Policy regarding racial incidents questioned following controversy

An off-campus incident involving a student wearing blackface left many Oswego State students upset over the manner in which the school handles racially sensitive issues.

After the incident, which occurred in March, the administration sent out an email saying that the school does not tolerate discrimination and reminding the students of the school’s policies.

This was in response to an off-campus party on March 1 where a student, participating in beer Olympics and “representing” Jamaica, donned a Bob Marley T-shirt and painted his face black.

School officials said they offer students various ways to report any kind of incident.

“They can speak to our affirmative action officer, which is Howard Gordon, our Human Resources director, Amy Plotner, or they can come to this office [501 Culkin Hall] and file a report,” said Becky Nadzadi, associate dean of students for student conduct. A student can also go to their residence hall director or University Police to file a report.

Once the office receives the report, the actions they take will depend on who the accusations are against. If it’s a student, then the office will deal with that.

“Sometimes it’s in the form of education where we are just having a sit down conversation with them and you’re talking about why it’s not okay to do what they did, that sort of thing,” Nadzadi said. “Then we would give them a letter, restating what was discussed and that letter goes into their permanent conduct file. If it is something that needs actual charges, we would file a statement of charges and them and then we would do a disciplinary conference or a conduct hearing.”

However, if the act committed is severe and the school feels like the student needs to be removed for a time, suspension is an option.

“So is expulsion, actually, in a case of discrimination,” Nadzadi said. “If it’s something that’s less severe there might be things like disciplinary probation, papers they would have to write, either research or reflection or both.”

After the email was sent out, the vice president of the college held a meeting and invited members of campus community to discuss the blackface situation. The steps the school takes in there types of situations are on a “case-to-case basis,” Nadzadi said.

[su_quote cite=”Lisa Evaneski, Title IX coordinator for Oswego State”]We don’t get a lot of incidents reported, so it’s very possible that there are incidents happening that we don’t know about. I would say most of what I see happens in residence halls and I think most of it is not racial. We’ve seen a couple of cases of homophobic and anti-Semitic, and occasionally we see something that is racist as well.[/su_quote]

“We have lots of different resources and we’ll just roll out everything that we need to or that we feel appropriate in those cases,” she added.

As they cannot talk about the contents of a specific student’s conduct file, Nadzadi was not able to comment on the repercussions for the student who wore blackface.

For an incident to be categorized as a hate crime it would also have to be an actual crime, according to Oswego State’s Title IX coordinator, Lisa Evaneski.

“It could be a bias related incident or a hate incident,” Evaneski said. “I think we kind of use those words interchangeably and, in that case it could be handled as an incident not a crime. However, the police will take reports of anything even incidents that are not crimes.”

She said that it’s important students understand this, because a lot of people think they shouldn’t go to the police if what happened is not a crime.

In 2009, there were no cases of hate crimes reported to the FBI. However, in 2008, there were three separate acts of hate-crimes on the Oswego Sate campus. One was a racial slur outside of Seneca Hall, racist graffiti inside of Funnelle Hall and speculation that a noose was found on campus. News of the noose came from word-of-mouth and campus officials weren’t sure when and where it happened. There is no mention in the 2012 University Police Reported Crime Stats of hate crimes.

“We don’t get a lot of incidents reported so it’s very possible that there are incidents happening that we don’t know about,” Evaneski said. “I would say most of what I see happens in residence halls and I think most of it is not racial. We’ve seen a couple of cases of homophobic and anti-Semitic and occasionally we see something that is racist as well.”

Evaneski gives praise to Residence Life’s graffiti response, calling it aggressive.

“They do something where they take a picture, call the police, get it recorded and they cover it up,” Evaneski said. “It’s probably the best response of all the buildings on campus. In terms of the cases that happen out of the residence halls and other buildings, I would say it’s split among racist, homophobic and anti-Semitic.”

Evaneski said the best way to reduce the amount of racial discrimination is to address it. She first started talking about discrimination at orientation about seven years ago. She started talking to people about the power of language and how people have to make sure that they’re not using hateful language.

“I think trying to get the word out, trying to set expectations,” Evaneski said. “Making sure that it’s always a part of the conversation: ‘how are you going to respond to our diverse campus? How are you going to provide a safe, comfortable setting for all our students.”

Oswego State has a strict non-discrimination policy. There are a couple ways the school addresses racial discrimination.

“I know in the residence halls there’s education that happens,” Evaneski said. “In student organizations, there’s a lot of great education that goes on year round.”

More education can be found in skits and programs at the Oswego State orientation, where Evaneski also has a presentation about conduct and behavior.

“We have an expectation that people be respectful to each other and that we don’t tolerate language that is racist, sexist, homophobic in that sort,” Evaneski said. “I’m talking about preventative education and to have our community be aware of what we expect and have to offer.  If there is a report of discrimination, that will be a different kind of response.”

“I think the biggest thing on this campus is education,” Nadzadi said. “That’s our focus, of course, but we feel that we can educate students about what’s offensive, what’s not offensive.”

It’s not just racial discrimination that the administration deals with “because students sometimes don’t see something as offensive like ‘why is it a big deal? I just drew a penis on somebody’s whiteboard, what’s the big deal about that?’” Nadzadi said.

The college and the University Police department take any instances of bias related crimes very seriously.

“Usually if we get a call in regards to something along those lines, we’ll send an officer to investigate, then we’ll take a report based on the exact nature of it,” University Police Lt. Matthew Barbeau, said. “A majority of crimes can be categorized as bias related if it’s just that- if somebody damages the property of someone or assaults someone based on their color, sexual orientation or whatnot. Anything that’s biased against them is considered bias related and it’s marked down as such.”

However, there’s not much that University Police can do in instances of discrimination, other than file a report and make sure it reaches the appropriate channels.

“Matters are handled and that’s kind of the big thing we ask people, to trust that we are handling the situation in the most appropriate ways and that’s hard for a lot of people because they want to know that information and they feel like if they don’t know then nothing is actually being done, but that’s not the case,” Nadzadi said. “You just have to trust in the administration that we are dealing with it and we certainly do. Any claim we hear we deal with it. We act.”