A Call to Action: Building Student Power at SUNY New Paltz

Greetings brothers, sister and comrades,

Last year, as the Student Association vice president of academic affairs, I submitted two Op-Eds [1] [2] which aimed to highlight the fact that the Black Student population at SUNY New Paltz has been steadily declining for more than ten years, resulting in a racial diversity crisis. I hope to now provide some encouraging words to push the struggle for student power forward.

To student senators: Congratulations to you all for joining the New Paltz Student Association; now it’s time to do work. Student government is not something you simply put on your résumé. It is your opportunity to exercise your collective power as students to create social change for the advancement of society in general and historically underrepresented people in particular.

To all students: What are you doing about the decisions made and not made by the New Paltz administration which possess your tuition money? Does your college administration represent you? What are you doing about the fact that the Black student population at New Paltz has been decreasing for more than ten years and about racist vandalism on campus? What are you doing about the fact that students and faculty now have a gag order for five years and cannot move to transform the Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies Program into a full department? What are you doing about queerphobic vandalism on campus? What are you doing about the fact that adjunct professors get paid less than the poverty line to teach you classes? Are you defending your public higher education, or are you allowing the administration to continue business and status quo as usual? What are you doing to develop true political solidarity and unity among students to build STUDENT POWER?

For four years at New Paltz, I heard people constantly complain about the lack of unity on campus. What we must realize is that unity is achieved not only socially, but also politically. We need the capacity as students and alumni to make demands that will create real social change. We can not just sit on our hands and wait for the administration to do it for us. And I’m not referring to petty demands like more color printing. I’m talking about real demands that are tied to a broader struggle for self-determination, like those happening in colleges throughout the United Kingdom, the City University of New York, Puerto Rico, Mexico, Quebec, Chile, and Egypt. I’m talking about defending those poor and working class people, women, people of color, and LGBTQ people who are marginalized at New Paltz and who are oppressed by a society that doesn’t want us here. Spoiled students, do not be blinded by your privilege. You are not to watch on the sidelines as you wait for the next woman to get raped, or the next young Black male to be beaten by police, or the next LGBTQ person to be called a faggot.

Students at New Paltz need to realize their potential as a collective, as a community, and build solidarity. Programs, events and parties are not enough. We need to BUILD political power that gives purpose to these social gatherings. That New Paltz is considered a liberal school is not proof of progress, only the illusion of it. As Malcolm X said, “A [person] who stands for nothing will fall for anything.” So where do you stand? If student senate isn’t working for you, then join a student organization on campus, or create your own political organization, and pressure both student government and the administration with social justice demands and hold them accountable.

I understand the desire to enjoy the frills of college, but we need to balance these with the realities of our lives. As Na’Im Akbar said when discussing the power of education and self-knowledge, “Each generation has the responsibility of maintaining the level of consciousness attained by the previous generations, and of advancing the community to even higher levels by the development of their own consciousness [3].” Realize that there were people who risked and gave up their LIVES for you to be in college, people who had to think about very similar questions I ask and who had to decide if they wanted to live in a world that continued to oppress them and their communities. They had to STRUGGLE for you to see that acceptance letter in the mail. So, how will you make a difference and continue the legacy that was built at New Paltz by warriors who sacrificed their time and energy for future students like you all to receive public education? What legacy will you leave behind? What contribution will you make to the New Paltz campus and in this world?

We need to remember our ancestors, especially Warrior Dr. Margaret Wade-Lewis. New Paltz Alumni are watching you all, and we expect much of you. When we return to visit, we expect students and faculty to continue this legacy of struggle passed down to us by those who came before us. We will not succeed as individuals. We will not make a difference if we only look out for ourselves. Victory is achieved through collective struggle. Education is a right not a privilege. ALL POWER TO THE PEOPLE! Much love to you all. Good luck this semester. Peace.

[1] Espinosa, Jonathan. “Op-Ed: A CALL TO SUNY NEW PALTZ: TOWARD A STRATEGIC ENVIRONMENT OF RACIAL EQUITY.” New Paltz Oracle. May 2, 2013.

< http://oracle.newpaltz.edu/op-ed-jonathan-espinosa/>


< http://oracle.newpaltz.edu/op-ed-jonathan-espinosa-2/>

[3] Akbar, Na’Im. 1998. Know Thyself. Tallahassee: Mind Productions and Associates, Inc. p. 1.

 Jonathan Espinosa