Can We Still Talk About It?

It has been more than a year since our campus community collectively gasped, recoiled and reacted as heinous and offensive signage was posted across the walls of the SUNY New Paltz campus.

After the events on Nov. 8, 2011 and the days following, students felt unsafe in their residence halls, were subjected to a whirlwind of negative comments and afterwards, in the face of adversity, our campus took strides to stand together and say this is not how we as an institution behave.

Our campus was transformed from a vibrant community into a paralyzed state last November as unknown perpetrators posted various ‘racial’ slurs across our home. Following these events, we as a group channeled our feelings of outrage, disgust and confusion and found a silver lining in the haunting actions of those signs.

But, with more than a year’s worth of investigation, tireless work and agenda overhauls, we as a campus community have yet to see any closure — in the form of an admission or arrest — to this incredibly sensitive event.

In response to the racial signage postings last year, SUNY New Paltz President Donald Christian said he wanted to “get to the bottom” of the crimes, while University Police Chief David Dugatkin said those responsible would face harassment charges, a possible year in jail and expulsion from the college.

Despite this, nothing has come to fruition.

We at The New Paltz Oracle believe an open and transparent dialogue about the ongoing process of this investigation  needs to be formed between administration, police and students — but more importantly, we as a campus community need to remind ourselves of the emotions brought up from the events and the positive steps we took in their aftermath.

Attempts by The Oracle to acquire documents regarding the incidents of last November were denied by SUNY New Paltz, as any documents available under the Freedom of Information Act could “interfere with an ongoing law enforcement investigation.”

However, according to Chief Dugatkin, no major progress has been made in the case since the weeks directly after the postings. Dugatkin said the UPD has had persons of interest in the case, but have not collected enough evidence to charge someone criminally for the postings.

In fact, Dugatkin said a “missing piece” would need to be found to move forward in any substantial way with the UPD’s investigation. President Christian has described the case as “inconclusive.”

Investigations take time, we must remember that; and sometimes, some cases are harder to solve than others. But when accounting for the absolute shock the events of last November delivered to our campus, we as an editorial board believe our administration should have recognized the importance of being active in informing us on its progression in any way or form.

Does this mean that all information about the event that shocked our campus — and left students feeling endangered and afraid — will never be available to those looking for it? At some point in the last year, our community should have been notified on the progress or ongoing nature of the case.

But besides that, there is a far more important issue we as a campus community must face.

This is not something that we can forget. What happened last year will be remembered as a stain on our college’s history, but its impact brought changes and discussions that were informative, instructive and united a campus in a time of crisis.

Our student leaders are right. We as a campus have forgotten the impact these postings had.

It takes a dramatic example to shake people out of apathy, and in the aftermath of last November’s incidents, we as a campus were shaken out of that apathy and into a unified institution that stood against the harmful actions of some unknown person.

But the blame is certainly not resting solely on the backs of those in the administration. In fact, we as students share an even greater blame –— we rallied behind one another in a time of crisis, but soon lost track of that stance. Sure, students have graduated or studied abroad, but it is the responsibility of the remaining students to keep that feeling alive.

We shouldn’t need a school’s interaction to hold our hand through the process. We should be the change we want to see, not wait for institutionalized assistance.

The fora held by student leaders last year brought students together to address issues that are normally out of the light, the thousands of people who attended were informed of the situation and therefore, were able to contextualize the events and bring forth an educated opinion that would move the large-view conversation going forward.

While no new fora were held this semester, the school reacted by hiring a Director of Compliance and Campus Climate — who we have been told will assist in upcoming fora that will occur next semester.

We can’t let the events of last November leave our collective conscious. If nothing new is progressing in the case, this should be public and known by all students attending New Paltz.

With the impact the signs left on our campus not only last year, but in the semesters moving forward, it is paramount that our administration take the necessary actions to assure New Paltz it is getting to the bottom of the events that shook our campus to the core, and we as a community must strive to replicate the positive steps forward we took as a campus following the events.