SUB 418 is unusually crowded for a Wednesday evening. There is a muted rustling from the back of the room, the silence broken only by an occasional comment from the audience.
Senators heard reports from members of the Executive Board and listened to a presentation on an up-and-coming sustainability initiative by fellow students.
As the last senator finished her report, the senators sit around the long tables, slumped in a collective daze. The progression of the meeting suspended by the sanctity of Robert’s Rules, they awaited the Chair to the Senate to usher them into the next topic of discussion.
There was an immediate shift in the atmosphere as Senate Chair Paul Brown silently gestured to a figure at the back of the room, one of several leaning against the wall.
Members of the audience craned their necks to get a better look, and waitied with bated breath; this is the moment everyone has been waiting for.
The figure emerged from the crowd, embodying the pinnacle of their anticipation: dreadlocked, sandy hair subdued by a loosely-tied red bandana frames pale, cutting features; an infant clad in bright tie-dye lays curled in a sling against the man’s chest, bare under an unbuttoned shirt.
“I am both flattered and thankful for the invitation to address this body,” Steely said.
Though there is hardly a need for an introduction, SUNY New Paltz alum Justin Holmes briefly outlined his own experiences with the Student Association (SA), beginning with his election to the Senate in 2003 and eventual nomination as Chair to the Senate, a position he served until 2006 when he was elected president of the student body.
Holmes explained that the events that transpired throughout the 161 days of his presidency are chronicled in an 85-minute documentary, available on YouTube.
The compilation of videos, generated by Holmes and his fellow students, detail interactions between students and SUNY New Paltz administrators that led to the controversial expulsion of Holmes and R.J. Partington III, another former SA President who is also present at this Senate meeting.
In the second video of the series, Partington can be seen with a megaphone leading a crowd of approximately 500 students to the office of the President, demanding a meeting in regards to the renovations to the Student Union Building in 2005.
The scene cuts to a younger, more neatly-dressed Holmes, addressing students from behind a podium. “We are here to learn and grow,” Holmes says in the video, “and to plant seeds so that our successors can do the same.”
Ten years later, Holmes is returning to the New Paltz campus to witness the growth of these seeds.
He introduced his presentation as a sort of beginner’s guide to student power, opening the presentation with a radical symbol (√) boldly emblazoned against a yellow background. According to Holmes, the symbol indicates not only the function for finding the square root of a number, but also represents the need for finding the roots of political issues.
Holmes proceeded to outline the power demographics of a typical campus; a triangular power structure is formed through the relationships between students, faculty and administration.
Two of these parties have the advantage of institutional memory, he explains, while the third party — the students — are left with collective amnesia. This lapse in memory occurs as the result of rapid turnover in the student population. As students graduate, transfer, or otherwise migrate from the campus, their initiatives are lost in the tides of an unorganized history.
Holmes asserted that there is ample documentation of student-led movements scattered across the campus: in the Special Collections of the library, in the archived editions of The Oracle, in the minutes of Senate meetings long past.
“The student government already has autonomy,” Holmes said. “My hope is this body realizes that in the absence of meaningful contribution from the students, there is no higher education.”