The Oracle’s Statement to the Campus Community Following May 2

Dear Campus Community, 

The Oracle is an organization whose duty is to report on the SUNY New Paltz campus and community: to serve them and to facilitate an exchange of ideas through an objective lens. 

Some may see this editorial message as the tainting of the journalistic values that we hold dear and strive to uphold. We come to you here, not only as journalists of SUNY New Paltz, but as fellow students who have been impacted and disturbed by these events.

On May 1, 2024 at 1 p.m., students set up an encampment supporting Palestine in the center of Parker Quad calling for SUNY New Paltz to divest from companies profiting off of the violent war in Gaza. It started as a group of about 70 students, faculty and community members. At 2:15 p.m. that day, President Darrell Wheeler visited and spoke with the demonstrators for about eight minutes. The group outlined their demands of disclosure, divestment, disengagement and amnesty to him. 

That was the first of three encounters the campus administration had with the encampment. Wheeler told them the first three demands were not totally within his power but that amnesty was. He expressed the propping up of tents as his one concern about what they were doing. He told them he would return to explain what he could do. Wheeler did not return to the encampment after this.

The next day at 3:15 p.m., Assistant Vice President for Student Wellbeing Kathleen Lieblich and Assistant Vice President for Student Affairs Michael Patterson spoke with the encampment for about 15 minutes, telling them that if they agreed to dismantle the tents by 7 p.m. that day, they would be granted amnesty and would hold a meeting with 10 named members of the encampment to discuss their first three demands. The tents were then taken down by 7 p.m.

At 7 p.m., the two returned and thanked the demonstrators for taking the tents down, speaking with them for about one minute. They extended their request for the demonstrators to disperse until 9 p.m. and offered once more to hold a meeting with 10 encampment members the next day if they complied. 

The people within the encampment asked multiple times what would happen if they did not take the tents down by 7 p.m., and later if they did not leave by 9 p.m. Administrators did not give them an answer.

The Oracle had reporters covering the event beginning at 1 p.m. on May 1. At no point was the encampment violent, and at no point did they break any policies outlined by the university besides the erection of tents on the quad for overnight use. The encampment set up by these students was entirely peaceful.

At 10:30 p.m. on May 2, 150 university, local and state police stormed the quad, using an unwarranted amount of force to remove and arrest anyone present on Parker Quad. Many decided at that moment to leave, but many did not.

Approximately 133 students, faculty and community members were arrested, even though the tents had been taken down by the demonstrators. The police’s violence left people with multiple injuries, including our staff members who were there to report the event, not to participate in the demonstration. As we documented their actions, police shoved us to the ground and pushed us with their batons. We watched as a reporter from another publication was arrested.

We are an organization that prides itself on the full use of freedom of the press, as protected in the First Amendment, which allows us to operate and serve our campus community. We strongly uphold everything outlined in the First Amendment — especially the right to peaceful assembly.

After the encampment was cleared, anything left was bulldozed. The personal belongings of those who were present, including wallets, prescription medication and laptops were thrown in dumpsters. Most belongings were not able to be found or recovered. This is a direct violation of students’ rights and displays a consistent lack of respect for our campus community. 

We cannot, as members of the press, sit idly by and watch institutional power encroach upon any of these rights. Although the administration may want us to move on like nothing happened, we refuse to do so.

The Oracle condemns this use of police force and violence against our students: we condemn the administration of SUNY New Paltz for their decision to call the police on their students.  

Although we are journalists, we are students, too. The display of violence brought to our campus by our president and university administration is deplorable. We stand with the students of the encampment whom police ripped away, ziptied and traumatized.

Wheeler sent out multiple emails to the student body expressing that he did not wish for any arrests to be made because of this protest. He claimed that he wanted to foster an open dialogue for students to express their concerns. We find it concerning that the administration only spoke to protestors for a total of 25 minutes from the beginning of the encampment. We feel that effective discourse between all parties was not reached because the administration took too extreme of a route after only three short attempts at reaching an understanding of what the students were protesting for. The protestors’ voices were not listened to before being beaten on the ground of their own campus. We stand with our peers, who deserve to have their speech protected and respected.

Yes, Wheeler may not have complete control over what the protestors were asking for, but if open dialogue was truly the value that he wanted to instill, he and his administration could have made a greater effort to explain their position to the protestors before approving such violent police force to be used against our students and faculty.

As witnesses to the events of May 2, that night was truly horrifying. No one deserves to see their classmates and friends brutally ripped away from one another and beaten with batons. No student deserves to see their professors treated in the same way. No student themselves deserves to be assaulted by police officers on their own campus. These are people we share a community with. That community was greatly damaged that night. It will take a lot of time and a lot of healing for our campus to recover from this: Parker Quad will not look the same to many students now. 

It is important to note that Wheeler stated in an email that the encampment was “displacing other student groups who have equal rights to use that space.” A statement made by the Student Association on May 3 addressing this claim said, “This is not a concern we voiced to the President or his administration, nor was it a concern voiced to us by any of our Student Association recognized clubs. We find it inappropriate and disingenuous that the ‘displacement of student groups’ was used as a justification for last night’s events without our consultation or notice.” We commend the student leaders of our Student Association for their decision to cancel the SpringFest celebrations and refuse to move on before acknowledging what happened. 

There has been an outcry of support from many of the clubs recognized by the Student Association, and The Oracle will join them in condemning the use of such heinous violence on our campus. We also stand with the students of other SUNY schools who experienced violence from police this week, including SUNY Purchase, Stony Brook University and the University at Buffalo. We applaud the students exercising their First Amendment rights to free speech and peaceful assembly in the face of adversity — especially students who come from marginalized communities that deal with a disproportionate amount of police violence. 

Exactly 54 years ago, in May of 1970, students at SUNY New Paltz protested the then-recent expansion of the Vietnam War and the Kent State massacre by occupying the administration building for nearly a week and hosting other non-violent demonstrations. Back then, students felt safe on campus and used this space to peacefully voice their opinions without threats of violence or retribution. Their faculty then swiftly released a statement supporting their cause and urged no police or military presence. This was adopted by the administration, and the college president was later praised by the local community. Reflecting on this time feels like a distant illusion compared to our situation here today.

We recognize the important history of protest at this school and call into question the unprecedented and immediate welcoming of extreme force by this administration. We demand students retain their historic right to protest on campus, especially as New Paltz supposedly prides itself on this legacy.

We, The Oracle, call upon the university to provide amnesty to the students and faculty who exercised their right to free speech on a public campus and who endured physical and mental pain that night. We call upon campus administration to acknowledge this pain and publicly apologize. We are traumatized as a community, and students have been put through far too much. Amnesty is what we see as the first step towards healing our community that has been so greatly damaged. 


The Oracle Staff

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