Students Protest For Improvements To Black Studies

Photo by Sarah Eames.

Over 100 students gathered outside the Haggerty Administration Building on Wednesday afternoon in solidarity with the Black Studies department at SUNY New Paltz.

Rookie Reynoso, president of both the Student Association (SA) and the Black Student Union (BSU), emphasized the importance of the Black Studies department on campus. A double-major in Black Studies and psychology, Reynoso claims that she performs better in her Black Studies classes due to a more personal connection to the subject matter.

“I feel passionate about what I’m learning about, and it relates to me,” Reynoso said.

Dr. Major Coleman, the chair of the Black Studies department, expressed his appreciation for the assembly of students, faculty and alumni. “Many of you here are my students, and I see that you’ve learned your lesson well,” Coleman said.

In a statement released on Tuesday, members of the Black Studies Student Organization (BSSO) outlined the demands of the organization and its supporters. The demands, which were affirmed by over 1,000 signatures on a petition distributed by the organization earlier in the semester, included the reinstatement of the four tenure-track faculty lines to the department and also called for the SUNY New Paltz administration to immediately fulfill its promise to conduct a nationwide search for new faculty.

Rosa Rosario, a third-year double-majoring in Black Studies and sociology, addressed the delays by the administration in starting the search. According to Rosario, students reached out to the administration at the beginning of the semester and were initially met with offers of support and the promise of collaboration.

“We tried to do everything we could to go through the proper channels and work with the administration,” Rosario said. “Once we realized that playing by their rules wasn’t working, we had to take matters into our own hands. We as students had to come together to find an alternative route.”

Speaking on behalf of the SUNY New Paltz administration, Interim Provost Stella Deen acknowledged that the student organizers and administrators do not agree on the best course of action for rebuilding the department, but she assured the crowd that the administration is attentive to the needs of the students. Deen confirmed that students will have a place on the committees tasked with developing the school’s strategy in addressing the needs of the department.

Maria Iskaros, a third-year double-majoring in Black Studies and Women’s, Gender and Sexuality studies, countered Deen’s remarks, saying that the time for planning has long past.

“We need action,” Iskaros emphasized amidst cheers and applause from the crowd.

According to organizers, the rally was also set to address the limited representation of students of color on the New Paltz campus. Members of the audience were invited to call out the names of the organizations they represented. Responses included the African Women’s Alliance, Students Against Mass Incarceration, the Black Student Union, the Student Association, the Latin American Student Union and the Chi Upsilon Sigma, Inc. sorority.

Jordan Taylor, a New Paltz alum who double-majored in Black Studies and political science, suggested that students of color had formed these myriad organizations in the absence of a multi-cultural center on campus, citing the need for a such a space. Taylor announced the simultaneous efforts of students at John Carroll University in Ohio who were organizing for that very reason, encouraging the crowd to post to social media in solidarity with the movement at JCU (#JCUStudentBlackout) as well as their own (#NPStudentBlackout).

Students in the crowd expressed their dismay at President Christian’s absence from the rally. Provost Deen announced that the administration had not been aware of the demonstration until just the day before, and that the president was not currently on campus. Undeterred, organizers led the crowd in chants of “Black nation on the rise, gotta educate, agitate, organize!” as they ascended the nine flights of stairs leading to the president’s office. Students paraded through the halls of each floor, chanting homespun lines intertwined with the response “We gon’ be alright,” borrowed from hip hop artist Kendrick Lamar’s 2015 album To Pimp a Butterfly.

In a closing address from the lobby of the Haggerty Administration Building, President Rookie Reynoso acknowledged that while she considered the rally a success – “a ‘W’ if you’re playing basketball” –  the work is far from over.

“We will continue organizing and we will continue connecting students who care about these issues,” She said. “This is only the beginning.