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Campus Engages in Social Justice Teach-In | SUNY Plattsburgh

Hundreds of students, faculty and staff participated in a Social Justice Teach-In and Day of Dialogue on Oct. 26, a focused time where faculty members across disciplines engaged participants in discussions on inclusion, sexism, racism, poverty and diversity, among other topics.

College President John Ettling encouraged faculty to excuse students from classes so they could attend selections from 18 half-hour sessions that included lectures and discussions on topics including the racial wealth gap, gender discrimination and excessive use of deadly force in policing.

“I feel like it’s a phenomenal platform to start with,” senior Modi Conteh of the Bronx said following a session taught by history professor Dr. Gary Kroll, titled “Understanding the North Country: On Poverty, Race and Prisons.”

An Opportunity to Show Support

The Teach-In provided an opportunity for faculty to show their support of social justice dialogue and debate, leading by example, Conteh said.

“Having faculty actually push and educate the students shows that they’re taking the initiative and shows students that they should take an initiative also, that they should go to these events and that education is key.”

Junior Tiffany Martin, also a Bronx native, said it’s events like the Teach-In that show students the faculty care about struggles underrepresented students face daily.

“It’s good to see professors ... talk about these things and be so passionate,” Martin said.

Faculty have spoken about topics relating to social justice in many of her classes, Martin said, but she knows that’s not necessarily the case for all students. The Teach-In was a chance for students who hadn’t previously taken classes that touched on those topics to have that opportunity, she said.

The idea for the event came out of a brainstorming session with college leadership and faculty that followed a town hall meeting in late September where hundreds of students, faculty and staff discussed the Black Lives Matter movement.

Dr. Wendy Gordon, chair of the criminal justice department and professor of history, proposed the idea for the Teach-In.

“I suggested we play to our strengths and do what the university is supposed to be doing—teaching.”

Fostering Debate

“Social justice campaigns are increasingly visible in the world off campus,” Gordon said. “An event like this one fosters communication between groups—those that are heavily invested in the campaigns and those who don't understand or even actively oppose them.”

“Campaigns for social change have the potential to destabilize communities, but educational events can bring the conflicting ideas into a space that fosters civil debate,” Gordon said.

Several of the sessions were very well attended with attendees filling lecture halls and auditoriums to capacity.

“I think the participation is really amazing,” said senior Dina Farina.

“I would love to see this (event held) again in regards to current issues” in the coming semesters, Farina said.

The program culminated with a group photo taken at Hawkins Pond to commemorate the college’s support for social justice followed by a special presentation, “Savage Inequalities: The Struggle Goes On,” given by Dr. Jonathan Kozol, acclaimed author and recipient of the National Book Award for “Death at an Early Age” and the Robert F. Kennedy Book Award for “Rachel and Her Children.”

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