Thursday, September 23, 2021

SUNY representatives talk diversity, race with students

Two representatives from the SUNY System Administration in Albany listened to students’ concerns and discussed current racial tensions at Plattsburgh State during five 50-minute sessions throughout Monday.

The visit from Vice Chancellor/Chief Diversity Officer Carlos Medina and Chief of Staff/Senior Vice Chancellor for Strategic Initiatives Teresa Miller came following three campus-wide forums and a protest against a racist, threatening Snapchat posted by a student and administration’s inaction toward it.

Freshman Maria Gates, of Keene, sent out a Snapchat on Jan. 26, captioned “Lynching n*****s tonight.” A screenshot of the picture circulated the campus last week, sparking outrage.

Students discussed the possibility of having a mandated diversity and inclusion class integrated into the PSUC curriculum.

“[The focus was] how the faculty [can] contribute in educating the student body or the community of Plattsburgh,” sophomore Angel Martinez said.

While the session gave way to some good ideas and points, Martinez thought the meetings lacked a sense of urgency.

Tensions boiled over outside one session in a verbal dispute, which campus police broke up, about PSUC Chief Diversity Officer J.W. Wiley. The Student Association has formally called his resignation along with PSUC President John Ettling and Director of Student Conduct Larry Allen. The campus remains intensely divided over Wiley’s role in the issue.

Sophomore Charlotte Arcuri said the problem, however, is larger than individual administrators.

“More important than having anyone resigning is just having written-down plans and rules that are changed for the future,” Arcuri said. “Administration changes. Those things don’t.”

In addition to administration changes, broadcast journalism major Jayah Arnett hopes to see more funding and programs, such as mentoring, for minorities come out of the collaboration with the chancellor’s office.

“Just make sure that black and brown students feel comfortable where they are because we leave our homes to come here and make a life for ourselves,” Arnett said. “There’s no reason I should feel uncomfortable trying to make a life for myself.”

PSUC Vice President of Student Affairs Bryan Hartman hopes the SUNY higher-ups will offer more guidance in the coming days and weeks.

“They confirmed change is needed,” Hartman said. “But they also confirmed that doing things hastily… not only doesn’t help SUNY Plattsburgh, it actually sets a bad precedent for other institutions.”

Though he supports the idea of adding a required class or mandated training, Hartman said the real, and best, change will happen not from a quick fix, but from an evolution of culture.

“You change culture by getting peers to confront peers,” Hartman said. “For peers to set the standards and expectations and then force those expectations with peers — that takes a long time to accomplish.”

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