Oswego State students voiced their concerns with sustainability, student health insurance and discrimination to President Deborah Stanley during a town hall meeting held Thursday night in the Marano Campus Center auditorium.
Omar van Reenen, director of diversity, equity and inclusion for Student Association, immediately voiced his concerns to Stanley in regards to sustainability on campus and its failure to comply with the American College and University Presidents’ Climate Commitment to reduce the campus’s carbon footprint in 2007.
van Reenen, along with other students, displayed a blow-up poster of the pledge to those attending the meeting.
“By purchasing more plastic cups, we are creating a market for the plastic industry, creating a demand for it,” van Reenen said.
Recently, SA voted down a resolution written by van Reenen to remove polystyrene plastic cups from the dining halls on campus.
Stanley’s reaction to his grievance was to further look into the issue and compile enough research and information before making a definite decision. Stanley also suggested Michael Flaherty, general manager for Auxiliary Services and Howard Gordon, executive assistant to the president, lead an effort to gather all of the necessary research.
“It’s very difficult to put this kind of an issue to what is an effect of vote at any given time because we could be shifting based on what populations want at the moment,” Stanley said. “But to put it in a more understandable and long view for the institution, we’ll proctor the Climate Commitment and talk about what is best for reducing our carbon footprint into the future.”
Sustainability was brought up again by Andre Nichols, attorney general for Student Association, when he said that even though the Oswego State campus is tobacco free, he still sees cigarette butts littered on the ground. Nichols asked if it were possible to place a few cigarette disposal units to alleviate the amount of litter left by those who continue to smoke on campus regardless of the policy.
“We deliberately didn’t put much in the way of sanctions around smoking on campus and using tobacco on campus because we wanted people to get on board with quitting,” Stanley said.
Stanley recommended a civic engagement opportunity for students to clean up the cigarette butts and to focus more on starting the conversation with students about the effects of smoking.
Another student brought up concern with health insurance through Auxiliary Services because it does not cover vision or dental. The student said she needs new glasses but cannot afford to get them with the college’s health insurance plan.
According to Angela Brown, director of Walker Health Center, the college’s plan is mostly accidental coverage rather than a full plan. Flaherty pitched in the conversation and said the college’s plan complies with the Affordable Care Act and while he would be happy to look into the vision aspect, but dental would be impossible to offer reasonable coverage for a reasonable cost.
Stanley then suggested Jerald Woolfolk, vice president of Student Affairs and Enrollment Management, could look into researching dental clinic opportunities in the future.
“The health fee and the health insurance are actually two separate things and a lot of people do get them confused,” Brown said. “[Health insurance through the college] might not cover everything you might think health insurance has in it.”
Ethan Magram, a sophomore, asked Stanley if it were possible to create a more localized Grand Challenges initiative to focus on solving issues in the Oswego community, piggybacking off of the college’s recent pledge to help solve the world’s clean water crisis, which will kick off in fall 2018.
Stanley said if so, some issues on campus would include an increase in poverty in which some students have need housing and food during vacation breaks.
“This is not something our campus was affected by in the past, but it is certainly affected now,” Stanley said. “We are not going to wait for a Grand Challenges project to do anything about it and we are moving in ways to supplement supports and put supports around our students and frankly staff and faculty as well.”
Word choice and inclusivity were featured on two occasions: Once when van Reenen voiced his concern with the private bathrooms in Waterbury and Scales halls, including the figures of a man and a woman on the bathroom signs and not being called gender-neutral. This was again brought up when SA senator Kathryn Kubinski expressed that she thinks it would be a good idea to change the name of Disability Support Services to something else, of which Stanley said she would be willing to discuss a different name with Kubinski.
“Over the summer [Laker Leaders] actually converted one of the bathrooms in the residence hall we used as a gender-neutral bathroom,” van Reenen said.
Stanley said the college uses the term “universal bathrooms” for the private bathrooms on campus because it is as inclusive as possible. As for the signs with the icons, Mitch Fields, associative vice president for Facilities Services, said as of right now, New York state requires the indication, but he has petitioned the state to avoid this, and in future renovations it would be possible to just have the signs say “restroom.”
“We at this college are on the cutting edge of this, we have been pushing forward,” Fields said. “The state of New York requires in the building codes gender specific bathrooms.”
Discrimination of gender and race on campus was also brought to Stanley’s attention. After looking at the budget difference between men’s and women’s club sports teams, a student expressed his worry of the college potentially violating Title IX. Stanley said she does not think the yearly budget determined by Student Association is discriminatory of gender.
“We would have to check with our attorneys, but probably, Student Association falls outside of Title IX,” Stanley said. “I think the hockey team and the women’s hockey team and women’s rugby team should ask for the funding they need because it’s by request.”
SA President Dalton Bisson addressed the concern and said that he has met with Lisa Evaneski, Title IX coordinator, after he realized the large difference in budgets because he wants to avoid any disparity. Since the budgets are not state-funded, it does not violate Title IX, Bisson said.
“We lay out a strict criteria of how we fund clubs,” Bisson said. “Our process, loosely, is clubs request and we take into a number of things on account of them being how long has your club been around, the participants, and those are two of the big ones.”
Nichols spoke again, on behalf of constituents, about relations between University Police and marginalized students. After sitting in on meeting with Black Student Union, members expressed to Nichols concerns about distrust between University Police and certain students, resulting in the students being wary of seeking out officers for help in situations.
“There were concerns about distrust between certain communities of students and University Police, and this led to sort of students feeling like they can’t reach out to University Police because they feel like they will either be profiled or that their concerns or issues will not be taken seriously,” Nichols said.
Stanley and University Police Chief John Rossi expressed their disappointment to hear about the lacking relationship. Stanley said this is something she is concerned to hear.
“I do not tolerate any type of behavior that is outside our policies,” Rossi said. “I can speak for the whole state university police system, that’s not the type of department we are. That’s not the type of department we would ever be.”