By Barbara Kay
Students re-rallied outside of the Student Center Friday to demand the college reinstate
the Black Students Union (BSU) amid charges that the administration silences students of color and protects racist faculty.
“I want to start off by saying that this is definitely a space where I’m trying to get people to open up, and share more because, on this campus, we don’t get that opportunity,” began Navah Little, a junior anthropology major.
The rally, which organizers pledged would become a weekly occurrence, gathered in an effort to re-establish the BSU.
Protesters said the BSU is needed to provide a safe space for Black students to gather
and share their stories of oppression, and microaggressions they’ve faced on and off-campus in order to establish unity.
“One of the biggest reasons we need a BSU, and maybe some people don’t know, but this not the first meeting like this, and the reason why this keeps happening is because every time there is momentum, the people who run it, graduate,” said junior Quincy Campbell, a film major.
“The great thing about BSU is that the plate is passed on from person to person I think that’s
really important to have, an intergenerational community.
“We have the bravery to challenge their anti-blackness, and dealing with the
administration is scary, we’re dealing with authority, and people who have power over us,
professors, or even people we like,” continued Campbell.
The protest followed what was billed as an open forum to discuss the Student Code of
Conduct. The forum was scheduled to be in-person Tuesday, Oct. 19, but was moved to Zoom due to what the administration called “physical space limitations” and COVID-19 concerns.
President Milly Peña stated that this was a “group” decision, but did not state who was a part of this group.
In an impromptu interview, Peña said, “In the haste to want to be as inclusive as possible,
and since the Performing Arts Center’s fire safety is not up to date, Zoom allowed [for the forum to still be held].”
Sean Connolly, associate director of facilities and capital planning confirmed that three of
the theaters in Performing Arts Center are not available for live audiences while they update the curtains, but the rest of the building is “safe to occupy.”
Critics, both faculty and students, stressed that the forum was the opposite of inclusive.
The chat function of the 365-person call was initially disabled, and then hacked when it was
One participant used the handle “Nahiem” to pose as Nahiem Paris, the student whose semester-long suspension on a weapons charge sparked student protests. Using a racial
epithet, the imposter wrote, “Please expel Nahiem, we already have too many [redacted] on
campus.” Another user posted under the name George Floyd.
Neither of these users was removed during the 80-minute webinar, prompting an uproar
from viewers in the chat.
Peña responded to the outcry in a campus-wide email sent 27 hours after the webinar.
“While yesterday’s community forum attempted to engage in the dialogue necessary to facilitate the very change we all recognize is necessary,” she wrote, “It did not have the outcome we desired.”
The Humanities Department sent a letter to Peña and other administrators including
Patty Bice, dean of student affairs; Jerima DeWese, chief diversity, and affirmative action officer;
Tatiana Perez, director, office of community standards; and Dayton Tucker, Chief of New York State University Police. They expressed their own dissatisfaction with the closed forum in solidarity with students.
“We were disturbed and disheartened by the webinar. Real conversation requires listening, even when it’s uncomfortable; by this standard, the forum failed,” the department wrote. “We take pride in our students’ activism and self-advocacy. To see the denial of their
voices by the very college that puts “open-minded engagement, questioning boundaries, and inspiring possibility” at the heart of its mission was deeply painful and dislocating.”
Little, who seemed to be leading the rally, stood in front of the crowd with a microphone and reiterated the list demands that students are insisting the administration implement. The
demands are as follows:
1. Ensure that the code of conduct is enforced equitably
2. Revise the code of conduct entirely, as it criminalizes Black and brown students
3. Revise the process of disciplinary action entirely
4. The immediate resignation of racist, prejudiced faculty still allowed to teach on this campus
5. Stop giving sexual offenders second chances
6. Immediate training of all faculty (including UPD) on prejudice, bias, and anti-black rhetoric
7. Defund UPD and refund campus advocacy services
8. Reinstate the Black Student Union
Students and faculty took the microphone to express their feelings of neglect, and
“I’m new on this plantation, which is a better plantation than the Binghamton one I came from,” said Toivo Asheeke, assistant professor of sociology.
Asheeke expressed his support and admiration for students who rallied. “This is not a PWI (primarily white institution),” he said “Who keeps us safe? We keep us safe.”
Asheeke, who said he has had 15 years of experience in activism, also expressed his disappointment in the fact that there are only seven Black professors at Purchase on track to be tenured. Administrators have acknowledged the need for greater faculty diversity.
The first demand concerns who the Code of Conduct is enforcing; student protestors maintained the code of conduct solely criminalizes students of color.
“Why is smoking weed something we’re sent home for?” asked Little, referring to students of color. “For being too loud? For defending ourselves? Why do we have a system that defends these people? Why is my money going to someone who defends these racists?” she continued. “There’s no reason. There’s no reason to go to Jerima [DeWese] and tell her about these people and have her spit on you and your entire experience… It’s not power, it’s tyranny.”
DeWese responded to the accusation saying, "All matters brought to my office are taken seriously. I work diligently for an equitable outcome that takes into account the dignity, safety, and wellbeing of individuals.”
Protesters demanded accountability from the administration, which they accused of protecting “racist and ableist faculty” and called for defunding the University Police Department.
In an email response to this reporter, Peña said she preferred not to directly comment on these accusations, but said she is eager to further discuss the matters in person at open forums.
Student organizers pledged that the rallies would continue until the demands of students are met.