Open discussion and dialogue is the main topic of conversation this semester as the Center for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion launches a new program, Anti-Oppression Work: At A Predominantly White Institution, in hopes to explore pedagogy, equity and power on the SUNY Plattsburgh Campus.
“Plattsburgh is a predominantly white institution,” Vice President for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Michelle Cromwell said. “With whiteness comes not always an understanding of how that whiteness plays into perspectives that can hum people from oppressed identities.”
Through this program led by Cromwell, English Professor Tracie Church Guzzio and Assistant Professor of Political Science John McMahon, participants will engage with anti-racist texts such as “Killing Rage: Ending Racism” by Bell Hooks and “White Fragility: Why it’s So Hard For White People to Talk About Racism” by Robin Diangelo. These texts are meant to start deep conversation within using the Circle Way method, gathering participants into a circular shape, allowing everyone to have an individual voice.
The aim isn’t to talk at each other, but to talk with each other and come to an understanding of perspectives.
“It’s a healthy way to heal wounds,” Guzzio said. “It’s a very different approach than many people on campus are used to.”
Guzzio said in past years when issues like the 2015 racist cartoons published by Cardinal Points, as well as the racist Snapchat incident in Feb. 2018, administration hashed out these issues by having everyone thrown into a big room, not allowing for open conversations on how to fix these issues.
This program’s aim is to show that no one voice is more superior than any other.
“We hope the realizations people come to in the work that we are all doing, changes how we operate in our various roles in places around campus,” McMahon said. “We’re doing it in a way that we’re aware of all forms of oppression.”
Students are open to converse with faculty and administration at the AOW program, leaving statuses they hold on campus behind to discuss several institutionalized issues including racism, oppression, domination, homophobia and ableism.
The program began meeting in rotating campus locations Sept. 25, now happening every Wednesday from 3:30 to 4:45 p.m. until the end of the semester. However, it’s difficult for some students to attend due to class schedules Cromwell said, as there are currently 20 staff members, 15 faculty and five students.
In an attempt to hear the voices of all students, a “Blue Print Party” will also take place for students in the Community HUB on Oct. 29 from 7 to 9 p.m. The intention of the meeting is to blueprint new ideas and discuss what current diversity and inclusion implementations are working including the HUB, and which factors are not.
“Turning to one another and coming with a sense of humility and compassion, but a sense of accountability and authenticity,” Cromwell said. “It can have powerful outcomes.”
After embarking on their own listening tour this summer, Cromwell is still on the journey. They currently approach students on campus and starts conversations, in hopes students will understand Cromwell is “regular people”. Their main goal is to do more climate surveys before implementing new policies, to ensure issues are properly attended to in a fully inclusive and diverse way by using a multi-track approach.
Born in Trinidad, Cromwell was raised in a multi-racial family. They want students to understand they too have experienced this blurring of race, sex and gender roles from a young age and that they’re accessible to talk. Cromwell’s top goal is to diversify staff and faculty to improve ethnic and racial diversity, as well as making students feel like they belong on campus.
Through this program, students can find an anchor of dedicated people who understand and want to support victims of these issues.
“As a women of color and a black women, people would assume my big bet is always racism, but I am interested in addressing all forms of oppression,” Cromwell said. “Homophobia is real. Sexism is real. Racism is real, and it’s important.”