Hannah Lonergan, Staff Writer
SUNY Oneonta’s President Barbara Morris responded to the murder of George Floyd this past May by sending out an email titled “We Must Not Be Silent Amidst Injustice” to the school community. President Morris acknowledged not only the “systematic racial disparities” that are engrained within the institutions of the United States but also touched on Oneonta’s own racial injustices.
The “Black List,” is just one of the injustices President Morris mentioned in her email. In 1992 campus officials distributed the names and local addresses of 125 black male students to the police in relation to an attack of an elderly woman. It became a nationally questioned civil rights issue and an infamous day in Oneonta’s history. The “Black List” is coming up on its twenty-eighth anniversary on Sept. 4th, 2020. To this day, racial injustice is still prevalent on our campus.
Following the initial email in May, President Morris furthered the response in June with “Steps Toward Creating a More Inclusive Campus.” There, the president outlined steps for “holding the college accountable and ensuring that it is a place where everyone is safe and the values of social justice are upheld.” These steps included appointing a new Chief Diversity Officer, reviewing the relationship with the University Police Department (UPD). Social justice courses have become a graduation requirement, and the Africana and Latinx Studies department held a reading series over the summer to discuss race and the Black experience in the United States.
After the initial two emails to respond to the heavy media coverage of the Black Lives Matter movement, the University held open forums to introduce candidates for the position of Chief Diversity Officer. This position was appointed to Dr. Bernadette Tiapo, a returning member of the SUNY Oneonta campus. The position will be utilized for “advocacy for inclusive excellence as relevant to all academic fields, promotion of inclusive excellence in teaching and learning across the institution” and developing the infrastructure for values of equity, diversity, and inclusion.
Many of the steps haven’t been able to move forward until now. The appointment of Dr. Tiapo was set to begin on Sept. 1st and many faculty members start their contracts in the fall, progress on these steps towards accountability will be able to start up again.
The introduction of a social justice course within graduation requirements rather than a general education requirement is currently in the works. The proposal for this requirement included transfer students, making sure all students will engage in this necessary discussion. It was then sent to the college senate for feedback. A major backbone of this requirement was a group of students backed by the Student Association (SA) that allowed the project to move ahead. Student-led support was a major contribution to the step coming to fruition.
The requirement is in its last stages of being reworked before it can be shared with the broad community according to Dr. Kristen Blinne, the chair of the President’s Committee on Diversity. After it is reworked, it will be sent to the college senate for a vote. Many of the steps shared in President Morris’ email are an attempt to connect the University’s core values of service, sustainability and inclusivity and create a better and safer community.
Working to create an Equity and Belonging Committee that would build an inclusive climate and give students a space where they feel they are being heard, Dr. Blinne notes the goal is to “build better bridges.”
In wake of the attention given to Black Lives Matter, it is important for the college community to continue to evaluate their privileges and their actions in ending the systematic racial oppression and how it works with other forms of identity. It is imperative that we all do our labor and work to learn and listen to those who have different experiences from us.
The Milne Library has a research guide for social justice and anti-racism on the home page that includes support resources, academic journals, books and a linked reading list of” Black Feminist Perspectives on COVID-19” produced by the blog, Black Women Radicals.
Dr. Blinne explained, “all of us have to be a part of the process.” Everyone has a role to play in anti-racist labor.