Riding the Winds of Change

Our Student Association (SA) received a $10,000 grant at the beginning of the semester to put toward a series of fora as a continuation of last year’s programs on race and campus safety. SA applied for the grant last semester following the posting of “racially charged” signage in November 2011 and the success of programs in the fall and spring that addressed the postings.

SA President Josh Simpson said the new series would continue the discussion on race and campus safety, but will also expand its objective to call attention to other issues like sexual assault and the concerns of SUNY New Paltz’s transgender students and students with disabilities. Rather than hold one forum to address these issues, SA will be holding separate fora on specific topics.

Tanhena Pacheco-Dunn was also recently hired as SUNY New Paltz’s first Executive Director of Compliance and Campus Climate, a position that was created in the aftermath of the posting of the signage and designed to help facilitate these kinds of discussions.

We at The New Paltz Oracle feel that stimulating a campus discourse on social issues is imperative and applaud SA for their decision to host more fora. With SA’s grant, Pacheco-Dunn’s new role on campus and the positive response to previous fora, it appears that the college has the resources it needs to get an eye-opening discussion underway.

The incidents last year, which included, among other heinous signage, the posting of a sign that read “colored-only” near a water fountain on campus, left the community at a loss — although campus climate concerns were positively addressed at the fora on Nov. 17 and 30, and at another forum on campus safety. Given that no suspect has been charged with posting the signs, and that safety issues — such as the recent spike in sexual assaults reported by students — are a growing concern, it is clear the campus climate conversation is far from over.

It is important for students to be well versed in these matters, especially since they often directly affect campus life. Part of being educated at SUNY New Paltz — or at any institution — is developing an informed awareness of the problems that pervade society both on and off campus and being able to express one’s thoughts and opinions about them respectfully and effectively.

While none of the campus’s problems can be resolved overnight, continuing a discussion on issues of race, and sparking a discussion on other pertinent topics, is a commendable start. Individual fora can encourage a campus-wide, ongoing discourse on the issues they confront, and a greater social consciousness across campus is inexorable if its community is willing to speak up. We commend SA and members of the campus community for possessing, and pursuing, the desire to educate themselves.

A public examination of campus climate also helps increase transparency at New Paltz, as the fora directly acknowledge the fact that not only do these issues exist on campus, but that they need to be resolved. Any and all recognition of problems on campus enjoins both the administration and students, faculty and staff to shoulder the responsibility of maintaining a safe, open-minded environment.

Our hope is that students continue to prioritize attending and contributing to these discussions. While SA has not set a start date for the series, we would like to see every seat at every forum filled when it does.

In a perfect world, statistics would show an upward trend in student awareness of campus climate — not in the unfortunate incidents that plague it. We feel that the hosting of public discussions in the tradition of last year’s fora can bring us closer to becoming a safer, more open-minded community.