by Kevin Mead, Cooper Drummond and Diana Gilday*
The student led fight for Nahiem Paris, who was handed a semester-long suspension for holding his friend’s taser on campus, declared a victory Friday afternoon.
Paris, a junior theater performance and arts management major, received an abeyance (temporary hold on his suspension) from administration while they review the student code of conduct, and he will be allowed to stay on campus until further notice.
“We won y’all,” Paris posted on Instagram Friday afternoon. “They dropped my charges.”
Protests for Paris erupted Thursday afternoon as Purchase students demanded that administration reconsider the outcome of his case, which has been active since Aug. 29, the day of the incident. The suspension was originally set to begin Oct. 13, the day following the protests.
Protests began outside Campus Center North, next to the “Coffee with a Cop” event, where supporters handed out flyers, chanted supportive messages and shared stories in which they experienced racism on campus.
“When there’s more of us, we’re marching up there,” said Paris.
The protest progressed into the president's office, where students stayed for several hours. The protesters spoke with the Chief of University Police, Chief
Dayton Tucker, college president Milagros Peña, Vice President for Student Affairs Dennis Craig and Chief Diversity and Affirmative Action Officer, Jerima DeWese.
Less than 10 minutes after entering the building, Tucker told students what could happen if they didn’t leave:
“Let me tell you this, because you’re young people...UPD doesn’t want to forcefully remove you guys from here...why do we wanna put each other in this position?”
However, protesters would occupy the space for hours afterward.
“I (know) members on the force, I know exactly what it’s like being an officer. But for you to say that we’re making a statement, we’re doing what we’re supposed to do, but you have to find a way for us to leave the premises...bull. It’s not going to happen,” sophomore Daniel Karpf said in an exchange with Tucker.
Tucker, a Black man, didn’t reveal that he was the chief of police until many minutes into the altercation. Students were shocked, “You’re the chief?” Karpf said.
Many staff members were visibly unhappy by the student’s presence. One unidentified staff member, after being accosted by a student, told them “I work here. I have a job.”
“Let me in my office please,” said the president after Purchase student Kevonaa Buchanan wouldn’t let her enter. Peña got into her office through another entrance, only to later reemerge and speak to students directly.
“We ourselves (meaning staff present) come from diverse backgrounds,” she said. “But I also want to say that what’s really important is that there are certain things that the campus embraces, long before any particular person might have been seen or charged with something, well whatever, that is part of just basic rules of campus[sic]. I know that you have a view and a position, but I also want you to appreciate that there’s other perspectives on things like tasers."
Paris, students argue, is a victim of vague school policy about weapons that makes it easy for administration to apply the rules at their own discretion.
Section E, item 1 of the Student Code of Conduct reads:
“An offense related to welfare, safety and environmental health of the college community is committed when a person: Uses, possesses, or manufactures firearms, explosives, and/or weapons. Minimum: Suspension”
The improper wielding of this discretion, they argue, exposes systemic racial biases amongst administration.
“Anything can be a weapon,” an unidentified student argued. “A water bottle could be a weapon.” Students also argued that carrying a self-defense weapon on campus, especially if you are at a higher risk of being targeted for physical violence, is justified.
Paris’ story triggered other students to bring up several instances where they claim the school did not adequately punish white students for more serious acts.
“Why are rapists still here?” an unidentified student remarked.
Other students brought up interactions they had with UPD, who first reported and pursued action on Paris’ taser incident. A large portion of the Black and brown students in attendance agreed that racial harassment from UPD officers was common and expected. Other students claimed that they had been catcalled by UPD officers.
“Your cops are fools,” Karpf remarked to the president.
About 45 minutes after protesters entered the building, Paris was brought to the president’s office to talk about the incident.
“They’re isolating,” an unidentified student whispered.
After Paris spoke to the president and the chief, he said he “felt relief."
“They can’t make no promises on what’s gonna be next, but they can discuss. It made me feel more comfortable...I felt like I wasn’t being heard from the faculty here, specifically Tatiana Perez (Director of Community Standards). I do feel more hope. No matter how this goes, I’m winning. We’re winning...they see the injustice of how the situation is.”
He continued, “There are lawyers that are reaching out to me at the moment. We have at least 1500 signatures (on change.org) at the moment. So I feel better.” When the change.org petition closed on Friday, it had 1927 supporters.
After the protest, the administration pushed his suspension to Sunday, and the next day announced that Paris would receive an “abeyance," which means the school will review their policy about weapons and allow Nahiem to remain in good standing in the meantime.
On Tuesday, Oct.19 at 1:30 p.m., a Campus Safety and Conduct Forum will take place in the Humanities Theatre to discuss bias on campus. An email sent out to all students read:
“Representatives from University Police, the Office of Diversity and Compliance, and Student Affairs will be in attendance and looking forward to a respectful and enlightening conversation with students, faculty, and staff.”
Paris posted on Instagram Friday: “Please if you can go Tuesday to the meeting in Humanities Theatre @ 1:30 so we can make sure they get what the students want.”
School administration could not immediately be reached for comment.**
Additional protests took place Friday evening at the main plaza. Students were invited to speak about their challenges with interpersonal and institutional racism at Purchase. Additionally, these students created a list of demands for school leadership:
Ensure that the code of conduct is enforced equitably
Revise the code of conduct entirely, as it criminalizes Black and brown students
Revise the process of disciplinary action entirely
The immediate resignation of racist, prejudiced faculty still allowed to teach on this campus
Stop giving sexual offenders second chances
Immediate training of all faculty (including UPD) on prejudice, bias, and anti-black rhetoric
Defund UPD and refund campus advocacy services
Reinstate the Black Student Union
The group that hosted this protest is planning to continue hosting these events on Friday evenings going forward. Any and all students have been encouraged to attend.
As the Campus Safety and Conduct Forum approaches, activists on campus are pushing for fundamental, lasting institutional changes to the way the school treats its Black students.
**On Oct. 16, in an email, Peña said: “On behalf of myself and my colleagues, the following is my comment:
While I cannot comment on a student’s educational or conduct record, I appreciate the students who came out to support their peer and the issues raised. We are following up to address the issue raised and pursuing how we can move forward. My colleagues and I look forward to continuing dialogue and working with the campus community to address the challenges we face as a community.”**
*Gilday was the editor of this piece*