Last month, the city of Charlottesville was engulfed by violence as white nationalists and counter protesters clashed in one of the bloodiest fights to date over the removal of Confederate monuments across the South, according to the New York Times.
Since then, the nation has been facing turmoil as some U.S. citizens have been vocal about promoting white supremacy. Following the events, Plattsburgh State Student Association President Vrinda Kumar was attending the SUNY SA meeting in Albany when she heard about the news.
“The riots, the car crash, I mean it was just very sad. And I’m not talking about being on a specific political side, I’m talking about just the whole hate speech,” Kumar said. “The violence was sad.”
PSUC President John Ettling sent out a note stating “As president of a college that serves you, as well as parents, taxpayers, and our local community, I am writing to condemn in no uncertain terms these reprehensible actions and the dark propaganda that feeds them. I am also committed to working with other leaders, helping lead tough conversations, and committing to the hard work that will never stop until we eliminate bigotry and prejudice.”
Ettling also attached a short email from Kumar, ensuring student safety on campus. She said it was essential that she uses her leadership position in a positive way.
“People elected for me and they’re counting on me. It’s more important now than ever. I’m sure everyone felt strongly about it,” she said.
Kumar said she owed the administration a thank you as well because they all gathered the day after and brainstormed about student safety. She said the #YouAreWelcomeHere campaign will continue, with the addition of lawn signs placed outdoors on campus thanks to VP of Student Affairs Bryan Hartman’s efforts.
“You might see something happening outside of here, but here on campus, we have jurisdiction. The University Police does too,” Kumar reiterated. “We have no tolerance for hate speech. We are so close to the border, which can be an intimidating place.”
With these concerns, faculty also had to take discuss safety on campus too. Michael Caraballo was someone who also attending the PSUC meeting following the Virginia incident. He said when it comes to events, they create an instant action plan for the campus.
“University Police also focuses on security and crowd control, and that’s a lot of what we focus on as well. If I talk to a volunteer staff, we make sure that people are safe,” Caraballo said.
“It’s mostly just us paying attention to the crowds and being aware of our surroundings. If we see anything suspicious, we report it to the police or to our command post.”
Caraballo said so far since the election when multiple protests and rallies sparked on campuses nationwide, he hasn’t encountered any sort of protesting that was large enough to pull in their resources.
“My office use to report to business affairs division on campus. Now, I report to University Police. So if there is a little bit of disruption, I might get pulled in,” Caraballo said.
Caraballo said that something PSUC has done to prevent these sort of outbursts is having a First Amendment tabletop exercise, where faculty and students discuss the procedures if such an incident like Charlottesville would occur on campus.
Regarding community events, Caraballo said there’s always going to be concerns with student safety.
“We always want students to feel welcome and safe. And what we try to do is try to reach out to businesses and make sure there is a connection,” Caraballo said. “One of the things was reaching out to vendors, especially the ones students frequent and see how they help provide a safe feeling on and off campus.”
“From my perspective, make sure they understand that there are people out there that can help them feel safe if they ever feel threatened,” Caraballo said.
Kumar further said that one thing she wants students to know is that they’re always welcome on campus.
“I want them to know. I’m an international student. I’m a person of color and a woman. I feel welcome here and that doesn’t mean I want to represent a certain group,” she explained. “I just want to give them my personal story of feeling welcome here and they should trust that if they get their voice heard, people are listening.”
She said students are welcome to bring any issues to the student association.
“I would just ask freshman to step up with their ideas, because they’re going to be the ones who are here for the next four years depending on their credits and everything,” she said. “So step up and feel welcome, and this is a small campus in terms of numbers, but not in terms of value.”
Email Kavita Singh at firstname.lastname@example.org