Press-Republican

March 12, 2014

Students to rally for social change

By FELICIA KRIEG
Press-Republican

---- — PLATTSBURGH — Use of the N word on a frat-party list has prompted a rally by SUNY Plattsburgh students today to combat discriminatory and hurtful language and thinking.

On March 1, Michael Haynes, a student and president of AKEBA, the black student union on campus, was working at the information desk in Angell College Center when, he said, when a Nu Theta Gamma member handed him a paper.

Haynes said he saw that the words “Don’t be a (N word). Don’t let these people into the party” were written on the back of a list that included 20 names of people who were not invited to a fraternity event.

‘DIDN’T CONSIDER MEANING’ 

In response to messages from the Press-Republican to the fraternity president, member Ramon Dario Sanchez called to take responsibility for use of the N word. He said he didn’t actually hand the paper to Haynes but had set it down near him when he had seen an acquaintance near the information desk.

“He saw it on the page as I set the page down, and he became rightfully upset,” Sanchez said.

He said he typed up the list and included the epithet “without considering the historical background of the word.”

He said he apologized to Haynes multiple times for his “insensitive actions” and then crossed the words off the list.

“I’d like to send my condolences to whomever I may have offended by my insensitivity,” Sanchez said, adding that he is a new member of Nu Theta Gamma.

‘NOT SURPRISING’

“It’s sad, but at the same time, it’s not surprising,” Haynes said of use of the word on the list. “These are the norms of society.”

He moved to organize students to respond to the incident.

“I’m going about this peacefully. We don’t really want to attack them, but we want to educate them.”

Students gathered in the Flynt Commons area in Angell College Center on March 6 to discuss the issue and its larger context in an open forum.

“The room was packed,” Haynes said.

Some attendees shared their stories of past verbal abuse, he said.

‘WORKSHOP ARRANGED’

“My fraternity is taking proactive measures to ensure current and future members are educated properly in sensitivity for diversity and demeaning language,” Sanchez said in a statement.

Nu Theta Gamma has arranged to participate in a workshop with J.W. Wiley, director of Center for Diversity, Pluralism and Inclusion, he said.

“We are planning to host a diversity and sensitivity workshop once we have a better grasp on the situation.”

New fraternity members will be given a specific lesson on the issue as part of the frat’s new member education program, Sanchez said. 

‘BIGGER PICTURE’

“The bigger picture is to educate the campus and to empower people to have a voice and challenge each other,” Haynes said of the rally.

“There is free speech, but we’re working to cultivate an environment that doesn’t accept that kind of language,” said Michelle Ouellette, director of public relations and publications for the college.

On Monday, Haynes met with Bryan Hartman, vice president for student affairs, who emailed a statement to students and professors.

“SUNY Plattsburgh does not support the use of hate language,” Hartman wrote. “It runs contrary to the values of this institution.”

Hartman said the college is working to support AKEBA, the Center for Women’s Concerns and other student organizations that want to eradicate what he described as a culture of hate and violence.

“This can and will come about when all members of the SUNY Plattsburgh community become active advocates for positive change,” he said in the letter.

Email Felicia Krieg:fkrieg@pressrepublican.comTwitter: @FeliciaKrieg

IF YOU GO

The Time for Change rally is scheduled for 7 p.m. today in the Angell College Center ballrooms on the SUNY Plattsburgh campus.