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President Ettling on Leading the Campus Forward

The following statement was sent to the campus community on Thursday, Oct. 29 by SUNY Plattsburgh President John Ettling.

Dear Campus Community, 

I am writing to announce several steps we are taking as a college administration — and that I am taking personally — to help our campus heal and move forward from Friday's offensive illustration in the Cardinal Points student newspaper.

Deep hurt has prompted heartfelt conversations that have taken place all week. These are necessary and will continue to take place. Personally, I will be engaging in more conversations with campus organizations, student leaders, and more.

Beyond learning and listening, though, there are facts and circumstances here that call for work to start immediately.

Here is what we know: Conversations and engagement among students, faculty, staff and campus leaders that have taken place this week have exposed gaps in understanding that we must work to close. We cannot erase ignorance, bigotry, and misunderstanding from our society. We can — and must — make it our priority to do our part to make this campus and the larger Plattsburgh community a model for others across this state and nation to follow.

As I have already written, the front-page illustration in Cardinal Points does not reflect our values. It is patently offensive, and it was an egregious error to publish it. And while we respect and will continue to maintain the editorial independence of the student paper, we are deeply concerned about the lack of action the paper has taken since the publication of the illustration. It is imperative for Cardinal Points to set a clear course for the future and play a key role in the campus healing process. This may include the decision of members of the editorial staff to step down.

Among the specific steps I'm taking today:

— I am naming Dr. J.W. Wiley as chief diversity officer for the campus. He will report directly to me. The appointment is effective immediately.

— We will develop a long-term plan to increase support for ethnic and cultural diversity on campus. Formulation of the plan, which will include campus-wide involvement, will be overseen by the chief diversity officer. A comprehensive Diversity Task Force, made up of faculty, staff, students, and community representatives, was recently reconstituted and will play an important role in formulating this plan.

— I am resurrecting the Multicultural Alliance. Historically a catalyst for student-group programming, its mission will expand to include more student leaders, serve as a place for physical and emotional support for multicultural students, and work with the chief diversity officer.

— In conjunction with the alliance, we will schedule a Diversity Week early next semester. This new annual event will include the participation of faculty, staff, students, and the wider community. Highlights of the week will include programming, forums, workshops, training, and speakers focused on matters of ethnic, cultural, and other differences.

— We will engage more deeply with the greater Plattsburgh and Clinton County communities. This is our home. We have a responsibility as a college to be a steward of place. Our leadership in matters of diversity, social justice, understanding, and respect is required. We will do this more proactively and directly.

I am — and we must collectively be — determined to grow stronger from this. And these steps are only the beginning.

An illustration in a student paper will not define us, but our response to it will. As we craft that definition, rest assured we will not leave it to others to write the script.

John Ettling

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