May 1, 2013

PSU students protest harassment


---- — PLATTSBURGH — As Bobby Sheehan moved with the crowd of Take Back the Night marchers past the AXP fraternity house, he was disgusted when someone there shouted some hateful comments.

“I heard ‘sluts’ and ‘Shut up, sluts,’” he said. “There’s dozens of (sexual-abuse) survivors and their allies marching that heard the derogatory comments.”

Take Back the Night is an international effort to spread awareness of sexual assault, rape and domestic and dating violence. The SUNY Plattsburgh march took place Saturday night.


Tuesday afternoon, about 50 students and others stood outside Redcay Hall, facing the AXP house, to protest the incident that had happened there, at the corner of Beekman and Brinkerhoff streets.

Many held signs with slogans including: “We demand accountability” and “End the Silence.”

College administrators also were in attendance.

“Unfortunately, it left me really pessimistic about our culture on this campus,” said Sheehan, who holds a double major in gender and women’s studies and political science.

“However, now I feel optimistic because there’s this response, this community response, that this is not acceptable and we’re not going to allow this to continue.”


Bryan Hartman, vice president for student affairs, said credible evidence has confirmed the incident, which had occurred at about 10 p.m.; Tuesday, it was not known who had perpetrated the harassment.

“The college is looking to see if judicial charges apply,” said SUNY Plattsburgh Director of Public Relations and Publications Michelle Ouellette.

The fraternity as a whole would be held responsible should that be the case, she said.

“The investigation is still ongoing. We’re collecting information,” Hartman said.

College officials should know by the end of the week how they will proceed, he said.

“Even hateful words are protected words under the (U.S.) Constitution,” he said but noted that he and the college do not support hateful language.

SUNY Plattsburgh University Police Chief Arlene Sabo said the investigation is not criminal but administrative.

“Our first priority is prevention, and I believe what you are doing here today contributes to prevention,” Sabo told the protesters.

“It starts with awareness, civil conversation and deliberate planned action.”


Brielle Phillips, 20, a victim of sexual assault and member of the Alpha Phi sorority, said she was devastated when she heard about the incident.

“Many of my (sorority) sisters were there and spoke out at our chapter after — how upsetting it was for people who were present,” she said.

“This organization has been an issue on this campus for years now,” the junior anthropology major said of the AXP fraternity. “I think we’re just sick of it,” she said in relating the feelings of her fellow Greek organizations.


AXP President John Mastronardo released a statement concerning the incident.

“No one should be subjected to that type of language,” he said. “We recognize the seriousness of the situation and the amount of people justifiably offended by it. We are also offended by it.

“We respect and support the individuals who participated in Take Back the Night and all those who have been victimized by sexual assault, rape or harassment. My members are truly sincere in wanting to change the culture that condones violence and harassment, and we are committed to building a safer community.”

Mastronardo said the fraternity is looking into the incident and cooperating with campus administration as it continues to investigate.

“The solution here is to learn from this experience and educate one another,” he wrote.


Junior Sarah Gardner said she wished more people had attended Tuesday’s protest.

She had emailed her professor to say why she would be missing class.

“I feel like people could take 15 minutes out of their day” for the cause, she said.

Daniella Medina, a junior at SUNY Plattsburgh, said the protest sends a message that this kind of behavior is not acceptable and shouldn’t be perpetuated.

Sheehan, 22, encouraged anyone who is upset after hearing about the comments to get involved in organizations on campus like the Center for Women’s Concerns.

People should also remember that this is not an isolated incident, he said.

“It’s about a broader rape culture.”

To those gathered at the protest, Sheehan said, “It doesn’t end here; it starts here.”

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To report sexual assault that happened on SUNY Plattsburgh's campus, call University Police at 564-2022.

To make a report confidentially, contact the Dean of Students Office. Reports made that way are not be forwarded to police for investigation but will be included in the campus's crime statistics.

Incidents can also be reported online at through the "Silent Witness" program.

The SUNY Plattsburgh Center for Student Health and Psychological Service can be reached during business hours at 564-3086. Call University Police after hours.

Other resources include Planned Parenthood of the North Country New York's Sexual Assault Services for Clinton and Franklin counties, with a 24-hour hotline: (877) 212-2323.

Survivors of sexual assault can also seek counseling appointments, education and advocacy: In Clinton County, call 825-6277, Ext. 3 (Plattsburgh) and in Franklin County, call 483-7150, Ext. 2 (Malone).

In Essex County, reach the 24-hour Sexual Assault Services hotline at (866) 307-4086 and, for other services, the Ticonderoga office at 984-0094. Those programs are through Planned Parenthood Mohawk Hudson.

Contact STOP Domestic Violence at Behavioral Health Services North at 563-6904. The 24-hour hotline is (888) 563-6904.

Find an online support group, chat room and message board for survivors of rape, sexual assault and sexual abuse at In the event of an emergency, dial 911.