Category: Social Justice


Light on a Darkened Path

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Maya Angelou spoke of the tenacious human spirit in her poem And Still I Rise. Viktor Frankl wrote about a choice of attitude in stories about his experience in a concentration camp. Malala Yousafzai speaks about the importance of our voices when others attempt to silence them. Mother Theresa’s actions spoke louder than her words. There are multiple examples, historical and current, that bring light in times when you perceive a gathering darkness.

imageDouglas Abrams’ book, The Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World, contains dialogues between the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu. The wisdom shared in the dialogues from one man who lost his country when exiled from Tibet and the other who was the chairman of South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commissions, is sagacious, healing, and empowering. Here are ten quotes from the book:

“As one of the seven billion human beings, I believe everyone has the responsibility to develop a happier world. We need, ultimately, to have a greater concern for others’ well-being. In other words, kindness or compassion, which is lacking now. We must pay more attention to our inner values. We must look inside.” Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu

“Too much self-centered thinking is the source of suffering. A compassionate concern for others’ well-being is the source of happiness.” Dalai Lama

“Then after 1959, when I left Tibet, I started thinking, These people are just like me, same human being. If we think we are something special or not special enough, then fear, nervousness, stress, and anxiety arise. We are the same.” Dalai Lama

“Too much fear brings frustration. Too much frustration brings anger. So that’s the psychology, the system of mind, of emotion, which creates a chain reaction. With a self-centered attitude, you become distanced from others, then distrust, then feel insecure, then fear, then anxiety, then frustration, then anger, then violence.” Dalai Lama

“If you really feel a sense of concern for the well-being of others, then trust will come. That’s the basis of friendship.” Dali Lama

“…the more we heal our own pain, the more we can turn to the pain of others. But in a surprising way, what the Archbishop and the Dalai Lama were saying is that the way we heal our own pain is actually by turning to the pain of others. It is a virtuous cycle. The more we turn toward others, the more joy we experience, and the more joy we experience, the more we can bring joy to others.” Douglas Abrams

“But this being on earth is a time for us to learn to be good, to learn to be more loving, to learn to be more compassionate. And you learn, not theoretically, you learn when something happens that tests you.” Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu

“If we can have compassion for ourselves, and acknowledge how we feel afraid, hurt, or threatened, we can have compassion for others—possibly even for those who have evoked our anger.” Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu

“The way through the sadness and grief that comes from great loss is to use it as motivation and to generate a deeper sense of purpose.” Dalai Lama

“You show your humanity by how you see yourself not as apart from others but from your connection to others.” Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu

Our collaborative purpose at SUNY Plattsburgh is focused on the success of our students. Doing this well during rancorous times in our country will take a mindful approach to modeling in words and actions. I wish each of you peace, purpose, and joy as we continue to create a caring community and world together.

 

Bonus: Maya Angelou shares the importance of words we speak in this 1 minute 27 second video.

EHHS Shared Values Highlighted
• Respect and Empathy
• Lifelong Learning/Growth
• Inclusion/Culturally Responsive
• Social Justice
• Broad Minded

References:

Abrams, D.C. (2016). The book of joy: Lasting happiness in a changing world. New York: Avery.

Light image (n.d.) Retrieved November 13, 2016 from: http://www.rabbisacks.org/the-road-less-travelled-published-in-the-islamic-monthly/

Book of Joy image(n.d.) Retrieved October 30, 2016 from: https://www.amazon.com/Book-Joy-Lasting-Happiness-Changing/dp/0399185046/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1477839575&sr=8-1&keywords=The+book+of+joy

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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

Reaching the Summit Together

False Summits

Above the tree line, in the rarefied air of the Rocky Mountains, Andrew’s glacier rests with a small pond at the bottom.  Each carefully-placed footstep up the glacier is motivated by not slipping and sliding down into the rocks or the pond.  If you are a “flatlander” and have not spent enough time acclimating to the altitude, each step reminds your heart and lungs that you are in new territory.  As my climbing partner and I made our way up the glacier, the summit was in sight.  We avoided crevasses and made our way to the top, so we thought.

When we reached what we thought was the summit, the real summit loomed above us in the distance.  Reaching the summit would take a lot more effort.  It is at that moment of reflection when you have to determine if you have enough resources, mental and otherwise, to reach the real summit.  Will the summit need to be reached on a different day?  Is a new trail necessary?  Are there new skills that might need to be learned to reach the summit?  Is it possible a guide is needed? Is a higher self possible?

There are false summits in everyday life.  Here are three recent examples of false summits with a student, with a client, and with colleagues:

  • While working with a student last semester, the false summit was presented when the student thought sufficient effort and dedication were being given to reach a successful goal. When grades were given, that perceived amount of effort and dedication turned out to be a false summit.  Deep reflection, discussion of new study skills, and approaches to learning needed to reach the real summit took place over the winter break.  The student is on a new trail this semester, but as is often the case, reaching the summit is taking a lot more effort than what was originally believed to be necessary.  Guides will be a key to success too.
  • In the Speech and Hearing Clinic, I had a client who had been to many doctors in search of a diagnosis for voice and health concerns. Each visit, test, and ineffective medication, up to the point of my evaluation, presented as false summits.  While I was not legally able to provide a medical diagnosis for the client, I was able to serve as a guide to help the client move further up the trail to getting the answer.  Two students joined my in the evaluation and learned a lot about the diagnostic process.  Mentoring the students about the false summits and helping the client find the right trail provided insight for everyone involved.
  • I attended a diversity workshop recently, led by several national experts, who underscored some perceptions about our academic environment. SUNY Plattsburgh is a friendly, supportive college where people are willing to go the extra mile for each other; however, as with many institutions of higher learning across the country, there was a false summit by thinking this cultural belief permeated deeply into all groups on campus.  In other words, from the lens of the majority, a summit had been reached, but it was a false summit.  New tools are being acquired, new trails are being taken, and expert guides are being used to make sure everyone on campus can reach the real summit together.

There are common lessons on journeys from false summits to the real summits.

  • There is the lesson of perseverance. The determined path will lead to new lessons about the self and reaching the summit will provide a new view of the self.  Once on top, the view provides more summits on the horizon that invite life-long learning.
  • As educators, it is important to keep our skills honed to better guide our students. Talking about the trails is not enough; our students need to see that we are on our own self-actualizing trails.
  • We will climb higher together if we are willing to be guided as well as guide. The lessons we learn from each other will allow equal access to the summit.
  • There also is the lesson of the heart. While working hard in the thinner air of new territory, the heart beats best when accompanied on the journey by the hearts of friends and community members, and by guides who have traveled the trails to similar summits.

EHHS Shared Values Highlighted

  • Helping Students Achieve Goals
  • Inclusion/Culturally Responsive
  • Lifelong Learning/Growth

False Summit Image (September 2, 2015). Retrieved February 15, 2016 from:  https://timbdesign.com/appalachians/

Andrew’s glacier (July 13, 2012). Retrieved January 31, 2016 from:  http://www.thedenverchannel.com/news/man-dies-in-fall-on-glacier-at-rocky-mountain-national-park

A House is Not a Home

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

 

Mr. Wilson

“In 1889 the New York State Legislature established in Plattsburgh a school for the education of teachers, the New York State Normal and Training School.  Two years later the first three students graduated from the institution that would one day evolve into SUNY Plattsburgh”  (2007 Middle States PRR report).  The motto for the college is, “A Proud Past, A Strong Future.”  I thought about our past and this motto in the context of an open forum I sat in last week that addressed an offensive cartoon published by an independent, student-run newspaper (i.e., There was no editorial role by a faculty member before the paper was published due to first amendment rights).  The paper wounded and exposed deeper wounds, some of which are caused by institutional racism in our society, and, as a result, has served as a catalyst for understanding and a call to action.  The standing-room-only forum was held by the Black Student Union, AKEBA, to discuss what happened.  So many things crossed my mind and touched my heart at the forum and I will share a few.

I thought about:

  • James Augustus Wilson (pictured above), who began his studies in teacher education at our college in 1898 and was the first African American to attend and graduate from our college. He was an alum who went on to get a second bachelor’s degree in divinity at Wesleyan University in Connecticut and eventually worked with Booker T. Washington (Skopp, 1989);
  • LaVerne Baker, one of my mentors, who was one of two African American women to be the first to graduate with Ph.D.s from my alma mater, Wichita State University; if you have been in my office, you have seen her picture on my desk;
  • how Mr. Wilson and Dr. Baker would each define current events and what has and has not changed in the last 117 years;
  • my white privilege and the period of my younger life when I was naive to it, something that is the case for many young, white college students and on another level by others who are not so young in our community;
  • the voices from all underrepresented groups that need to be present to have a complete conversation about equality and social justice because there are differences in the struggles of each group (i.e., one group does not speak for all groups);
  • the young men of Delta Sigma Phi who I sat with at the forum as a faculty advisor, who have one of the more racially diverse groups on campus and a shared value of diversity –  I saw the pain in their eyes and felt it in their hearts;
  • how the members of AKEBA, the Black Student Union, modeled how to have difficult conversations that value the need to feel uncomfortable while maintaining everyone’s dignity; and
  • how I loved the gathering of diverse students at the forum, a sentiment that went beyond racial diversity, but hated the reason we were there.

That is a sampling of a few thoughts I had during the forum, but I also had another thought that night that centered on what I shared in our EHHS Community Gathering at the beginning of this semester.  It was during that gathering that I discussed the New Civil Rights Movement.  I highlighted words from Gyasi Ross, a Native American from the Blackfeet Nation who is an author, speaker, lawyer and storyteller.

Gyasi Ross

Here are the words I shared from Gyasi Ross (2015):

  • “If folks truly want to be allies then they’re going to have to get cool with uncomfortable conversations.”
  • “White folks don’t ever want to talk about race.  It will ALWAYS be jarring, it will ALWAYS be disruptive and it will ALWAYS be inconvenient. Yet, we have to do it.”
  • “If they truly wish to be an effective ally, then they should WANT to feel the discomfort that we feel when we’re constantly confronted with questions of race.”

There was a lot of discomfort felt over the past week, and this is a good thing.  Looking back, Gyasi Ross’ words were the most powerful words I shared at the beginning of the semester that have defined where we are now in the conversations taking place on campus.  I am pleased that the conversations have resulted in the actions detailed by our President that will enhance the caring environment we value at SUNY Plattsburgh.

I look forward to leaning into more discomfort and invite everyone else to lean with me because I know this is the place where we all grow.  We do have a proud past at SUNY Plattsburgh.  We also are engaged in conversations to know better and actions to do better that create a powerful present and a strong future.

Crucial Reading: This article from the International Journal of Critical Pedagogy is your opportunity to lean into the conversation with me: White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo

Maya Do better 2

                                                EHHS Shared Values Highlighted

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

References

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

Maya Angelou Image (n.d.). Retrieved November 1, 2015 from http://www.azquotes.com/quote/394295

Middle States Commission on Higher Education Periodic Review Report (2007).

Ross, G. (2015): http://www.thestranger.com/blogs/slog/2015/08/13/22694043/guest-editorial-i-support-bernie-sanders-for-president-and-i-also-support-the-black-lives-matter-takeover-in-seattle

Skopp, D. (1989). Bright with promise: From the normal and training school to SUNY Plattsburgh. Norfolk, Virginia: The Donning Company/Publishers.

 

 

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