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My profession as a Speech-Language Pathologist motivated me to deepen knowledge about people so diagnostic and therapeutic processes could be more meaningful and impactful for individuals I see in the clinic.  Deepening knowledge of others is important in my role as a professor and a Dean too. Dignity and respect are felt at a deeper level when other people feel like I “get them” and empathize with their journey in life. Over the years, my intentional reading and my work have given me greater access to the hearts and minds of people who experience life, on a daily basis, in ways that are different from me. Having done this work in the areas of ability, gender identity, sexual orientation, class, race, religion, and gender equality, I have developed knowledge that helps me understand multiple identities.  I understand the privileges I have and am motivated to keep learning so I can use my privilege to help others.

Over the past 8 months, I’ve taken an intentional journey to deepen my knowledge of what it means to be Black in America. While not the beginning of this journey, I decided to start a deep dive from a historical perspective in 1853 with Solomon imageNorthrup’s detailed account about being kidnapped as a free man and forced into slavery (I had not seen the movie 12 Years A Slave because I find some things too hard to watch). This was a powerful book that detailed the pain and indignity of what it is like when your body is not your own. Even today, some feel like their bodies are not their own due to societies inequities, particularly in moments of unjust authority. Consequently, the words from our national anthem “O’er the land of the free” do not have the same meaning for everyone in our country given unequal treatment.

I then read John Howard Griffin’s 1961 book, Black Like Me. This book details the journey of a white man who transformed himself in various ways to appear black. He imagetraveled through the Deep South in the era of Jim Crow and then wrote about the way he was treated due to the color of his skin. As was all too often true when reading these books, while historical, there were many statements that resonated today. One such statement in the book grabs the reader, “He cannot understand how the white man can show the most demeaning aspects of his nature and at the same time delude himself into thinking he is inherently superior. To the Negro who sees this element of the white man—and he sees it much more often than any other—the white man’s comments about the Negro’s alleged ‘immorality’ ring maddeningly hollow.” While it’s hard to believe what was happening in the country the year I was born, it’s harder to believe what is still happening now.

The next book I read (after a segue through Toni Morrison’s new book, God Help the imageChild), was Ta-Nehisi Coates’ 2013 book entitled, Between the World and Me; he was honored at the Whitehouse last week, along with Chancellor Nancy Zimpher, as one of the top 25 disruptive leaders in America. The book was written as an open letter to his teenage son and shares the heart and soul of a parent who struggles with the fact that his child is growing up in a society where liberty and justice for all is something in a pledge, but that the pledge “rings maddeningly hollow.”

I am currently reading The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander (2010). I have no words for how this book has transformed my understanding of our criminal justice imagesystem. The justice system in our country, in many ways, has been and currently is an injustice system. More of our citizens are in jail than any other country in the world. The significant increase is a result of The War On Drugs, an initiative that resulted in harsh mandatory sentencing. There was a disproportionate number of African Americans arrested as a result of this initiative. Alexander stated, “Studies suggest that white professional’s may be the most likely of any group to have engaged in illegal drug activity in their lifetime, yet they are the least likely to be made criminals.”

Once released from prison, not unlike the Jim Crow era, the individual is not allowed to vote or receive many benefits afforded other citizens – relegated to the all-too-familiar position in society as a second-class citizen.

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Given my life experience, what I’ve read in recent months, and what is happening in our country, you may appreciate I had a lot to think about when sitting on the steps in the Angell College Center during a protest with others holding a Black Lives Matter sign. Until there is equality, the phrase “all lives matter” “rings maddeningly hollow.”  I also was at the Black Lives Matter forum with more than 500 people in attendance. It was a powerful evening that represented SUNY Plattsburgh well. I care deeply about our students, as do the faculty, staff, and administrators who were at the forum. I particularly want students from groups that might feel marginalized to know we care and to know that I will continue to do all I can to make sure we have an equitable and just community in which to live and learn.

Bonus: This is an important article I shared with my faculty at the beginning of this academic year. It is entitled, “What Does A genuine Commitment To Diversity Look Like?

EHHS Shared Values Highlighted:
 Lifelong Learning/Growth
 Inclusion/Culturally Responsive
 Social Justice

References:

Alexander, M. (2012). The new Jim Crow. New York, NY: The New Press.

Coates, T. (2015). Between the world and me. New York, NY: Spiegel & Grau.

Griffin, J.H. (2010). Black like me. New York: NY, Signet.

Morrison, T. (2015). God help the child. New York, NY: Knopf, Borzoi Books.

Northrup, S. & Gates, H.L. (2013). 12 years a slave. New York, NY: Penguin Books.

Cardinal Points image (Sept. 30, 2016). Photograph by Konrad Odhiambo.

Incarceration Images (n.d.) Retrieved October 1, 2016 from https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Incarceration_in_the_United_States