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Book Group Aims to Start Dialogue, Raise Awareness on Diversity

   killing rage          white fragility

A pilot book reading group launched by Dr. Michelle Cromwell, vice president for diversity, equity and inclusion, is looking to start a dialogue on diversity, equity and power on campus.

“Anti-Oppression Work at a Predominately White Institution” is a semester-long project involving students, faculty and staff who will read “Killing Rage: Ending Racism” by Bell Hooks, and “White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism,” by Robin DiAngelo and then, using the Circle Way, gather to talk about their perceptions, feelings and long-held beliefs as they relate to the readings.

The Circle Way gathers participants in a circle where everyone has a voice and everyone can see and hear one another. For her part, Cromwell put the word out early in the semester and as a result, 56 people signed up.

Cromwell said that in the first meeting, “We did something people usually do in an entire day in an hour. We had this dialogue — they talked and the group was grateful to be there. One person said they felt nourished.”

People are encouraged to speak; and they are encouraged to say what they’re feeling without fear of criticism or recriminations.

“We agreed we will not get offended, and if we do get offended, we’ll try to understand and share that,” she said. Cromwell explained that in the Circle Way, one person is assigned as a leader, someone “who watches for body language, emotions and the energy of the circle,” she said. “They might stop the discussion and ring a bell. They might say, ‘When Michelle spoke, you rolled your eyes. Share what was going through your mind.’”

The idea is a starting point to open discussion and dialogue, she said.

“We have to start somewhere. As we shift cultures, you start with where you are. As we shift the needle, we’ll start seeing the changes. The outliers will start seeing the difference.”

Participants gather in rotating campus locations on Wednesday afternoons from 3:30 to 4:45 p.m. through Dec. 4. The next gathering is slated for Oct. 16. Cromwell expects the program to continue with others hosting groups in subsequent semesters.

The dialogue project is sponsored by Peter Gerney '83 and the Plattsburgh College Foundation. Gerney covered the cost of the books and was instrumental in making this project possible. 

Cromwell has been using her time since arriving on campus earlier this summer embarking on a listening tour, meeting with faculty, staff and students to ask how she, as chief diversity officer and vice president for diversity, equity and inclusion, can help bring about greater awareness and make dialogues like the ones resulting from the book group commonplace and campus wide.

“I want to know how I can help, how I can support you,” she tells people. “Talk to me.”

For more information on “Anti-Oppression Work at a PWI,” or for other questions on diversity, contact Cromwell at 518-564-5410 or email [email protected].

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