Sunday, September 19, 2021

Plattsburgh students lose faith in DEI

Mataeo Smith

Given the disclosure of a racist comment posted on Facebook by a SUNY Plattsburgh Administrator last May, students of color have found difficulty maintaining their trust of the diversity office.

A 2014 graduate of SUNY Plattsburgh, troubled by a racist post that appeared on Facebook last May, reached out to the Vice President for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Michelle Cromwell and the president’s office to share her concerns. The alumna, who requested anonymity out of fear for her safety, said she received no response from the office.

The original post, published on a local resident’s Facebook page, addressed the George Floyd killing saying, “He needs a good ol fashioned lynching.” In the reply section to that post, an administrative employee of SP responded that, “LOL 1 less to deal with.”

That exchange the alumna to try to determine if the user who replied had any relationship with the college. In that process, she discovered the poster was Rebecca Barnes, an administrative assistant of the Health and Wellness Department. Once that was clear to her, and having no response from the diversity office, she turned to the college’s Facebook account’s inbox to message and inform the admins of Barnes’ comment.

Sophomore Cassey Acevedo was “extremely disappointed“ in the SUNY Plattsburgh Diversity Incidents Response Education and Communication Team’s handling of Barnes statement, which consisted of a private exchange among the team and Barnes to discuss how her words could cause harm to the community.

The situation could have been handled differently,” she said. “Most of the time when things like this occur the school elaborates on what happens, and pushes it under the table.”

Acevedo said she had lost her trust in SUNY Plattsburgh’s ability to help its students of color after learning of the Facebook reply. The subtle response of the college gives her reason to believe that many other faculty members share Barnes’ views. Coincidentally, Senior Ezekial Kempster speculates the same, as he has watched SUNY Plattsburgh defend those who’ve made racist comments.

“A school that can make space for people who will spew this type of hatred without consequence is sending the message to its marginalized students that there is no space for them,” he said. “We can’t continue this cycle of racist comments being made/racial violence happening and then having some little panel about it where white faculty members speak and the campus community just sits back not getting listened to.”

The ordeal has created a disconnect because students feel that the attempts of rectifying the situation made by the university is disingenuous or just falls on “deaf ears” said a Plattsburgh senior who asked for anonymity to protect their job on campus.

The Senior said they would not feel comfortable reporting any incidents on campus, whether it be of discriminatory,racist or violent nature on this campus, because the university and it’s administration had made it clear to the Senior over the years that they are more concerned with avoiding a scandal rather than the safety and well-being of their students, especially those of color.

The four years they have spent at SUNY Plattsburgh gradually eroded the senior’s hope for improvement regarding students of colors’ safety.

“The university has chosen to stand by and protect an employee who has made atrocious racist comments, while supplementing their apathy with poorly written blanket statements reinforcing their ‘diversity’ policy,” the Senior said.

”It makes it hard as a student to utilize these resources meant to protect us when we have no actual examples of justice ever occurring. The school has been confronted with multiple popular social media posts outlining some of the most toxic and problematic aspects of their campus and chooses to turn a blind eye every time.”










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