Click on different events on the timeline above to learn more about the incidents.
A number of what police called “racially offensive” signs posted around campus last week prompted swift responses from administrators, students and faculty.
As University Police continue to investigate who may be responsible for each of the four reported offenses, President Donald Christian addressed the incidents in campus-wide e-mails, in addition to planning a forum with Student Association (SA) leaders. In response to the initial message, a letter on behalf of the Black Studies department was sent to the president, accusing the college of being “an active participant in the system of racial oppression in America.”
University Police Chief David Dugatkin said on Nov. 8, a staff member reported that a “racially offensive sticker” had been placed above a water fountain in the Humanities Building. Jonathan Espinosa, historian of the Black Student Union (BSU) and SA senator, said he came across the sticker that read “colored only” before it had been taken down.
Espinosa said he was upset when he saw the sticker, and more so when a passing Caucasian student said “at least you got the taller fountain.”
Another aspect of the event that disappointed him was that Black Solidarity Day had been observed one day before the sticker was found.
“We had just had a day where people came to solidarity with Blackness. People identified with Black and people were in solidarity with people of color,” he said. “For that to happen the next day is kind of like a complete step back. I reacted really strongly towards it.”
Two days later, police were notified of what reports call a “racially offensive poster” being placed in a Lefevre Hall elevator. Similar “graffiti” was reported to be found in elevators of the same residence hall on Nov. 11 and Nov. 13.
SA President Terrell Coakley said he has a friend who lives in the building and other students have come to him with concerns for their safety since the postings were made, which he said included statements like “lynch niggers.” *
“She said, ‘I’m scared, I don’t want to live here anymore,’” he said. “I have a huge issue with that.”
Prior to these incidents, Coakley was notified about the sticker on Nov. 8 by SA Vice President of Programming Laneesha Bacchus via text message while he was in a meeting with Director of Student Acitivities and Union Services Michael Patterson and Ray Schwarz, associate vice president for Student Affairs.
Coakley said Schwarz soon contacted Vice President of Student Affairs L. David Rooney, who shared the news of the incident with administrators, including Christian.
The president sent out an all-student e-mail on Nov. 9 condemning the act, which he said was “clearly inconsistent with…campus values of equity, mutual respect and inclusiveness.”
Another message was sent on Nov. 16 in response to postings in Lefevre Hall, where Director of Residence Life Corinna Caracci organized an “all hall meeting” to discuss the findings on Monday.
While Christian said he was initially surprised and disappointed that such actions were taken on the SUNY New Paltz campus, he wants to “get to the bottom of this.”
He said because this is a community issue, he hopes all faculty, staff and students will attend a forum the president organized with Coakley to discuss these cases on Nov. 30 in the Student Union Multipurpose Room at 7 p.m.
“It is important that we not let events like this divide us as a community,” he said. “We need to come together to talk about how we can prevent such activities.”
After the e-mails were sent, some students and faculty said they did not fully address the issues brought up by the posting of these signs.
Espinosa, who helped organize another forum co-sponsored by SA and BSU called “‘Colored Only:’ Racism at SUNY New Paltz” on Thursday at 9 p.m. in Student Union 100, said he thinks people didn’t know what really happened based on Christian’s e-mails.
“He just kind of responded to it in a way to keep the situation under control and not get too many people riled up about it,” Espinosa said. “He didn’t really say what I feel like he should have said, which is exactly what happened, what was said and how this has a greater effect on the campus and community.”
The day after Christian’s first message was sent, Dr. Major Coleman, associate professor of Black Studies, sent a letter to the president to let him know that the department did not accept “the white supremacist sign as an isolated incident” of racial oppression at the college.
While he said he couldn’t speak for the entire Black Studies Department, Coleman said he thought it was important to contact the president.
“It seemed to me the department wanted to send a strong message and Dr. Christian seems to agree with me that intolerance will not be tolerated at SUNY New Paltz,” he said. “I think it was a good idea that we send a letter.”
Coleman wrote that at SUNY New Paltz, which he said has an undergraduate student body that is 5 percent Black, “historical vestiges of white supremacy” still exist. He said the college needs to do more than promote acceptance and diversity, which he defined as “race mixing, usually for the benefit of white students.”
The professor also touched upon what he said was an issue of segregation in the academic unit in which he teaches, the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.
Coleman said in the letter that this academic unit “maintains a system reminiscent of Jim Crow,” saying that large portion of the Black faculty are concentrated in the Black Studies Department.
“I believe that the Black Studies may have more than half of the Black faculty, but I am not certain of that,” he said. “I don’t think that any modern university can give students an adequate education without Black faculty equally represented in the mainstream departments like Liberal Arts and Sciences.”
James Schiffer, dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, said he did not feel comfortable addressing this concern and that he would feel better letting Christian speak to it directly.
“We try very hard with all of our academic searches to field a pool of candidates that is as diverse as possible. We are absolutely committed to that,” Schiffer said. “Anything the Department of Black Studies can do to help us in that mission, to have a faculty that is diverse, of course I applaud that.”
Coleman said he thinks that administrators’ response to his letter had been fine.
With the forum about the recent events approaching, Coakley said he hopes conversations about any racial issues in the community will continue to happen on campus in spite of any inclination people may have to avoid awkwardness.
“There are some things that are institutionalized in this country that affect the life chances of people of color that we just don’t talk about,” he said. “Now it’s a lot less overt and more covert, but putting up something that says ‘colored only’ brings it back to a time when racism was in your face. It’s an obscene reminder of how it used to be and how bad it still is, to see it back in your face it’s like, ‘You still have a long way to go.’”
As of press time, the police investigations regarding who posted all of these materials remain ongoing, Dugatkin said. Police investigated a post made by a SUNY Oswego student on Tumblr featuring a photo of the sticker and a statement that said his friend was trying to start a “race war” at SUNY New Paltz. Dugatkin said the student has been found and questioned, and police continue to pursue leads.
Dugatkin said the perpetrator may face harassment charges under penal law, a misdemeanor that could lead to a year in jail. If they are a student of the college, they may also face campus judicial action with the greatest consequence being expulsion.
* Editor’s Note: The New Paltz Oracle does not condone use of this derogatory language. In accordance with Associated Press Style, this word was printed because it was “essential to the story” in that it provided facts related to the incidents described in the article.
TO FIND OUT MORE, READ THESE STORIES:
“Senate Invites Guest To Meeting“ – First published mention of the incident’s occurring, University Police Chief David Dugatkin addresses the SA Senate.
“Council Tackles Race Dialogue” – SA President Terrell Coakley addresses SUNY New Paltz’s clubs and organizations regarding the postings.
READ PRESIDENT CHRISTIAN’S EMAILS HERE: