Hundreds of Plattsburgh State students, faculty and staff banded together Monday afternoon to march in pursuit of one common goal: change.
The march, titled, “Let’s Get Uncomfortable,” was scheduled soon after Cardinal Points’ offensive front-page graphic was published Oct. 23 and was hosted by multiple student groups on campus, including AKEBA, the Black Student Union.
The rally was intended not only to focus awareness on the issues faced by underrepresented groups but also to spark action and create solutions for the social injustices on the PSUC campus, in the Plattsburgh community and in society as a whole.
After gathering behind Sibley Hall shortly after noon, the crowd marched down Rugar Street toward Hawkins Pond, where an open public forum was scheduled to conclude the march.
Chants of “What do we need? Change! When do we need it? Now!” rang out from the crowd.
Holding signs with phrases such as “We want to be comfortable. We need change now. #nojusticenopeace,” the group crossed Broad Street in front of the Kehoe Administration Building as University Police blocked off the intersection of Broad and Beekman man Streets, allowing the large group to cross through safely.
When marchers reached the pond, they formed a semi-circle facing Hawkins Hall.
One by one, students and staff members stood on a bench before a crowd of their peers, faculty and reporters to express their feelings.
“Nov. 9, at 1:44, we stand here, showing that, 200 years later, that we are still ready to fight, that we will not give up, that this is worth fighting for,” Ray Robinson, a PSUC student, said at the march. “We need change.”
Maria Veloz, a graduate assistant for housing and residence life, said part of the problem comes from a lack of understanding among people from different cultures and backgrounds.
“When people talk to me about the city, they describe the city — they describe the city as being somewhere where you’re going to get shot,” Veloz said. “Our mentality, our vocabulary, the way we describe where we live needs to change.”
Other students spoke about the long-term impact positive change will have on PSUC.
“My cousin is a freshman here at this school,” said Anthony Dorcena, a PSUC student and AKEBA’s treasurer. “I want her to have her four years and be like ‘You know what, this was a pretty good place. I didn’t go through a lot of problems.’ We have to work for change for other people. We have to want it for something that is bigger than ourselves.”
J.W. Wiley, newly appointed Chief Diversity Officer and director of the Center for Diversity, Pluralism and Inclusion at PSUC, also spoke at the forum following the march. He said that students, faculty and leadership need to be committed to change.
“We need to change our attitudes and theirs. We need to change their attitudes and ours. It’s all in the same basket. We cannot settle for just pointing in one direction,” Wiley said.
Wiley also urged students to keep their passion for these issues and continue advocating for changes they want to see.
“Go back to the people that are preventing you from the change and push. Push again, and if you need to, knock on that door loud … We’re going to make it happen. I can guarantee you, as long as I’m on this campus, I will never, ever stop trying to make a difference. And you are the fuel in my fire,” Wiley said.
But the recent push for change spearheaded by college students is not limited to the PSUC campus. Across the country, students have begun to challenge the notion that issues concerning race, discrimination, hate and bias can simply be ignored.
At the University of Missouri, students and faculty recently waged a protest against the college administration, which they feel has shown little concern over racially charged incidents on the university’s campus.
As part of the protest, the college’s football team refused to participate in its next scheduled game unless the university’s president, Tim Wolfe, resigned or was removed from his post.
One student began a hunger strike that he vowed to continue until the president resigned.
On Monday afternoon, Wolfe resigned, along with the school’s chancellor, R. Bowen Loftin, amidst the racial controversy, according to CNN.
At Ithaca College in New York, President Tom Rochon has been criticized by the student body for a lack of response to racist incidents on the school’s campus in the past month. The college’s Student Government Association sent a campus-wide email asking students to vote “confidence” or “no confidence” in Rochon, according to USA Today.
As PSUC continues to move forward in an effort to bring the change the student body is pushing for, campus administrators are actively encouraging, and participating in the movement.
“Are we doing enough? No. Is there momentum to try to do more? Yes,” said Bryan Hartman, PSUC vice president of student affairs.
Hartman said avoiding challenging or uncomfortable topics is something that students, faculty and staff cannot do.
“Most people that I encounter avoid difficult conversations. It’s unfortunately part of human factor. We avoid difficult conversation; we avoid conflict. That’s where we need to make some more effort and help people to have those difficult conversations. And that’s not just students, that’s my colleagues as well,” Hartman said.
Wiley, who has also been vocal about the importance of having tough conversations on campus, noted how critical it is for PSUC to keep momentum behind the movement.
“We are on the precipice of change,” Wiley said.
Email Thomas Marble at firstname.lastname@example.org