. “When I came to this school, I stopped being Islamophobic. I stopped having things against black people, against white people.”
She said there must be equal ground between people of different cultures in order to achieve mutual respect.
“Don’t expect other people to respect you if you don’t respect them,” Jimenez said. “You need to care more about their behavior, the way they think.”
SA Student Court Chief Justice Adam Saccardi said at the time of the fatal shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, many things were said, and after a certain amount of time, interest in the matter fizzled out. He challenged students not to do that this time around.
He said that upon seeing the Oct. 23 issue of Cardinal Points, his friend had to tell him what was wrong with the graphic for him to understand.
“I’m one of those people who needs to be reached out to,” Saccardi said. “There are so many people like me who are not here, who don’t want to be engaged in that way, and I don’t have the answers for how to get them here, but I think it’s important for the people who are here to remember that we are here, that we are trying to do something and not to forget that when we come back in January.”
Wiley, in a post-forum interview, said that the college had a wake-up call. For Wiley, his humble beginnings and allies throughout his life help fuel the flames for change.
“I’m a black man in America,” he said. “When my mom was 22, she had four kids and my dad was in prison, so if it hadn’t been for some allies along the way – allies to my mom, a struggling woman; allies to me as a poor child growing up; mentors for sports and a whole lot of other things – my passion comes from a life experience of being the other, and I know how that feels. I don’t want people to walk around feeling like they’re the other.”
Gisette Paez, a PSUC student, said she didn’t expect as big a turnout as there was.
“It’s good that all these kids are coming out,” she said. “It’s been almost a month, and we’re still talking about it.”
Aaron Schwartz has recently been hired as a staff assistant for the Center of Diversity, Pluralism and Inclusion. As part of his position, he will hold a large role in PSUC’s Multicultural Alliance.
“On this campus, we made it clear, at the highest echelons of the administration, that we’re going to continue to listen to students’ needs, we’re going to continue to learn,” Schwartz said.
Email Tim Lyman at firstname.lastname@example.org