Op-Ed: Jonathan Espinosa


This message is directed to the students and academic faculty of this college, and also its administrators who are delegated to sustain a mission of “diversity;” [1] the same administrators who have yet to formally acknowledge a decline in the black student population at SUNY New Paltz as a priority issue.

Data shows that the percentage of incoming first-year black undergraduate students at SUNY New Paltz has dropped from 12 percent in 2000 to six percent in 2011 [2], and the percentage of total black undergraduate students has declined from 7.9 percent in 2001 to 4.7 percent in 2012 [3]. As of 2012, there were about 302 black undergraduate students, 96 of them black males [4]. This decrease is not unique at New Paltz, as colleges throughout the nation have witnessed similar trends. Contrary to popular belief, racial discrimination and inequalities remain rampant as the majority of African Americans remain disproportionally underrepresented in nearly all U.S. institutions [5]. These realities are reflective in the student, administrative and faculty levels at SUNY New Paltz [6]. Hence, we the Student Association (SA) do not solely blame this college as we recognize that the Office of Undergraduate Admissions has consciously strengthened recruitment efforts in communities of color. However, we do not relieve students, faculty and administrators of their civic responsibility to be more proactive on behalf of historically underrepresented students by aiming to reverse these disturbing trends. And yet, the goal for equity has been vaguely cloaked under a “diversity” label that fails to probe this issue.

“Diversity” is often associated with race and suggests that anyone who is non-white is “diverse” and is used to “diversify” a mostly white population. This means that predominately white institutions such as SUNY New Paltz use people of color as tokens to boast about how “diverse” the institutions are, ultimately benefiting white people. But what do people of color gain? Are they benefiting from a “diverse” institution when they are the only person of color in a classroom where most of their professors are white and teach from a Eurocentric, patriarchal and heterosexual perspective? Are people of color experiencing “diversity” in a racially-hostile campus climate where “colored only,” “lynch niggers” and “Django Hall” signs are posted throughout campus? “Diversity” at this college is measured as 26 percent students of color, yet this quantity does not reflect the quality of an equitable, multiracial environment [7].

After recognizing these disturbing realities, SA communicated with administrators hoping to begin a plan of action, only to receive insufficient responses. President Don Christian’s assertion that the decrease in racial diversity is a “myth” dismisses how a decline in one racial group reveals an overall drop in racial diversity [8]. Additionally, Vice President of Enrollment Management L. David Eaton, Office of Institutional Research & Planning (OIRP) Assistant Vice President Jacqueline Andrews and OIRP Senior Research Analyst Lucy Walker’s claim that the school’s racial composition data is inaccurate fails to mention the fact that the black undergraduate student population has been declining before and after the 2009 change in self-reporting methods [9].Furthermore, these justifications deny the fact that the current percentage of black students at SUNY New Paltz is more than two times lower than the proportion of black people in the U.S. and almost three times lower than the same percentage in New York State [10].

Overall, history has shown us that progress is minimal as long as the problem remains unacknowledged. History has also taught us that it frequently takes a “small vocal minority” to initiate positive change [11]. Therefore, we call on the students, faculty, administrators, and alumni of SUNY New Paltz to recognize the persisting decline in self-identified black students as a crisis that affects not only black students, but members of all colors in this institution and ultimately threatens the college’s mission to promote “diversity [12].” We further urge students, faculty, administrators and alumni to strategize and work together to resolve this crisis in order to preserve a vigorous racial campus climate and an environment of racial equity. Let us all make a difference together, for everyone.

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

Endorsed by the Student Association Executive Board; Black Student Union; African Student Union; Caribbean Student Organization; New Day Ensemble; Caribbash Week; African Women’s Alliance; Students Against Mass Incarceration; Envied Fashions; Black Studies Student Organization; Phi Iota Alpha Fraternity, Inc.; Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc.; Black Week; Lambda Tau Omega Sorority; Inc., Impacto Sensual; Rock Against Racism; Team Locates; Omega Phi Beta Sorority, Inc.; Students for Justice in Palestine; Latino Week; Sigma Lambda Upsilon Sorority, Inc.; Queer Action Coalition; Lambda Pi Upsilon Sorority Inc.; Shades Step Team; Urban Lyrics; Chi Upsilon Sigma Sorority Inc.; MALIK Fraternity, Inc.; Fahari Libertad; All People United; South Asian Culture Association; Scholar’s Mentorship Program; First World Graduation; Students for Sustainable Agriculture; Sigma Iota Alpha Sorority, Inc.; Latin American Student Union; Students for a Sensible Drug Policy; and Lambda Sigma Upsilon Fraternity, Inc. 


1. SUNY New Paltz Mission Statement.

2. 2011 SUNY New Paltz Middle States Accreditation Self Study Report.

3. Dean Of Undergraduate Admissions. “Enrollment Trends at SUNY New Paltz.” PowerPoint presentation.

4. Endnote #2.

5. Brown, M. K.; Carnoy, M.; Currie, E.; Duster, T.; Oppenheimer, D. B.; Shultz, M.; Wellman, D. 2003. Whitewashing Race: The Myth of a Color-Blind Society. Berkeley: University of California Press.

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

7. SUNY New Paltz Office of Institutional Research & Planning.

8. Christian, Don. “President’s Report.” Academic and Professional Faculty Meeting. March 15, 2013.

9. “Op-Ed: Jacqueline Andrews, Lucy Walker, L. David Eaton.” The New Paltz Oracle. April 11, 2013

10. United States Census Bureau: State & County QuickFacts, 2011.

11. Christian, Don. “President’s Report.” Academic and Professional Faculty Meeting. December 7, 2012.

12. Endnote #1.