Unite Around Social Justice: Actions Needed for Progress

Dan Pneuman, Columnist

On Sunday, October 16, 2011 the Students of Color Coalition showed the documentary on the Oneonta Black List at the Center for Multicultural Experiences to discuss this racial profiling event.
After sharing stories about more recent encounters with local law enforcement and racism both on campus and in the city of Oneonta, we concluded that the conditions that gave rise to the Black List have not changed. We have been forced by this understanding to form the Committee for Social Justice at SUNY-College at Oneonta and Community. Many of us still experience the same type of environment that led to the Black List.
After almost 20 years since the Black List incident, we believe that little progress has been made, and that the administration and our student representatives are not aware about our experiences or concerns. We demand progress now and will wait no longer. We come before you today as peers to ask that you act decisively to help address our concerns. Inaction on your part will contribute to an already volatile situation that will be detrimental to the progress of SUNY College at Oneonta, the Student Association, the College community and our student body.
Grievance #1: SUNY-College at Oneonta and the City of Oneonta are not safe for students of color.
The UPD, OPD, State Police, and the Sheriff’s Office have taken advantage of students by consistently denying and violating their civil rights. There has been and continues to be both verbal and physical attacks on students. LawWriterenforcement in Oneonta protects some students and not others. When students speak up about their concerns, they are either ignored or blamed.
We believe this type of environment has created a crisis of safety at SUNY College at Oneonta and the city of Oneonta for students of color. Both the campus and city should be a welcoming environment for all students! Yet, this crisis of safety is getting worse, not better. Let’s not wait until a tragedy happens to respond to this crisis.
While this crisis of safety directly affects the entire campus, off campus students of color also face similar conditions throughout the county. A mounting sense of disconnection among off campus students, given the crisis of safety, means they cannot find safety off campus nor are they safe on campus. The Committee for Social Justice calls for an investigation of local law enforcement’s conduct. We demand a review of how their actions affect students’ well-being in general and that of students of color in particular.
Action #1: Development of a Student Taskforce on Law Enforcement with people who understand and experience these injustices to represent and protect students against UPD, OPD, the Sheriff’s Office, and the State Police.
Action #2: A Students’ Rights Forum that promotes dialogue on student rights and responsibilities on and off campus. We also require a legal advocate selected by the Committee for Social Justice and at least one committee member to be present at this forum.
Grievance #2: The tone and climate of this school and this city does not welcome students of color in spite of all the claims to diversity, equity and inclusion as a priority.
Students feel that the current climate at SUNY College at Oneonta reflects racial inequality. Two obvious examples are the last three years the college has accepted roughly 50 percent of its white applicants while merely accepting roughly percentof its Black and Latino applicants. Secondly, the college has only two African America professors on tenure track and zero Latinos out of over 200 faculty.
The college’s Strategic Plan for Diversity does not meet our demand for equity and inclusion. Our Student Association has failed to address and protect the rights of their constituents in the face of the many publicized racial incidents and makes students of color feel ignored and unprotected. The avenues provided by the institution or the city fail to redress experiences of racial discrimination, hostility, and contempt. School and city authorities wait until these incidents happen rather than preventing them. Instead of seeking student perspectives about these problems, they are overlooked. They remain ineffective in addressing our experiences.
Just as students are provided with a list of all the things they cannot do and things that violate specific rules on campus, they should also be readily informed about their rights and what protections they have on and off campus.
Actions #1: Student Association should create a Committee on Diversity, Inclusion & Equity that specifically addresses this crisis of safety and works with the Committee for Social Justice to address student concerns.
Action #2: Development of a Bill of Student Rights that applies to students on and off campus.
We request that the Student Association decisively enact a resolution that recognizes these grievances. The crisis of safety within the college community must be acknowledged as legitimate and we invite our Student Association to work with us towards ameliorating this crisis.

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