Op-Ed: Jonathan Espinosa


Last week, I submitted a letter, endorsed by nearly 40 Student Association organizations, which reported the decline in Black undergraduate students at SUNY New Paltz as a crisis that challenges the legitimacy of diversity promoted by this college (1). Now, a follow-up proposal is necessary that provides a practical vision of the future. The question is: what are we as a campus community going to do about the decline in Black students and the subsequent decline in racial diversity at SUNY New Paltz?

In answering this question, we maintain solidarity with the Black Student Union (BSU) at the University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB), where a similar Black student population decline is occurring. As a result, the BSU at UCSB has compiled a list of demands calling for institutional changes that aim to establish a healthier campus racial climate (2). Likewise, similar adjustments must occur at SUNY New Paltz if this college wishes to promise a true racially dynamic, equitable and inclusive campus community. Therefore, we suggest the development and implementation of a plan of action by SUNY New Paltz that accomplishes the following:

1. Provides a formal report by the SUNY New Paltz administration acknowledging the decline in Black students as a top priority issue that affects not only Black students but members of all colors in this institution and ultimately threatens the college’s mission to promote “diversity (3).”

2. Increases the Black undergraduate student population to at least 12 percent of undergraduates, a proportion nearly parallel to the national percentage of Black people in the United States and the percentage of Black undergraduate students at SUNY New Paltz in 2000, all while sustaining present population levels of all other student groups of color (4).

3. Offers college-prep courses in nearby public high schools in the Hudson River Valley that would attract nearby students of color who attend de facto segregated public schools (5).

4. Increases the number of full-time academic faculty of color among the college’s programs and departments by prioritizing racial and cultural diversity in searches for new professors (6).

5. Prioritizes administrators of color during future searches for a replacement on the college President’s cabinet, in the event that an administrator retires or resigns.

6. Renames College Hall as the Wade-Lewis Hall. Dr. Margaret Wade-Lewis was a professor and chair of the Department of Black Studies from the 1970s until she passed away in 2009. During her tenure, Wade-Lewis dedicated her life to supporting students of color, made evident in her co-founding of the Scholar’s Mentorship Program. By commemorating such a reputable leader of the Black community, this renaming shall contribute to a healthier campus racial climate.

7. Creates a “Racial Diversity and Equity Task Force” comprised of the Executive Director for Compliance and Campus Climate, the Director of the Scholar’s Mentorship Program, students, academic faculty, professional staff and administrator(s) who shall be charged with the responsibility of auditing, assessing, and improving the campus racial climate. This body shall propose policies and plans of action aiming to maintain and increase retention of students of color and establish an environment of racial equity at the institutional, social, political, cultural, and academic levels among faculty, administrators and students at SUNY New Paltz (7).

8. Grants race-based scholarships made available for historically underrepresented Black students who are ineligible for financial aid.

9. Complies with the SUNY Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion and its goals, mission, vision, diversity statement and Affirmative Action statement in order to sustain a strategic environment of racial equity at SUNY New Paltz (8).

We wholeheartedly believe that these are attainable and realistic goals, as long as they are performed consciously and strategically. We can no longer stand idly by this racial crisis. Thus, we call on SUNY New Paltz to stand as a vanguard of racial diversity, inclusion and equity as we enter an ever more racially and ethnically diverse nation (9).

– Jonathan Espinosa, Student Association Vice President of Academic Affairs and Governance at SUNY New Paltz.


II. Black Student Union at University of California, Santa Barbara. “Black Students Demand Institutional Changes.”  Santa Barbara Independent. March 11, 2013.

III. SUNY New Paltz. “Mission Statement.”

IV. United States Census Bureau. 2011. “State & County QuickFacts.”

V. Orfield, Gary. 2001. Schools More Separate: Consequences of a Decade of Resegregation. Cambridge, Mass.: Civil Rights Project, Harvard University. 

VI.  Acosta-Belén E. & Bose, C. E. 2012.“Unfinished Business: Latino and Other Faculty Diversity in the SUNY System.” New York Latino Research and Resources Network. University at Albany, SUNY.

VII. Harper, Shaun R. & Hurtado, Sylvia. 2007. “Nine Themes in Campus Racial Climates and Implications for Institutional Transformation.” New Directions for Student Services, No. 120. pp. 7-24; Hughes, Michelle; Anderson, Rick; Cannon, Julie Harms; Perez, Eduardo; Moore, Helen A. 1998. “Campus Racial Climate Policies: The View from the Bottom Up.” Race, Gender, Class. 5(2), pp. 139-157.

VIII. The SUNY Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (ODEI). “ODEI Goals.”

IX. United States Census Bureau. 2012. “U.S. Census Bureau Projections Show a Slower Growing, Older, More Diverse Nation a Half Century from Now.”