New York State Police have joined forces with the SUNY New Paltz University Police Department (UPD) to investigate hate graffiti found scrawled inside a bathroom stall on campus. Their involvement comes as Gov. Andrew Cuomo calls for state investigations of alleged hate crimes that have recently appeared across New York.
The graffiti on campus was found in a bathroom in Bouton Hall on Nov. 10, two days after the presidential election. The racial epithets made derogatory statements toward immigrants, Muslims and African Americans, accompanied by President-elect Donald Trump’s last name next to a hand-drawn heart.
SUNY New Paltz President Donald P. Christian immediately denounced the graffiti in a campus-wide email Thursday night, and the following day, sent a follow-up email to inform students that a full police investigation was underway. As of Wednesday, Nov. 16, state police were on campus working with UPD to conduct additional interviews and follow up on leads.
“The occurrence of incidents like these at many other colleges and universities across the nation does not let us excuse them on our campus,” Christian said. “We must remain committed to creating a campus where all members feel safe, supported and encouraged in their academic endeavors and personal lives.”
Many students shared photos of the graffiti on social media with posts speaking out against the discriminatory act—one they fear will become normalized under the impending Trump presidency.
Patrick Derilus, a second-year English major, first saw the screenshots of the epithets from a friend on the evening they were found. Subsequently, Derilus contacted Shaun King, a columnist for New York Daily News, who re-published the images on his Facebook account. Derilus said that the incident highlights that racism exists on campus, even in a predominantly diverse and liberal place like New Paltz.
“Racism is not something you’re born with, racism is taught,” Derilus said. “I think that the administration has to step up their game because we can’t live life in a bubble where nothing bad happens. That’s not life. I think a self-assertive response would’ve helped. We can’t sugar coat these things because that’s not going to stop these comments.”
At an anti-Trump rally on campus Friday, hundreds of students gathered together to denounce the president-elect as well as the racial epithets that appeared the day before.
In addition to SUNY New Paltz, state police are investigating similar instances of hate graffiti across the state. In the Western New York town of Wellsville, “Make America White Again” and a swastika were found spray-painted across a baseball field dugout. State police are also investigating similar anti-Semitic graffiti found in a dorm at SUNY Geneseo, where a swastika and “Trump” were found drawn on a common area of a residence hall.
On Tuesday, Cuomo launched a toll-free hotline that New Yorkers can use to report incidents of bias and discrimination across the state.
“New York serves as a beacon of hope and opportunity for all, and we will continue to stand up to those who seek to spread the politics of division, fear and hate,” Cuomo said in a press release Tuesday. “This state celebrates our differences because we know that it is the rich fabric of cultures and customs that makes this one of the greatest, most diverse places in the world.”
This is not the first time New Paltz has seen racially offensive messages appear on campus. An earlier incident occurred in November of 2011 when a staff member reported a sticker on a water fountain in Humanities labeling it as “colored only.”
Additionally, in October of 2013, students in Dubois Hall found the words “Emmett Till Deserved to Die” written on a dry-erase board hanging on a door.
Till, 14, was kidnapped, murdered and mutilated in 1955 Mississippi after supposedly talking to a white woman as he exited a store. The teen’s death sparked a nationwide civil rights movement against the discrimination of African Americans.
A similar instance occurred a month later in November of 2013, when a racial slur against African Americans was found written on a dry erase board in Gage Hall. Past New Paltz Oracle reports show that all of these incidents sparked UPD investigations. Inquiries on the outcome of these past investigations were not returned.
In a campus-wide announcement released Tuesday, UPD is asking anyone with information that can aid in its investigation to fill out a silent witness form. The department can be reached at 845-257-2222 or via its anonymous phone tip line at 845-257-2230.