The SUNY New Paltz College Council decided to postpone the vote on whether to rename Hasbrouck Building Complex buildings, despite mounting controversy on the matter.
On Thursday, Nov. 1, the pannel convened at SUNY New Paltz campus to discuss the complex names removal and replacement proposal, submitted by council member and Student Association President N’Della Seque on Oct. 19, 2018. This panel included the college council, faculty and President Donald P. Christian. For three hours the panel debated with community members over the fate of building names such as Bevier, Crispell, Deyo, Dubois, Hasbrouck and LeFevre.
However, right before the vote, one council member, Vincent Cozzolino, suggested alloting more time to digest the night’s information. The final vote was ultimately in favor of this idea, with five out of seven council votes cast to postpone. This unanticipated decision disgruntled attendees, some quickly leaving the room and comforting each other afterwards.
Shortly following the meeting, Christian issued an email to all students, sharing his disappointment with this decision, which has received “unanimous support from the student government, faculty senate, senior leadership of the college” and himself.
Attendees were welcomed to share their opinions, but were given a two-minute time limit and were asked to withhold any signs of approval or disapproval. They appeared to be cooperative until council member Ronald Law exceeded this limit and shared a dissimilar viewpoint.
“If you’re going to talk about slavery, let’s talk about what else they did to correct their slavery, to do something on the opposite side,” Law said.
Law provided remarks that did not settle well with the crowd. He alluded to how students should not feel uncomfortable sleeping in these dorms, because they are “bigger” than those buildings. He also provided insight to the good the Hasbrouck family has done in the past.
Following this input, fourth-year theatre major Lester Mayers, was escorted by police when he went to speak again, while Law walked back to his seat. Mayers was allegedly told that he was asked to leave because he spoke twice, and was not allowed to re-enter the building.
“What I found in that meeting to be true with our administration is that they like power,” Mayers said. “Power for them means they tell us what to say, when to say it, and how to say it. My words to them were simply short: y’all want us to make a moral appeal to a university that doesn’t have a moral conscience.”
During this incident, Interim Chairperson Eli Basch stood up and stated, “I run the show,” then disputed back and forth with Mayers before he exited the room. This encouraged a long stretch of faculty and students to line up and speak out, including some who had already spoken.
Third-year Latin American & Caribbean Studies and political science major Michelle Tejada challenged Law’s comment.
“Not sure if you’re aware, but [slavery] was the owning of other human beings…and that’s not something that anybody should stand for,” Tejada said. “When we uphold those values and allow our campus to commemorate those people, who at one point oppressed people of color, we set a standard for our community. It’s not spoken about often, but racism is very much alive.”
Tejada was cut off by Basch and was told to give other people the opportunity to speak, but was granted permission to finish her thought. Other community members then continued to speak, until the college council took back the meeting and concluded it with their vote.
“Names matter. If names didn’t matter, we wouldn’t be here,” said Black Studies lecturer Anthony Dandridge. “It’s less about erasing history and more about us being on the correct side of history.”
In an email to the student body, Christian stated that the community will be informed of the specifics of the next College Council meeting when it is confirmed. A sub-committee will also be formed before the next meeting to study potential names, by gathering more community ideas and input.
“We, right here, we are the show, because without us there’s nothing,” said a student in attendance, gesturing to the audience. “[Administration] bends the rules when they want to, but when it comes to something we want, [they are] blind. That’s just a transparency of how administration acts on this campus.”