Sunday, January 17, 2021

Diversity Task Force continues mission

The Plattsburgh State Diversity Task Force has been around since 2001, with a hiatus from 2013 to the summer of 2015, and it has always held true to one simple ideal: to encourage diversity and inclusion on campus and to be a resource for students.

“Dr. Ettling wanted us to have some type of organization, some type of a committee, that would engage things on campus, but we didn’t need to reinvent the wheel, because we already had the Task Force,” PSUC Chief Diversity Officer J.W. Wiley said about bringing the Task Force back into campus culture.

The Task Force is made up of five students, five staff members, five community members, five faculty members, and five members of the Center for Diversity, Pluralism and Inclusion.

“We’ve got a lot of good energy trying to help us make this diversity and social justice thing on campus happen,” Wiley said. “We’re trying to build relationships.”

Wiley said one key product of the Task Force is the INT 303: Examining Diversity Through Film class. He said not only do students take the class, but there are also faculty members who rotate through and take part in the class. Wiley said that in past semesters, the count for faculty does not rise above ten. This semester, there are 30 faculty members who will be involved in the class.

“A couple of VPs, some deans (and) Jerry Lottie sent five officers,” Wiley said. “That is a product of the Task Force.”

Wiley, who studied as a graduate philosophy student in Claremont Graduate University in southern California, said that he became interested in making diversity his life’s work when he brought discussions of race in the context of philosophy into the classroom.

Wiley said that, from 1999 to 2000, less than 1 percent of the Ph.D.s in philosophy in the U.S. were held by black individuals. After discovering that, he became motivated to pursue philosophy as it related to diversity.

“I was 11 years old when I first met J.W.,” Task Force co-chair Lauren Gonyea said.

He gave a presentation about diversity at Gonyea’s school. When she came to Plattsburgh State, she recognized Wiley from her list of professors, and she took the Examining Diversity Through Film class. “I absolutely loved it,” Gonyea said.

CDPI Office Assistant Elizabeth Davies, who serves as one of the 25 Task Force representatives, said her experience with the Task Force has been “amazing.”

“When I first got involved with it, I was a student, then I was a TA, and I went to being an intern, so it’s cool being part of the progression,” Davies said, acknowledging that the office has grown in the amount of people it serves. “It’s so busy and talkative, and it’s a great environment, just a wonderful atmosphere. It definitely makes coming to work a lot better.”

Saurav Gautam, a PSUC computer science major and international student from Kathmandu, Nepal, said the Task Force is a “very good idea.”

“Diversity, it’s been, I think, one of the burning issues right now, because not all of the people are knowledgeable about every culture,” Gautam said. “In my point of view, having the diversity class would educate them and help them to understand other people.”

Gautam said that, since arriving in Plattsburgh, people asked him questions — out of pure curiosity — such as, “Do you have cars in your country?”

Gautam said watching films and documentaries set in other -countries can help students who want to gain a broader perspective do so.

“It would not only help them have a better glimpse of the other side of the world,” Gautam said. “It would make them a better person because they can understand every person and every culture better.”

Email Tim Lyman at

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