Defining Diversity: Can we talk?

J.W. Wiley challenges adverse thinking about diversity


Story and photos by Christine Thompson

�The first time I met J.W. Wiley was at orientation in 2005, I thought he was amazing!" Madison Ives a sophomore at Plattsburgh State University College said. "His presentation really made me think about things I had never thought about before. He was extremely dynamic, and I really enjoyed it. He knew a lot about diversity and made it clear that it wasn't just about black and white.�

A smiling WileyJ.W. Wiley, the director of the Center for Diversity, Pluralism and Inclusion

J.W. Wiley, known as J.W. by his friends, students and family, is the director of the Center for Diversity, Pluralism and Inclusion at PSUC. He began, what he calls, his conscious journey as a diversity enthusiast when he was a grad student at Claremont Graduate University, in Southern California. J.W. was the first black male in the history of the graduate philosophy program at Claremont, and always took himself to the next level in his courses. According to J.W., he continually challenged himself intellectually and considered contemporary ideas within philosophy, bringing issues of race, class, and gender into conversations.

�Our vision today stands on the shoulders of things that happened in the past,� J.W. said. He used not only the urban inner city, East L.A. location he grew up in, but also the experiences he had in these classes in an attempt to open a new form of thought among his colleagues in order to begin transcending adverse ideas about race, class, sex, ability, and privilege. The first position J.W. ever had was as a minority recruiter at Claremont. Coupled with his philosophy program and this new responsibility, J.W. began to �address some aspects of (his) own reality,� which �ended up laying the foundation for the work (he) is doing now,� he said.

�Our vision today stands on the shoulders of things that happened in the past.�

On a subconscious level, J.W. credits an experience as a six or seven-year-old to his success, when he was slapped by an older white kid for writing in the dust of the automobile that the Caucasian and another woman were in. J.W. said, �I think my whole life I've been trying to process that.�

Diversity may be a tough topic for people to address, and in most cases society only identifies with diversity on a black/white level. J.W. Wiley dedicates his time �trying to explore why we treat each other the way we treat each other because of things as arbitrary as the differences that exist between us.� J.W. takes his message further than black and white and includes gender, sexual orientation, and class.

As a teacher of four classes at PSUC and a consultant to a vast number of academic institutions, including the University of Vermont, Pace University, Norwich University, Wyeth pharmaceuticals and Champlain Valley Hospital, J.W. considers the most difficult part of his job to be the challenge of addressing who he calls �the hostages� of his presentation. J.W. categorizers his audience into three groups: the hostages, the vacationers, and the active participants. The hostages represent the portion of the audience unwilling to participate in J.W.'s conversations. The vacationers are the portion generally more susceptible to his message, while the active participants are willing to entice in the conversation.

However, J.W. doesn't want message his message to be misunderstood. He poses the question �How can they really understand [diversity] if I don't [understand it], as much as I would like, and I've been teaching it and living the experience of leading discussions for six years now?� The importance of teaching classes like Examining Diversity through Film, and the various Diversity Enlightenment sessions J.W. facilitates around Clinton County, as well as other locations, is not to preach about social justice, but to tempt people to acknowledge and understand diversity outside of race. According to J.W., diversity conversations in our capitalist society are very important. They allow students and others to immerse themselves in conversations identifying with these issues to �change the dynamic of the university,� and inevitably, "the world," J.W. said.

A student consults Wiley
J.W. Wiley converses with a guest speaker during his class Examining
Diversity through Film

J.W. Wiley and his Center for Diversity, Pluralism and Inclusion staff work toward this goal in a very active and engaging manner, hopefully transcending xenophobia, the fear of foreigners and strangers, in our already separated society. Essentially, �Diversity without pluralism and inclusion becomes adversity, separatism and illusion,� J.W. said.

CDPI started charging money for its presentations three years ago. According to J.W. their outreach program to the Clinton County area is extensive and beneficial, ranging from Plattsburgh High School and Peru to Saranac and Willsboro. The most memorable presentation in his career thus far was a presentation where 98 percent of the audience was sitting seven rows back, therefore creating an extremely hostile environment. However, J.W. estimates about 70 percent moved to the forward briefly after he started his presentation. Another memorable moment for J.W. was when he received standing ovations on the University of Vermont campus. �It's hard to be a star on your own campus,� J.W. said with a laugh, mentioning never getting a standing ovation at PSUC.

�When I come into the office, that's when the party starts.�

J.W. Wiley does not limit himself to Diversity Enlightenment sessions and classes at PSUC. He's actively involved in a film project called �DISSED-Respect�, and consultant with Dr. Eddie Moore Jr. for the White Privilege Conference and a member of the Brothers of the Academy.

Beyond his role as a diversity enthusiast, many find J.W. a captivating man. He starts his day as anyone else would, is a responsible father and husband, maintains a healthy lifestyle, and looks forward to being able to relay his significant message each day. He loves his job, and work for him is never work. �When I come into the office, that's when the party starts,� J.W. said.

Have you thought outside the box today?

"If� by Rudyard Kipling

If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you
But make allowance for their doubting too,
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don't deal in lies,
Or being hated, don't give way to hating,
And yet don't look too good, nor talk too wise:

If you can dream--and not make dreams your master,
If you can think--and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you've spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build 'em up with worn-out tools:

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it all on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breath a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: "Hold on!"

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with kings--nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you;
If all men count with you, but none too much,
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds' worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that's in it,
And--which is more--you'll be a Man, my son!

Diversity Enlightenment Literature

J.W. Wiley read �If� by Rudyard Kipling in the 6th grade and says this is his favorite poem. He says this poem challenges people to be the best they can be and made him begin to identify with the kind of person he wanted to become.

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