Reilly Van Dyke, Indiana Nash & Cady Kuzmich
Staff Writer, Editor-in-Chief & News Editor
Students walked through the library holding signs under their arms as they made their way to the quad on Monday afternoon, where they gathered to voice their concerns about racial profiling on campus. Students and faculty also came out to support Dr. Yasser Robles of the Africana and Latino Studies department, who was recently denied rehire for next year, despite having strong support from both students and faculty.
According to Dr. Compton of the ALS department, a department’s recommendation for rehire is approved the majority of the time . However, this time, the new Dean of Social Science, Dr. Turell, overrode the input of both students and the ALS department. Dr. Compton expressed the department’s frustration, asking, “Why even bother having a search committee?” Although Compton cannot disclose whether or not the entire committee supported Robles being hired and placed on a tenure track, he did say that the department is unanimous in their opposition to Turell’s decision. Instead of being approved for rehire, Dr. Robles was offered a one-year position teaching introductory history courses. Robles declined the position due to his lack of training in history.
When asked about the current situation on campus, Turell said, “These issues are complex. I want to work together to move from general conversation to action. I am committed to creating opportunities where we can shift the climate. I have proposed a few projects, which are waiting to be funded.” She also said that she is proud that students are standing up for what they believe in, but that her decision was made for reasons, which she cannot disclose due to confidentiality rules.
Students shared their disappointment with the Dean’s decision concerning Dr. Robles, and expressed their admiration for all that Robles has done for this campus. Emily Walton, vice president of Students Against Racism, said, “He’s doubled the majors for the ALS department and he actually goes to campus events. He’s exceptional and overqualified.”
Professor Robles had nothing but admiration and gratitude for what his students were doing. He said, “In spite of everything, I still feel SUNY Oneonta is a wonderful place. But there’s certainly a disconnect between students and faculty with the administration. But seeing this, it feels like a privilege. At the end of the day, you feel like you’ve done your job. It’s the one reward a professor wants to see from their students, to see that you’ve connected with them. And I couldn’t ask for anything better.”
One student spoke to the crowd saying, “When I first met Robles, I felt comfortable. He understands us like no other professor can.” Another student asked why they should even bother writing evaluations of professors if the evaluations don’t mean anything. Protestors sang, “Lean on Me” and Bob Marley’s “Get up, Stand up,” played guitar and read poetry throughout the protest.
Then, as one protester put it, they decided “to say ‘Hi’ to the people in charge.” About fifteen protesters took to Netzer and filed through the maze-like administrative building. First, protesters marched through the main floor of the building, then continued up a flight of stairs to the second floor, which houses most of the administrative offices. Students marched past the offices of the Deans and Provost chanting, “People of color are under attack! What do we do? Rise up, fight back!” A policeman stood in the lobby of the second floor of Netzer to monitor the protestors.
Dr. Kathleen O’Mara of the ALS department, who has taught at SUNY Oneonta for thirty-five years, described the current situation on campus as “the worst it’s ever been.” She recalled the Black List of the nineties and added that “At least Donovan [who was president of the college during the time of the Black List] was willing to listen to the students.” She went on to say that while the college tries to promote diversity and inclusion to incoming students, they are “speaking with a forked tongue.”
President of Students Against Racism Cassandra Lella said, “We consider ourselves one student voice. It was about educating and raising awareness. It was about making it a campus issue, and getting the administration to really hear our voices, and to take these issues seriously.” Lella also expressed her concern for the lack of transparency with UPD when she said, “Many of their policies and general orders are not being shared with the public. The police do not report the number of stops they make, by race and by officer, in a yearly report like they do with arrest records. If they have nothing to hide in regards to racial profiling, they would be more open with the community. If they were more open, then we would be more likely to believe them when they say that their officers don’t racially profile students on this campus.”
Multiple ALS professors described needing to support students who are being harassed on a weekly basis. There was a general consensus among those at the protest that there is a fundamental disrespect for students, faculty and the ALS department as a whole. When it comes to having an academic structure and institution that makes students of color feel safe and comfortable, those needs just aren’t being met.
The students, along with a few faculty members, continued to voice their opinions at the Student Association Senate meeting later that evening. During Senate, they asked that Robert’s Rules be suspended so they could speak freely to the assembly. After a few students gave testimonials of why they decided to join the protest, Dr. Robles spoke, along with another professor from the department.
Vice President of Student Development Steven Perry responded to the protest, saying that the college is going to be working with students to review the racial profiling policy and hear their feedback on the issue. He also stated that the college has agreed to set up a police advisory board during the fall semester, though they are still in the process of framing the membership and responsibilities of the board.