Wed. Jan 23rd, 2019

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

2 thoughts on “Concerned LGBT faculty member

  1. I am disappointed that a colleague wouldn’t collegially engage me about our awkward moment–a moment that I didn’t even realize was awkward–it was still a conversation that has two sides to it. I disagree profoundly with the articulation of what transpired in our conversation that occurred 7-8 months ago. Especially any assertion that I would tell someone, anyone how she/he should identify. Any ex-student of mine knows that I don’t identify myself as a straight male because I don’t care to imply that my gay brothers & sisters may be seen as crooked. I would never though suggest to someone that they should not self-identify however they choose to identify. However, I care more about the fact that someone was hurt by me, by my words, and obviously carried that hurt around for quite some time.

    I nonetheless welcome the opportunity to learn and grow. My reputation as an ally has been well established and I imagine because of that I will get the benefit of the doubt from those who know me. Those who don’t will have the opportunity to witness it. Lastly, I am not alone in representing the concerns of this community. The diversity effort on this campus is represented by too many dedicated constituents for it to be one-dimensional, and members of the LGBTQ community, some even currently members of the Diversity Task Force, will be representative of the direction we take to better situate that community within SUNY Plattsburgh since I unabashedly own the fact that my perspective regarding their needs and concerns is limited.

    JW

  2. Members of privileged groups do not get to tell members of oppressed groups how to identify and name the members of privileged groups. This is established, basic social justice and diversity 101. I do not care to engage further with a colleague who refuses to recognize this simple fact. It is an act of actively attempting to recenter the conversation on you and your straight e.g. heterosexual privilege, and that is not OK.

    Sarah Owocki

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