Student protesters dressed in all black, with mouths covered in duct tape filled the stands and made their presence known during the SUNY New Paltz men’s basketball team’s second home game on Tuesday, Dec. 4.
The demonstration had been organized in response to campus administration “silencing the concerns of the community of color.” The demonstration specifically aimed to address issues regarding the lack of sanctions given to student-athlete Nick Paquette, a member of the men’s basketball team, who posted an offensive photo on social media over the summer. The hesitation to change the names of the buildings located in the Hasbrouck complex, lack of funding for the Scholar’s Mentorship Program, for the Black Studies department and for the Latin American & Caribbean Studies program and the preservation of the historical art located in Shango Hall all contributed to the eventual dissatisfaction shown by students.
Second-year early childhood and childhood education major (English) Haley Hershenson was a spectator at the game on Tuesday and said that since student leaders and student athletes represent SUNY New Paltz, it is necessary for them to be held accountable for their actions.
Before spectators entered the gym to watch the game, they were handed a sheet that explained the sanctions of free speech during sporting events. The sheet outlined that it is within the rights of free speech to sit or stand in the bleachers with a sign or chant in the Athletic and Wellness Center lobby or outside to address “injustices” regarding a department, the college “or any other entity.”
The protestors entered the gym together only moments into the game and proceeded to the far side entrance of the student section. For a majority of the game the protestors sat in silence, until halftime when they stood up and held the black power symbol and marched out only to enter again through the family entrance. Once they stood in front of the home spectators with fists in the air, the game manager asked them to move and one girl began to march up and down the sideline exclaiming that she was not on the court and she was exercising her right.
Towards the end of the game, the protestors exited the gym in a line with raised fists and stood outside the gym to break their silence. The protestors screamed that the New Paltz men’s basketball team, coach and Paquette’s parents should be ashamed and chanted “not our team.”
Hershenson said that the demonstration was an effective way to draw attention to “the concerns of students and upset over incidents which have been inadequately addressed.” She believes that the protest was a powerful statement about how students of color feel about certain issues that have been addressed by the campus administration.
“Students have continuously voiced their concerns in various speak outs and rallies but still feel that real long-term actions have yet to take place,” Hershenson said. “The message is clear that students need to see change. Students deserve to feel heard and valued on this campus.” and respected within the community.”