Saturday, April 20, 2024

Employee makes racist comment online

Mataeo Smith

A SUNY Plattsburgh 2014 alumna, who asked to remain anonymous for safety concerns, discovered a racist reply on Facebook last May, written by Sports and Wellness Administrative Assistant Rebecca Barnes, validating an initial comment by another user saying, “he needs a good ol fashion lynching.” To the alumna’s dismay, the college’s Facebook page’s response stated the reply was protected by the first amendment supporting the longtime belief of SUNY Plattsburgh’s negligence toward protecting students of color.

Barnes’ reply stated, “LOL 1 less to deal with,” prompting a third user to agree and comment, “Exactly.”

The alumna emailed the president’s office and the Vice President for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Michelle Cromwell to no avail, which she said disturbed her. She turned to the college’s Facebook page May 31 apprising it of the situation. She was first met with a default reply saying her message will be addressed during business hours from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. She replied with a screenshot of Barnes’ post circled with, “Your help,” written at the top. The Facebook page thanked her and said the college was aware of the post.

The alumna checked in the following morning and was met with the same default message assuring she will receive a response during the business hours.

“Her name is still on the website and her phone still connects,” the alumna responds. “Can you explain why you let racists continue to work there? It’s so upsetting that year after year, SUNY drops the ball on protecting students.”

She received a reply an hour later again thanking her for reaching out. The page assured her that the employees involved were reminded of the college’s values and how their actions on social media affect the community.

“It’s important to note that these ideas are protected by the First Amendment,” the page responded. “And although they seem hateful, they are legally protected.”

She proceeded to bring up the 2018 racist snapchat incident, when former SUNY Plattsburgh student Maria Gates sent a photo headlined “Lynching N— tonight,” to remind the college of how Gates was expelled for using a similar phrase on social media. The alumna received no response.

Cardinal Points would like to note that Maria Gates was not expelled, but left campus on her own accord.

The racist snapchat incident sparked campus-wide protests culminating in changes to the student Codes of Conduct condemning all kinds of hate speech after the college stated that Gates’ post did not violate any rules. Black Onyx club advisor Aniyah Carvhalo was among the students who resided in the ACC until 3 a.m. Protesters vowed not to leave until the student conduct manual was revised in order to be sure Gates would have repercussions to her statement. The incident revived the belief that SUNY Plattsburgh cares little about the safety of its minority students prompting outrage from the student body. Carvhalo remembers feeling disappointed to see nothing in the student code of conduct Manual against hate speech at the time.

Given Barnes’ reply on Facebook, she suggested SUNY Plattsburgh creating a faculty/employee Code of Conduct manual.

“She shouldn’t be able to say that,” Carvhalo said. “Especially if she is in contact with these people all day. You know how uncomfortable that can make a student feel?”

Cardinal Points emailed the president’s office and Cromwell for an interview on Barnes’ Facebook reply.

“Can you briefly describe the specific case you are referring to?” President Alexander Enyedi said via email. “I would appreciate the additional information. Thanks.”

After clarification, Cardinal Points received no response about its interview inquiry.

“Thanks for the note,” Cromwell wrote via email. “I’m not sure how newsworthy this is, but can speak with you about DIRECT’s response to finding out about it.”

Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Project Coordinator Brittany Varin suggested sending questions via email, so she and Cromwell could answer them in a timely manner given the office’s “hectic week.” After insisting the interview should be in person, Cardinal Points received no response.

“It’s just really disappointing,” the alumna said. “They’re always posting stuff like ‘we stand with our people of color students we stand against racism.’ And it’s like, no, you actually don’t.”

Cardinal Points reached out to Barnes via email for comment to no avail.


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