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By Felicia Kreig
More than 300 SUNY Plattsburgh students, faculty and staff marched across campus Monday in support of equality, diversity and social justice at the college, in Plattsburgh and beyond.
The “Let’s Get Uncomfortable” march — from Sibley Hall to Hawkins Pond — was followed by a forum where about two dozen participants shared with attendees their thoughts, anger, frustrations and hope for future change.
The event was organized by AKEBA, the Black Student Union, and Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity. The event, carrying the hashtag #ChangeForPlattsburgh, enabled marchers to spread awareness of discrimination and prejudice experienced by students and how the college can address the issues.
A chant of “I want, I need change” could be heard along the march. It was among the responses on campus to an offensive illustration that appeared in the Oct. 23 edition of Cardinal Points, the college’s student newspaper.
The Nov. 9 event was endorsed by President John Ettling, who marched with students. Among the initiatives outlined previously by the president are increasing support for ethnic and cultural diversity on campus, reestablishing a multicultural alliance and engaging more deeply on such issues with the greater Plattsburgh and Clinton County communities.
"You need to keep pushing for it (change), and we’re going to make it happen. - Dr. J.W. Wiley"
“I’m proud of every single one of you guys because this is the first step,” said Priscilla Burke, a former Student Association president, as fellow marchers listened in a semicircle at the edge of Hawkins Pond. “This right here is beautiful.”
Most speakers acknowledged that while meetings and events like “Let’s Get Uncomfortable” have helped bring the campus community together to generate ideas about how to address discrimination on campus and beyond, there is much work still to be done.
“The work never stops,” student Jaylen Edwards told the crowd.
“Do not stop trying because if we stop trying, we’re going to be back here (demonstrating) again,” said Lateef Wearrien, president of AKEBA.
An integral part of lasting change is education, said Dr. J.W. Wiley, chief diversity officer at SUNY Plattsburgh.
The perspectives of both underrepresented and privileged populations need to be widened, Wiley said, and the conversation and effort for positive change going forward should be for the benefit of all oppressed groups, including the LGBTQ community, women and the disabled.
“You need to keep pushing for it (change), and we’re going to make it happen.”
A group of faculty members, at a special meeting last week, created a path to working with Wiley to support them in difficult conversations in their classes on issues important to students.
Dr. Joel Parker, associate professor of biology, was among the faculty who addressed march participants. His message was one of hope and optimism.
He said millennials may be in a better position to effect change than the generations that came before them because they are linked to each other and the larger population in a meaningful way through social media and other technology.
“You are more connected to the world (than past generations).”
“I really feel the flow of history is behind us, the momentum is behind us,” Parker said. “There is hope. That dream (of equality) has now become a vision.”
As it does, student Gennovva Pham encouraged the crowd not to forget the purpose of the gathering.
“The name of this march is ‘let’s get uncomfortable,’” she said. “We need to make people feel uncomfortable.”
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