After receiving a $10,000 diversity grant several months ago, Student Association (SA) President Josh Simpson said he would like to use the money to host a series of fora that will address social issues important to students at SUNY New Paltz.
At the student senate meeting on Oct. 9, Simpson said he was interested in expanding on the success of the “Can We Talk About It?” forum that SUNY New Paltz President Donald Christian and former SA President Terrell Coakley held during the fall 2011 semester. The original forum was held after the “racial” sign incidents in the Humanities Building and LeFevre Hall.
Last semester, Coakley and the spring 2012 senate applied for the grant so they could continue to educate students through the use of multiple fora. Simpson said that when he talked to Christian about hosting separate fora, Christian told him that was his and Coakley’s original goal.
“He told me that that’s what he and Terrell had envisioned last year and while we hadn’t talked about it specifically, he was glad that I came to this realization on my own and wanted to move forward with it,” Simpson said.
Simpson said that instead of hosting one forum, he is interested in holding four fora over the course of the academic year as a way of increasing awareness and education on different social issues on campus.
“Just by touching on a broader range of topics, everyone is going to get a chance to learn about something they’re not as well-versed in,” Simpson said. “That’s my hope.”
Simpson said after talking with other members on the SA E-board, they decided it was important to have another forum that would discuss racism and how there is still progress to be made.
“I thought that last year it was very educational for students, especially white students because they were able to start gaining an understanding of what racism is and their role in it. Not on an individual level, but in the broader scheme of things,” Simpson said. “This isn’t a post-racism society… I don’t want students to think that.”
He also said he wants to hold fora that discuss transgender issues, sexual assault and students with disabilities. He believes that since gender-neutral residence life and bathrooms have been introduced, students think transgender students on campus no longer face problems.
“Just because you throw a gender-neutral bathroom into a building, doesn’t change anything,” Simpson said.
Sexual assault and students with disabilities are issues Simpson believes aren’t talked about enough on campus and are things he would like to educate himself on as well.
SA Vice President Manuel Tejada said with four different topics spanning over the course of four fora, he believes a wider range of students will come out to learn and educate themselves on social issues.
“Hopefully working on these forums, we expect to have different groups of people,” Tejada said. “I think the first forum was a good step forward, and I hope we continue to strive for progress.”
Simpson said while there is no set date to start planning the fora and decide how and when they will be presented, he is planning to have members of SA get the word out to the campus community.
“We’re definitely going to be flyering, through Facebook groups, word of mouth and I’m sure that there will be a chalking of campus when the forums are going to be happening,” Simpson said. “As long as people show up, are able to listen and talk with their peers at these forums and that they leave with something they didn’t know before, that’s how I would measure accomplishment.”