A diversity march was held Monday on the SUNY Plattsburgh campus in the wake of a racially sensitive cartoon published two weeks ago in the student newspaper.
On October 23rd the quasi-independent Cardinal Points published a controversial cartoon that sent the campus into an uproar. The depiction of a black American graduate as a cartoonish character in a decrepit ghetto hurt and outraged many on the 6,000 student campus. Following several student forums and an all-faculty meeting in the two weeks since its publication, a “Let’s Get Uncomfortable“ march across campus was held Monday afternoon.
Hundreds of students faculty and staff began walking at Sibley Hall. As they passed dining and residence halls, the student center, academic and administrative buildings they chanted the march theme: “I want, I need change. I want, I need change.”
When the marchers reached Hawkins Pond, speakers clambered onto a bench that served as a soapbox to address the crowd. Priscilla Burke was among the first to step up to rally the crowd. “This is the first step to acknowledging the problem on our campus, the first step to taking change. I see black people, white people, people from all cultures, people from all walks of life. You talk we appeared. You have your conversations with every single one. ‘Cause what do you want? (Change!) What do you need? (Change!) What do you need right now today? (Change!).”
Junior Monica Robbins made an emotional appeal for the momentum of social change to continue. “It makes me sad to think that every time a situation happens we give it a few weeks and then we stop talking about it. And then it happens again and it happens again. I went home last week, my Grandma told me it’s never gonna stop. As a black woman I know I cannot break. I just gotta be strong and strong. I was the only black person on my floor and they used to come to me and ask me questions. We need to educate everybody. But I’m shaking ‘cause I’m so angry and I want to channel that anger in a positive way. Whether we believe it or not we’re not all gonna be equal. I’m not okay with it. But I know that’s how it is. I know we want change, but it’s not gonna be no walk in the park.”
Although the march was called by and sponsored by AKEBA, the black student union, participants represented a broad range of ethnicities. Emmanuel Rodiguez came to the campus from the Bronx. “I’m just a number here but when I’m back home I’m me. I’m still surrounded from my own culture, people I grew up with and I’m so unaware of all the misrepresentation and all the hurt outside. Like, it’s crazy to me. I come to Plattsburgh and I realize, mostly everybody I’m looking at right now, we’re just numbers. We came up here to make a difference. This march we’re making a difference ‘cause this is the first step to moving forward. The only thing I’m asking for as a member of this community, as a student here, let’s just keep on moving forward.”
Most of those who spoke were students, but a few faculty and staff commented, including college diversity officer Dr. J.W. Wiley. “We really need to be concerted in our effort to open people’s minds but we have to open ours too. I can’t help but wonder if that front page article was of somebody disabled, would we all still be out here? Social justice is social justice for everyone! After the faculty meeting we had on Friday where a challenge went out by another faculty member to make some things happen I’ve been getting emails left and right from faculty who want to be engaged. We are on the precipice of change. I can guarantee you as long as I’m on this campus I will never, ever stop trying to make a difference. And you are the fuel in my fire.”
The college has appointed a Diversity Task Force to develop a long-term plan to increase support for ethnic and cultural diversity on campus. The administration has resurrected a dormant Multicultural Alliance and has created an independent group to determine how and why the racial cartoon was published.