SUNY Plattsburgh sign

At the end of life, and for those who are wise during life, material possessions have little meaning.  There is a wisdom that sees into the soul of the self and the souls of others where true meaning is found through relationships.  The title to this blog comes from an old song.  It struck me last week that it applies to some of the recent strife around the country at various colleges and universities about equality and how some students feel living on their campuses including our own.  While institutions of higher learning have many facilities to enhance the daily experience of students and faculty, what really matters is the depth of our relationships.  This is what brings true meaning, passion and purpose to life; it’s what makes our college a home for our students.

Those of us who work at the college feel it is our academic home, often spending more “awake time” on campus than in our homes.  Our students make the college their home for long periods of time.  What kind of home do we want to create for all of our students?  What can we do to make our campus a home in the truest way, where people are comfortable with and celebrated for being themselves?  The answers to these questions will create a positive academic learning environment that will inspire maximal learning for all students and a positive work environment for all faculty.

Learning new information in multiple forums on diversity over the past few weeks was intellectually enlightening and often moved the heart, but unless the information is incorporated into our daily lives through deeper relationships, the heart will not experience long-lasting change.  This speaks to the importance of our relationships, to the importance of pushing beyond comfort zones and to the importance of creating opportunities for people to come together in new ways.  It also means taking advantage of many opportunities that already exist to enter into new groups and conversations.  Embracing new relationships with others who are not like you, colleagues and students, is a privilege afforded to everyone on campus.

Plaza

Gandhi said, “If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him. … We need not wait to see what others do.” While it is important not to wait, the work of bringing diverse groups closer together is work we all must do as individuals and as a community.  How will our students be prepared to work in an increasingly diverse world if we don’t do this?  The sculpture of two people shaking hands in the Amity Plaza represents friendship between the US and Canada.  I like to think that the sculpture’s meaning can be expanded to symbolize a coming together, an amity of all people on campus from diverse cultural backgrounds.

While we must all come together as a community to improve equity and a sense of belonging, it is crucial to know that it is not the responsibility of those from underrepresented cultures to change the dominant culture.  Robin DiAngelo, author of the journal article entitled White Fragility that was shared in my last blog wrote, “Since all individuals who live within a racist system are enmeshed in its relations, this means that all are responsible for either perpetuating or transforming that system. However, although all individuals play a role in keeping the system active, the responsibility for change is not equally shared. White racism is ultimately a white problem and the burden for interrupting it belongs to white people (Derman-Sparks & Phillips, 1997; hooks, 1995; Wise, 2003)” (p. 66).  If you are part of the dominant culture, your privilege will not excuse you from doing this work, especially if you feel no responsibility to help. If you are part of a non-dominant culture, your help will be needed.  The opportunity exists for dominant and non-dominant allies to come together and develop approaches to lead the way.  As a community, we must create a psychological space where it is safe for all to grow together.  President Ettling believes SUNY Plattsburgh can be known as the model for doing this work well and I agree.

We all have a responsibility, if we are going to live and work well together in our academic home and the home of our students, to go deeper and do more.  After attending multiple diversity forums and Safe Space training over the past few weeks, this responsibility has taken on renewed meaning for me.  It is from my place of privilege that I did not know about the inequities and the depth of our underrepresented students’ feelings; this also is true in relation to our LBGTQ students.  It is reasonable to say that many did not know and some still may not believe, but it is true; defensiveness and denial cannot dispute the facts.  What is our responsibility to make our house a home?  What will you do today?

A few suggestions from your colleagues for things you can do:

  1. Complete a two week rotation (4 classes) in INT303 A or B Examining Diversity through Film
  2. Start a book reading group linking the messages in the book with current day occurrences. DuBois’ “Souls of Black Folks” is an example of classic literature that could garner some worthwhile discussion.
  3. Attend a CDPI Film Series film and WRAP Session
  4. Attend Safe Space training (Coming to EHHS faculty in the spring) or become a Safe Space trainer
  5. Form a group of professors who are used to having difficult discussions in class and develop a best practices document and some training through the Center for Teaching Excellence.
  6. Do a quick write in class where students share a few of their struggles and ways you can be supportive.

EHHS Shared Values Highlighted

Respect and Empathy

  • Seek to understand before being understood
  • Listening to each other
  • Communicate with the person, not about the person, when there is conflict
  • Enter into differences of opinion and conflict with respect
  • Demonstrate compassion to evoke potential in students and colleagues
  • Share our challenges as well as our successes
  • Trust
  • Open-mindedness,
  • Embrace diversity of opinions and perspectives

Inclusion/Culturally Responsive

  • Demonstrated awareness, knowledge, and skills
  • Culturally responsive teaching
  • Self-reflection
  • Caring attitude
  • Courage to discuss sensitive issues and “sit with discomfort”
  • Continued learning, challenging and changing of our attitudes

Social Justice

  • Recognize social justice issues
  • Advocate to enhance social change
  • Enhance community responsibility/social responsibility

Amity Plaza Image (n.d.) Retrieved November 11, 2015 from:  http://colleges.usnews.rankingsandreviews.com/best-colleges/suny-plattsburgh-2849/photos

DiAngelo, R. (2011). White fragility. International Journal of Critical Pedagogy, 3 (3) pp 54-70.

Plattsburgh Sign Image (Sept. 28, 2010). Retrieved November 11, 2015 from: https://vimeo.com/102794142