By Hope Chookazian and Brendan Rose
Tensions on campus continue to rise after the second “listening forum” where students made an impassioned call to the administration to acknowledge and change what they describe as serious racial inequality within the institution. After students spent over an hour directing questions to President Milagros Peña and other top administration officials, students say that the administration still failed to respond to their concerns.
“It’s a safe space for white students,” one student said at Wednesday’s forum in the Stood regarding Purchase College being a predominantly white institution. “We have to work overtime to make sure the Black students feel safe.”
Protests on campus have continued over the past two weeks over the administration’s initial suspension of student Nahiem Paris for being stopped while holding a taser that he claimed he had for self-defense and was not his.
Students felt that Paris' case was emblematic of how UPD targets students based on race and how the student code of conduct disproportionately punishes students of color.
With the help of petitions and protests, Paris’s suspension has been temporarily put on hold.
But the temporary stop to Paris' investigation did not end calls for action. A few dozen students and faculty showed up for the first “listening session” on Monday. Students took the floor to vehemently express their feelings and experiences at Purchase for two hours.
Wednesday’s second session had a higher turnout, with close to 100 students and staff filling up the seats at The Stood. But the mood was no less charged.
President Peña addressed the room before students took the floor and stated her commitment for future conversations.
“Seeing and hearing the pain from the last two weeks hit me the hardest,” Peña said. “I want to ensure you feel the commitment to an ongoing conversation.”
Peña acknowledged the bravery and willingness of students to push the administration to have these conversations.
“It’s not our job as students to do the organizing we are doing,” one student passionately said. “We are not getting paid for this--you are.”
Sophomore music conservatory student Daniel Karpf took the floor despite his nervousness and discussed how the lack of diversity in the staff and among the student body impacts him.
“There is no Latin staff or African American staff in the conservatory of music,” he said. “I am one of three people of color in the whole string ensemble.”
Karpf said his safe space on campus is in the parking lot in his car, and even there he said he doesn’t feel truly safe. “The fact I had to consciously acknowledge the [UPD] patrol schedule in fear of my safe space being violated?” he said to Chief Dayton Tucker. “It’s the only place I have here. It’s ridiculous.”
The issue of campus safety was a major theme throughout the forum. Students said the administration’s response benefits perpetrators, rather than victims, or punishes them with minor infractions instead of predatory offenses.
“I was assaulted on campus,” Chloe Burgos, a junior communications major, said. “Why are predators, offenders, who have multiple no-contact orders against them allowed to stay on campus? But students who just want to protect themselves and done no wrong are suspended.”
Many students expressed feeling frustration and bewilderment over these meetings. “We can sit here and say all of our comments in different formats,” one student said. “But at the end of the day, what’s going to happen?”
Peña addressed a plea by several students to reinstate the Black Student Union (BSU).
“Absolutely!” she said. “That information is rolling out.”
According to a campus-wide email from Peña, the most immediate action the administration plans is a public meeting with the Purchase College Council in the week of Nov. 8 to discuss “issues that reflect challenges” with the code of conduct. The meeting will be on Zoom and open to the entire community.