Citing unresolved racist incidents, group wants SUNY New Paltz president to step down

Daily Freeman-5 months before

The concerns are being raised in advance of an online session to address racism at 4 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 11, between campus administrators, students and graduates.

On July 31, SUNY New Paltz Alumni for BLM members spoke with SUNY state Associate Provost for Student Affairs and University Life John Graham and came away dissatisfied with responses to five demands for administrative changes.

“We were asked to present our demands in the form of phases and wait fo... the SUNY chancellor to be selector to begin discussion on possible implementation,” said group spokesman Jonathan Espinosa.

Demands include having college programs available through public funding and student loans be forgiven; end the practice of having campus police carrying firearms and reduce the department’s funding by 75 percent; require first-year students to take a black studies course that discusses white privilege and systemic racism; have all SUNY boards and higher administrative positions filled through direct elections by the public; and updating the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion policy at all SUNY schools. 

Espinosa said the request to have Christian step down comes as alumni consider the president to be part of the problem.

“He’s had nine years to figure it out as the president of a SUNY institution,” he said. “We give him an F on this issue of diversity. Black enrollment has not increased substantially at New Paltz.”

SUNY New Paltz officials declined to address the specific demands or comments suggesting that Christian should step down.

However, college representatives issued a statement noting the event Tuesday is part of a series intended to address issues of racism. 

“The college is holding the third in a series of town hall listening sessions this summer with the campus community titled ‘Dismantling Racism,’” they wrote.

“This virtual event offers New Paltz alumni an opportunity to share their thoughts, experiences and concerns with campus leaders,” college officials wrote. “These campus leaders will answer questions, but their primary goals are to listen and to learn. Alumni Council volunteers and staff members from the Office of Alumni Relations will also be present.”

Alumni also released a petition with the demands and included statements from current and former students describing hundreds of incidents over the years. The incidents included reports of constant insults from some students to threats that ranged from subtle to overt.

College officials on Monday also noted that on June 30 they released a statement about the students’ incidents.

“Hearing from you reaffirms our commitment with greater clarity and urgency to the work we still have to do to live up to our long-espoused values of equity, inclusion and social justice for students as we strive to become an actively anti-racist institution of higher education,” they wrote.

“We know people are tired, we know there is frustration and even distrust in dialogue without concrete tangible action,” officials wrote. “We recognize the sense of urgency felt by students who have just four years on our campus. We hear loud and clear the call for accountability and action to stop these experiences from continuing to harm current and future generations of our students.

Espinosa contends the college’s response was not enough and that officials have a history of stalling.

“In 2015 ... it took two years for that policy to be implemented on the grounds,” he said. “In 2017 SUNY New Paltz actually implemented the policy SUNY central had implemented two years prior.”

Espinosa said that the problem was that state administrators for the State University of New York had asked all regional campuses to create task forces that would gather information and develop logistics to that would implement changes on local campuses.

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