In honor of Black History Month, several events are being held by SUNY New Paltz to discuss issues of racism. New Paltz is often thought of as a progressive, welcoming college town but unfortunately racism and discrimination has always existed in this community.
On Feb. 17, an online forum was held featuring an hour and a half discussion between multiple members of the Ulster County academic community. It was facilitated by SUNY New Paltz Black Studies professor, Anthony Dandridge and Chris Whitaker, an advisor in the School of Education.
Any student could attend “The Beloved Community: Interconnection & Action as a way to Respond to Racial Oppression and Violence” through Zoom.
Four individuals spoke about their experiences and ideas. Ashley Knox, is the Executive Director of “Go Beyond Greatness,” an education consulting firm that helps college students reach their goals and become “the great leaders of tomorrow.”
Dandridge then introduced Erica Brown, a two-time graduate of SUNY New Paltz and a Community Engagement Coordinator at Radio Kingston Corp. After Brown, the chief diversity officer at SUNY Ulster, Candace Van Dyke was introduced. She is also an assistant professor of English and foreign studies. Then Mark Rumnit was introduced, a more familiar name to many students. He is the director of the Scholars Mentorship Program (SMP), a multicultural program that was funded to help underrepresented students affected by educational disparities.
Professor Dandridge started the meeting by reminding participants that we are in fact on Munsee, Esopus and Lenape land, and we must pay respect to the people that were here before this institution was built. He reminded us that white institutions have “traditions of violence that unjustifiably have taken lives.”
“As educators and allies, we will work to address the inequities that result from institutionally racist policies and practices in our schools,” Dandridge said.
The reason for the forum at its core was to “address access and opportunity for all students by highlighting inequities increasing awareness.”
“The Beloved Community” was a term popularized by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., referring to an achievable goal of “advancing social and racial change in our larger communities.”
Whitaker first asked the speakers to explain how the educational communities that they have created helped to inspire and impact students, co-workers or peers.
Brown explained how good it felt to see her mutual aid work trickle down into the community. During the height of the pandemic many people became food insecure, and her work was able to reach many people in Kingston. Van Dyke went on to talk about her job as an educator and how many students she has worked with. She said when you teach, you are “changing people’s lives for the rest of their lives.”
Aside from being an executive director, Knox is also on the Board of Trustees of The Community Foundation of The Hudson Valley. She said she has noticed that companies, institutions and non-profits including the community foundation have changed their focus on inclusion and diversity. She’s excited to see the smaller changes leading to something bigger. For example, some of our dorm building names honor Indigenous Tribes and the Black Studies Department is moving from a trailer into an actual building.
Rumnit has helped students immensely with SMP. He says that his work makes sure that “opportunities and doors are open for everyone, not just the elite, not just the wealthy, but those who are underrepresented.”
The speakers went on to talk about their role models. It was amazing how many teachers and professors they mentioned. It just goes to show that these generations of educators shape the communities around them.
For the final question, Whitaker asked how SUNY New Paltz could uplift communities and combat racial oppression. The speakers agreed that the curriculum and the conversations that are held in classes are extremely important in order to organize because knowledge is incredibly powerful.
There are a few more online opportunities to discuss topics of Black History Month all facilitated by Professor Dandridge. On Feb. 25 there is “Livin’ My Life Like It’s Golden: Leaning into the Mindful Practice of Self-Wisdom, Joy, & Agency” with Tanzanite Msola and “Shifting the Narrative of Sky Culture with Tony Gordon” and “Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune – 1st Black person in National Statuary Hall Collection at the U. S. Capital” will be held on Feb. 26.