A SUNY New Paltz student of color faced a racial verbal assault while walking through the village on Monday, Sept. 21 at about 2:30 p.m.
Second-year chemistry major Courtney McGee was walking back to campus from the Salvation Army on N. Chestnut Street when a white SUV with two “younger” white males yelled a racial slur out of the vehicle window at her. Immediately following this, a white sprinter truck passed by, and the white man sitting in the passenger seat stared at McGee and mouthed the slur.
“I started to get a little panicked, then a black pickup truck slowed down behind me and I could feel his stare right on my back,” McGee wrote in an Instagram post made on Tuesday, Sept. 22. “I knew I had to run because if I didn’t, I could end up on the news.”
McGee ran to the Mobil station on N. Chestnut street, proceeding to call her mother and the police. While on the phone with the police, a man in the gas station convenience store overheard her story and repeated the slur. McGee stayed put, however, because she was more afraid of what was going on outside.
No one was around McGee , leaving her alone as she continued to face the abuse.
“Honestly, in the moment I thought this could be life or death. Even after I got to the gas station, I was still hyperventilating and shaken. I didn’t even want to go outside,” McGee said. “This incident shocked me because why do people still target people that haven’t even hurt them in any way only because of the color of their skin?”
Since McGee did not have the exact car names or license plate numbers of the men who harassed her, the police couldn’t do much once they arrived except keep the incident on record and investigate it. The officers also escorted McGee back to her dorm.
“The officer calmed me down, and even on the ride back to my dorm asked me questions related to my future career choice to make me laugh a bit,” McGee said.
However, once she arrived at her dorm the anxiety and trauma from the incident began to set in.
“I feel icky,” McGee wrote in her post. “All I wanted to do was shower and rid myself of the anxiety and tears I just experienced.”
After the verbal assault, the New Paltz community empowered McGee and offered their support.
“I think nobody should have to go through this unnecessary trauma,” said McGee. “I would just like to say thank you to the people who have been showering me with support. It means the world to me to know I have an army of supporters.”
The office of President Donald P. Christian sent an email to the campus community regarding the incident on Wednesday, Sept. 23.
“To be clear: This is a psychological assault on our student,” the email said. “The incident will be investigated to the fullest extent possible. We want to allow the investigation to proceed as effectively as possible and will offer information to the community as we are able to and as we learn more.”
The email also advised students to report incidents of racial bias occurring on or off-campus to the Bias Reporting Form or to the Dean of Students at 845- 257-3260.
Hollaback!, an organization with a mission to end harassment in all forms, is offering free training in bystander intervention and responding to street harassment called “Stand Up Against Street Harassment.” You can register for one of the training sessions, running until Wednesday, Oct. 28, here.
“This has honestly made me more aware of my surroundings, on and off-campus. With things like this we can either choose to remain fearful and let it hold us back or we can continue to live our lives,” McGee said. “Not to say that we should rush our process or healing, but we can’t let these people hold us back from being great. I am speaking out because I do not want something like this to happen to another student ever again. Nobody deserves this and everyone matters in this world.”