Plattsburgh State students and the surrounding Plattsburgh community came together Thursday night in the “We Walk Together” walk with the groups unifying in support of minority communities on campus.
The event was planned as a response to the racist snapchat incident this past February and the white nationalist flyers that have surfaced around the community since then.
The walk was organized by a combination of groups, including the Plattsburgh Cares non-profit activist organization, PSUC Vice President of Student Affairs Bryan Hartman and several local leaders of faith including Rabbi David Kominsky, Protestant Campus Minister Philip Richards and Catholic Campus Minister Mary Skillen.
“Our goal is not a political march,” Kominsky said to the crowd gathered in the Newman Center before the walk began. “It’s not to be making any big statements. It’s not to be protesting anything or arguing against anything. It’s to be walking together; a meander, a conversation, a walk one takes with friends.”
The procession of roughly 400 people began at the Newman Center, crossed the parking lot by the Kehoe Administration and Myers Fine Arts buildings, travelled up Rugar Street, turned around by Hood and DeFredenburgh Halls and retraced the route back to the Newman Center.
Just over 200 people came back inside the center after the walk to enjoy refreshments and continue the conversation.
The leaders of the walk came up with the idea over spring break as a way to show unity and support to the diverse students of PSUC.
“We thought it was important to show the students and the community that there are a lot of us who really do care and do want to listen and help and be there for people,” said Michelle Ouellette, assistant professor of public relations at PSUC and member of the executive board of Plattsburgh Cares.
The activist group has recently gotten a campus counterpart: SUNY Plattsburgh Cares.
Several members of the new campus club were on hand and helping host the event, including co-presidents Essence Hightower and Zionna Brunson.
“I think it’s to help make the students feel safer and let them know that there are people in the community that do not have that mindset,” Hightower said. “There are people I know who are transferring, but this is something that’s making me stay. It’s showing me that there are other people here who actually do care.”
Brunson agreed, hoping that the walk would help build bridges.
“I personally feel like a lot of students on this campus don’t feel safe,” Brunson said. “I feel like this walk is trying to build a bond between the community and students.”
Rabbi Kominsky saw the walk as a way to start growth in the community.
“We love the diversity that the campus brings to the community, and we value it,” Kominsky said. “We want to walk around and say, ‘Hey, we’re here for you, and tell us what we can do.’”
Pastor Richards agreed with Kominksy, as he also saw the conversation as a good jumping off point.
“We know that there’s a lot of work to be done in bringing the community and campus together,” Richards said. “This was to start the conversation informally, and to let students on campus know that there is a community here that cares.”
After the walk, many participants remained in the Newman Center to continue the talks.
Event organizers provided a suggestion box for participants to voice their opinions about what the community can do to make people feel more welcome.
Everyone was encouraged to sign the “We Walk Together” banner that was carried during the walk.
Ouellette hoped that the walk and the conversations it starts will help educate the more privileged of the community on what they can do.
“Sometimes, even people whose intentions are good do racist things often without even realizing it,” Ouellette said. “It’s important that we listen to each other, learn from each other and understand what other people go through so that we can be sensitive to it and become better as a community.”
Email Ben Watson at firstname.lastname@example.org