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Coming Soon To A Campus Near You..Well, Maybe, But What Took It So Long?

Okay, so I have a reputation for sharing my wandering with my readership, hence the name of my blog. Well, I must share my thoughts about a new venture that SUNY Plattsburgh’s Center for Diversity, Pluralism, and Inclusion (CDPI) is excitingly close to launching in partnership with two local high schools, with a third really applying a flattering level of pressure to be included. Starting next semester there is a strong possibility that two North Country High Schools will be invested in promoting diversity and social justice throughout their high schools. These schools are truly attempting to make huge statements about how much they value the differences that exist amongst their students. In addition they are also making significant statements to their communities that before we can truly begin to think in logical sense about being a part of a global society we need to develop more progressive ways to like if not love our neighbors.

I can’t even imagine how much better my life would have been if I had been immersed in conversations centering on respect, promoting leadership, unpacking xenophobia (the fear of strangers/unknown/difference), and the irony of hypocrisy. How different might your adolescent years have been if you had monthly film series that explored differences through popular culture images and then upon the film’s conclusion the lights came on and everyone talked about it? Can you even imagine how engaging the conversation may have been to have been a part of a large audience unpacking the Wizard of Oz or It’s a Wonderful Life or Imitation of Life for their educational and societal merits? How different might your world view be if you understood at fourteen what some adults still haven’t figured out, that respect isn't equivalent to disrespect? Any notion of superiority between two young people that is exacerbated by friends, family, or a school system that doesn’t take the time to challenge such actions is problematic. It situates the so-called superior youth to participate in bullying, as the active bully, along with the inactive bully (bystander(s)), while relegating the so-called inferior youth(s) to victim status.

A High School version of the general education course Examining Diversity through Film will be one of the centerpieces of this initiative. This class immerses students in six concentrated themes for two week periods. The themes that can be covered at the high school level may differ, but at SUNY Plattsburgh we cover ability, race, gender, sexual orientation, socio-economic class, and privilege. Currently this class is taught in two sections, with a third being added next semester to capitalize on the interest from SUNY Plattsburgh’s Education Department. In its seventh semester we have already had as guest faculty Provost Bob Golden, previous Provost Tom Moran, Deans Kathie Lavoie, Cerise Oberman, and David Hill rotating through the class. A nursing professor, Anne Bongiorno was the first to finish all the themes offered in the course and will be teaching it on-line this summer. The chair of the general education committee, James Armstrong has rotated through as well as college historian Doug Skopp. Jean Ann Hunt, Jean Mockry, Susan Mody, and Lynn Schlesinger have all been through the class multiple times. As a matter of fact it is Dr. Hunt who will be co-teaching the newly added third section next semester with Kevin Pearson, a previous student in the class as well as TA. Michele Carpentier, Cat Young, Amy Schlagel, Mike Baumgartner, Steve Matthews, Nancy Allen, Lori Walters Kramer, and David Stone have all rotated through a theme in the class. The current SA President, Executive Vice President, two Vice Presidents, and many Senators have taken and served as TAs for the class. The previous student association president also took the class. As a matter of fact, if you are a scholar affiliated with the Institute for Ethics in Public Life (IEPL) you now must rotate through this class since CDPI and IEPL are in partnership on this initiative. There is really no understating the fact that relative to EDTF at SUNY Plattsburgh, when we built it (Professor Deb Light and I), they came. Have you scheduled your rotation yet?

Kudos must go out to two local heroes (you know who you are) for advocating throughout their school districts for the opportunity to partner with CDPI in bringing the High School CDPI (HSCDPI) to their districts. Their superintendents also should be lauded for buying into the vision of these two principals. Kudos to the two high school teachers from a remote school that journey all the way to Plattsburgh twice a week to take the class so that they can teach a version of it at their respective school. Kudos to retiring Provost Bob Golden’s for his support on the initiative, which has been unwavering. And everyone should be celebrating a young man from Long Island who, as graduate assistant to CDPI, came up with this visionary idea. While I shouldn’t name the potential future partners until contracts are signed, I can give a straight up shout out to Kevin Pearson for his brainchild. KP, good looking out! You single handedly may have lit a spark that lights a new way for our North Country high school students.

What are your thoughts on the impact a High School CDPI might have had in your life when you contrast it to the reality of not having had one? What are your thoughts on how it might affect our communities? What are your thoughts?

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I have to believe that having a CDPI at my high school would have advanced my awareness of gender, race and other issues by at least 10 years. My high school had maybe two faculty members who were not caucasian, and, one of them was the Spanish teacher (from Mexico). The year I graduated, there was exactly one African American family in the school - one. To say I had little awareness of equity (inequity?) issues is an understatement.

I started to become more aware of the world beyond my own little sphere of influence as an exchange student. But even then, most of the other exchange students were European and looked a lot like me. And all of us were had such outgoing personalities that, when we got together, any conflicts melted, or were at least masked, by our ability to get along with each other.

I became much more aware in college, partiulcarly at Syracuse University. For the first time I was among significant populations of people who didn't look, act, sound, smell, etc like me. There were two young professors that made a big impression. One, a women, challenged me (the class) to really think about gender and race inequities present in everything from classic literature to modern culture. We disected so-called "buddy movies" (movies where a black guy and a white guy become fast friends/partners, seemingly pushing aside racial prejuduces) to see where even they seemed always to cast the African American character as second-fiddle to the White character. That class got me as angry as I've ever been in a classroom because, for the first eight weeks, I took it all personally...like because I'm a white male, I'm personally responsible for all of society's ills, and, I also in a conspiracy with all other white males to maintain our "domination." When I met with this professor privately, she said something interesting. "No, I don't believe there's a conspiracy by all white men to keep things the way they are, but, I DO believe there needs to be a conspiracy to change things." I agree.

Another professor, originally from India, might be classified as a professional skeptic. "Question everything" he used to constantly say. He challenged us to look at the positive and negative of every institution in our lives - our churches and religions, our governments, the University, even our own families. He could argue the merits of democracy one minute and blast its platitudes the next. We would examine capitalism for all its virtues and then discuss why communisim is really a much more moral ecconomic system. His philosophy was that holding those institutions that we hold most dear up to cold objective scrutiny was the only way to make sure those institutions were constantly striving to improve. Scrutiny is the path that leads to the ideal. To this day I can't tell you exactly what this guy believes because he was so good at taking every side of an issue and inciting debate.

It will be interesting to see how such classes are received in a high school setting. In college, you're talking to a room full of people who want to be there - or at least, they're paying to be there. And anyway, it's not likely that a parent is going to complain to the school about what little Johnny was hearing or reading about in Lit.235. In high school, though, parents are much closer to what their kids are being taught - particularly if they're being taught something the parents don't want them to learn. Perhaps the most interesting conversations that come as a result of the CDPI will happen, not in the classroom, but in the locker room, bedroom, around the kitchen table, across the lunch table, in the priciple's office and at school board meetings.

It is so awesome to hear that there will be diversity classes offered in some area high schools soon. I went to high school in the North Country and there was a great need for understanding between different cultures, different orientations, different ideas you name it. Traditional ways of thinking were the norm and if you strayed from it people thought you were weird, a bad person, not acceptable etc. I hope that these classes help to open peoples minds to different ways of thinking and to help stop ostracizing students who are different. I think teaching people at young age to accept differences makes life happier. if everyone was the same it would be a very boring world. I think one incident that stands out in my mind from high school was a friend who was thought to be gay was being called names waiting for the bus outside the school and instead of the bus monitors stopping the incident they stood by and laughed. My friend moved away, went to college, has a great job but does not feel comfortable coming back here to visit. It's pretty sad when you don't feel comfortable visiting your hometown. I hope that students are able to put aside their differences and really get an understanding out of the classes offered. Also, I feel that there is a tendency out there to feel like having diversity classes is a politically correct thing to do, that some people in the North Country believe people are being too sensitive, and that it is ok to make bashing into what they call joking. I hope that these classes show the importance of respect but keep the humor about life. There is definitely something to be said about being oversensitive but it is another to outright make comments about someone's race, orientation, sex, religion and/or differences. JW, it would be great to see a blog on what you feel about being oversensitive or over politically correct.

High School CDPI is a great idea for high school students to get involved with. There are many schools which are hot beds for bullying, racism, sexism, classism, ageism, and disrespect based on sexual orientation amongst others. Conversations about these topics are typically not talked about in high school because they are things not seen by the teachers or overlooked by them. These are things which happen in the hallway, in the cafeteria, on the school bus, at recess (if the students have recess), and after school.

I feel it’s appropriate to educate the students but it’s also important to educate the teachers too who are contributing to the problem as well. They add to the bullying and issues many times because they are socialized to “pick on” the “weird” kid in school as well. They are older and should be wiser but it doesn’t put them outside the realm of disrespecting students and bullying them. It further alienates them from the world because their teachers are no longer an avenue to make those students feel appreciated. Sometimes the teachers are greater perpetrators then the peers of the students- getting them involved in the program will definitely help to create unity in the school and make it more successful.

While I was in high school, I ran a program much like CDPI in the high school. A group of 20 students and I went though a training with the Anti-Defamation League of New York State where we learned a lot about the issues CDPI addresses. We became a go to group when there was a bullying incident somewhere in our school kindergarten through 12th grade. We sponsored workshops for elementary and middle school students to educate them about how to stand up against bullying. The biggest key to solving or alleviating many of the issues is the bystander, which was much of the programming we did. The impact a small group of 20 students had on the lives of youngsters was amazing- if there was an initiative started in schools in the North Country I think they would start to see their numbers of judicial issues decrease as we saw in my school- people started understanding that those behaviors are not only not tolerated but also just not the cool thing to do- being cool is what its all about for people of that age.

The conversations the students have in the classroom or in school won’t necessarily affect people outside of the family members as much as it will help the students. It is a great start in the right direction to challenge the socialization of the students and to empower them to make the correct decisions- not only to make the right decisions too but to also Stand Up (what the program I used to be involved with was titled) against the behaviors and not allow themselves to be the perpetrator or the bystander. Maybe some of those ideas will carry over to home and make some changes with parents as I know it made with mine as I brought home ideas and challenged my parent’s ways of thinking. It can be done- it’s all about planting the idea in the student’s minds and encouraging them to carry it forward.

Kudos to the program and the initiative- it has great potential to make changes in the lives of youngsters. I wish you luck with this endeavor but the programs won’t need luck because they’re definitely going to survive and flourish.

As a parent of two local students, I feel fortunate that my children will likely have an opportunity to expand their awareness of diversity and its impact on our lives. We live in a world where it is common to hear discriminating and insensitive language on a daily basis. Just listen to the lyrics coming from your child's i-pod or ask them about the video game they were exposed to at their friend's house. The negative influences are vast, and unfortunately, difficult to control . It is important to have conversations that enlighten our youth about the world we live in and give them the foundation to think and challenge their peers, as opposed to just following the norm.

I grew up in a small rural town and I don't recall anyone ever challenging me to consider diversity or even what it meant. That was over 20 years ago and I wonder how things may be different today, but I am reluctant to think things have changed very much. It is so exciting to see that CDPI and a couple area high schools are committed to making a difference for our youth.

I have had conversations with many adults/parents who assume that diversity is primarily (or even strictly) about race. Having a diversity program at the high school level will be a huge investment in our community and the lives of our youth. They will be enlightened at a level that many of their parents weren't/aren't. They will be better prepared to take leadership roles and, as adults, will have the knowledge to challenge their children and others to think critically.

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