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Campus Police at the State University of New York at New Paltz are investigating two racist signs that were posted in one of their buildings. The signs said “Colored Only,” and were found on a drinking fountain in the Humanities building.
The latest sign was discovered on November 8 and three others were found in a campus dorm. SUNY New Paltz President Donald Christian sent memos out to students and faculty about the incidents. He denounced them and called for a forum on November 30 to discuss campus racism. Since the incident took place, there have been no arrests, but police say they have several strong leads in the case.
Associate Professor Major Coleman of the Black Studies Department sent a letter to the college president noting that the campus is just five percent black.
“It is our hope that over the coming weeks and months your administration will use this tragic event to begin the process of what Martin Luther King Jr. called ‘substantive equality,’ which is so desperately needed on this campus,” the professor wrote.
Professor Coleman is correct in his assessment of the situation. Students tend to be reflections of those who’ve taught and raised them, so the individuals who committed this embarrassing act are likely unaware of just how offensive their signs are to the rest of us. The same is true of cases on other campuses, with students wearing blackface, holding “Ghetto Parties,” and all the other dastardly events that I’ve written about this year.
Real and meaningful diversity is something that takes hard work and not just lip service. Nearly every college campus in America is very quick to tell us that they are committed to diversity, but the numbers usually tell a different story. Also, true diversity means diversifying the campus at both the student and faculty levels, and allowing new ideas to be a part of the campus infrastructure. To date, too many campuses interpret diversity to mean recruiting a few black students while leaving white folks in charge or only bringing in people of color who are afraid to push the envelope.
This campus and many others have got to find a way to do better.