Plattsburgh State’s Diversity Week will kick off Saturday from Feb. 25 to March 3, where students and faculty will be attending and hosting events highlighting social justice, with the goal of developing a deeper understanding of the community.
PSUC Chief Diversity Officer J.W. Wiley said he is excited to share their theme for Diversity Week, which is a Mosaic of Voices. Carlos Medina, Vice Chancellor and Chief Diversity Officer for SUNY wrote a letter to President John Ettling stating their diversity plan was one of the few deemed “excellent” and “exceptional.” With the good news, Diversity Week will have plenty of events for interested students.
“We’re really excited about the fact that we have so much collaboration, and there are different perspectives, so our diversity week is not just a conversation of race and gender,” Wiley said. “The victory would be race, gender and sexual orientation, but we’re covering a lot of territory and going beyond the stereotypical.”
Wiley said they are starting to delve into more topics, which is exciting for the campus to explore. He said for their gender theme, they will be having a presentation featuring Kelly Metzgar and Avan Monette, who will be discussing what life is like being transgender in the Adirondack North Country. The event will be held Tuesday in Yokum 200 from 7 to 9 p.m.
Center for Womyn’s Concerns Secretary Steffany Wilcox said there are so many different identities regarding gender, class, religion and sexual preference, so attending any of the events will be educational, especially with everything happening in the political world.
The Trump administration is rescinding guidance issued by its predecessor on the rights of transgender students to use bathrooms based on the gender with which they identify, according to the New York Times.
“I think it very interesting that Betsey DeVos was the one who was against taking away LGBTQ rights in regards to bathrooms, but eventually she said ‘oh no, this is right.’” Wilcox said in regard to Trump’s recent order. “I just don’t know how it’s going to be implemented if public administrations are already implementing these bathrooms. To now have Trump say “stop what you’re already doing and reverse that seems kind of silly.”
Wilcox said it’s crazy to have policies implemented at school with a national administration saying otherwise. PSUC recently added more gender inclusive bathrooms to both resident and academic buildings on campus.
“It’s a little crazy to see how disjointed communities are,” she said. “Like where as a campus community, we’re trying to be more tolerant and bring awareness, and yet we have this administration publicly saying people shouldn’t have certain rights.”
Wilcox said that’s what makes Diversity Week so important. She said she hopes people of all different backgrounds attend the events with an open mind.
“I think with everything going on, being an ally is super important. It’s important for change to have allies, even if they don’t necessarily identify with a particular race or gender with particular oppressions that are happening to them,” she said. “We should have empathy because we all struggle in some sort of way. We should be able to walk around and not feel afraid. We should be able to use public bathrooms.”
Wiley agreed that these conversations should continue, and Diversity Week will bring different forums relating to gender and sexual orientation.
“So we’re going down that road and a whole lot of other roads that gets us excited,” he said. “It’s going to frame diversity as broadly as we attempt to frame it in our diversity class.”
Wiley also said Diversity Week is important from a national standpoint.
“Politically, with the appointment of Steve Bannon as an adviser to Trump, and some of the things Trump has said, such as mocking a disabled reporter and telling black people what’s good for them. We need to keep our consciousness high,” Wiley said. “We need to celebrate each other and our uniqueness and our differences.”
Steve Bannon, who is known for his right-winged website Brietbart News, which has read headlines such as “Birth Control Makes Women Unattractive and Crazy” and “Bill Kristol: Republican Spoiler, Renegade Jew” was recently appointed a White House position by President Donald Trump.
“More than anything else politically, so many campuses around the country are entrenching themselves probably a little more deeper than when we had Barack Obama as president. It’s easy to relax and think OK, we achieved a lot now,” Wiley said. “We have a black president, and things are going to fall into place, and we know how tough that was. Now we’re in a different space, so those conversations become more important when you may be under siege.”
PSUC staff assistant Lauren Gonyea has helped organize the workshops for Diversity Week and said they’ve been able to generate ideas based on student and faculty’s opinions.
“We put a call out to the community asking for presentations or different workshops we can do during Diversity Week,” Gonyea said. “We took all of the feedback that we got from people from their proposals and as a committee.”
Gonyea said other organizations will also get a chance to host diversity related events, such as Cardinal PR, Showing Up for Racial Injustice (SURJ), Gospel Choir and Kollectively Inspiring Naturally Kurly Students (KINKS).
Gonyea said they’ve been able to use their budgeting wisely and creatively to make events happen. Gonyea reached out to DJ Tim Hartnett who works in Plattsburgh, and he agreed to volunteer his services for the Square Train Community Dance, which will be held from 7 to 9 p.m. March 3, at Plattsburgh City Hall. The event is designed to corporate Soul Train style of dancing to Square Dancing.
PSUC public relations major and double minor in marketing and journalism Chelsea Asare has attended diversity events in the past, including the Black Onynx Royal Ball. She said the past banquets have been successful, along with their contest, Mr. and Mrs. Black Student Union.
“Black Onynx is looking for a face, somebody who represented the black empowerment for both men and women,” she said. “The students (last year) were great, and one of my friends did great. I love the uplifting of black culture, so it was nice to see.”
Asare is currently a member of Plattsburgh Association of Black Journalists.
“I joined because I want to get under the field of communications and PR, and I know it would be a good way to unite people similar to myself, where we can help out each other, and it would be a good way for me to seek community of people like me who are from my background culture, and I can relate to,” she said.
This year, Asare is looking forward to a few events including Go Tell Michelle, which will be a tribute to America’s First African American First Lady Michelle Obama.
“I just love Michelle Obama. To me, it’s moreso brought light black women because I feel like a lot of black women are not represented at this school,” she said.
Asare also looks forward to attending The Brave Space: A Mosaic of Voices with North Country Public Radio, which will be a partner-based exercise where students interview each other about bravery-themed questions, according to PSUC’s website. The interviews will be recorded for a multi-media installation called A Mosaic of Voices. Students who are interested can learn more about the timeslots by contacting Jennifer Matott at 518-564-5410.
“That’s a great idea. And I would hope that a lot of people, not just like one group of people show up. I hope a lot of people show up with you,” Asare said. “Even with my community of black people, you don’t know everybody else’s stories, so this would be a great way to hear other people talk about their backgrounds.”
Sophomore political science major Oumar Diallo is also a part of Black Onyx and encourages students to attend the CDPI Film Series and W.R.A.P session screening of Netflix’s 2016 documentary 13th, which will provide an in depth look at the prison system in the United States. The event will be held 7 p.m. in Yokum 200.
“It went from slavery to 2016, and I felt like that was so important,” Diallo said. “It made me sad. This is a system, and the system is still the same way. It talks about how Africans were brought from Africa to America and how the system was never made for them and continually even when they’re free, it goes against them.”
Diallo said it’s important for students to know what events are happening on campus for the upcoming week.
“I would have a system where they can’t avoid it type thing. I wouldn’t say cancel class, but have people attend the events,” he said. “I feel like you might go in with the mindset of ‘Oh, I’m just here for credit,’ and then you might come out with something no matter what.”
He said with all the current issues, he wished there was an event pertaining to the immigration ban.
“Just because you’re American, you may not feel like it’s an issue to you, but it is an issue to the people around you, and that’s what matters,” Diallo said. “And we do need to talk about it, and say OK let’s leave it to the politicians. No, it starts with us, and then it goes to them.”.”
Email Kavita Singh at firstname.lastname@example.org