PLATTSBURGH — Cardinal Points writer Mataeo Smith’s March 26 article, “Employee makes racist comment online,” was the first time many in the SUNY Plattsburgh community learned of Sports and Wellness Administrative Assistant Rebecca Barnes’ controversial post on Facebook in May 2020.
‘1 LESS TO DEAL WITH’
Barnes’ problematic reply was discovered by a SUNY Plattsburgh 2014 alumna, who asked to remain anonymous for safety concerns, according to Smith’s report.
A screenshot of the comment by Barnes saying, “LOL 1 less to deal with,” to a Facebook post that said, “He needs a good ol’ fashion lynching,” was posted and shared with SUNY Plattsburgh’s Twitter account May 31 last year through direct messages while demonstrations across the country were protesting the death of George Floyd while being arrested by Minneapolis Police officers.
Screenshots of that direct message thread show the alumna reaching out multiple times before getting a direct response to the screenshot in September 2020.
“It’s important to note that these ideas are protected by the First Amendment and although they seem hateful, they are legally protected,” SUNY Plattsburgh’s Twitter account replied after being shown the screenshot.
The college responded to the offensive post last year through the DIRECT team, which included outreach for a restorative response.
According to the college, the work of the Diversity Inclusion Response Education and Communication Team (DIRECT) plays an important role in these efforts, working to allow individuals to report diversity issues, and overseeing the college’s response.
For the health and well-being of the campus community, it is critical that individuals or groups who are targeted and/or affected by bias acts are able to easily report the incident and receive services, as needed. An online form is available.
Smith’s follow-up article, “Campus frustration sparks conversation,” can be viewed at: www.cardinalpointsonline.com.
On Wednesday, President Alexander Enyedi addressed the incident with the campus community during a conversation with about 110 faculty, students and staff in attendance online.
“The words and comment was racist, hurtful, and damaging,” Enyedi said.
“In my opinion there is no debate about this. These words are a violation of the principles and values of our campus community.”
“Moving forward from today, I want to pursue two initiatives. I will move to further develop inter-group dialogue and bias training for all staff. I will work with our various staff labor unions to determine how and when this will occur. I am certain they share my desire to build an inclusive academy.
“The second initiative is to include free speech and hate speech as intentional topics in our new student orientation training this fall.”
Former Minneapolis officer Derek Chauvin’s trial for charges connected with Floyd’s death is underway, and that of officers J. Alexander Kueng, Thomas Lane, and Tou Thao is slated for August.
“As we see the Derek Chauvin trial unfold on television, I am sensitive that this is in the minds of many people,” Enyedi said.
“That is as it should be. For me, the trial points to how all of our work to battle bias, racism and bigotry is not only critical but essential.”
SUNY Plattsburgh has taken proactive steps, working to create an educational environment that supports diversity, equity, and inclusion and provides assistance to those who report diversity incidents, a statement said.
“The college has invested deeply in fostering a climate that raises respect across diverse backgrounds and perspectives, including reaching into the wider city and county community around the college. Several initiatives are integral to campus life.
“This has ranged from SUNY Plattsburgh community members participating in a semester-long dialogue project using two anti-racist texts to faculty and staff meeting together to reflect and establish SUNY Plattsburgh diversity, equity and inclusion core values and the Free Speech Task Force that details ‘speech and acknowledges the responsibility that comes with it’ to build an inclusive campus community.”
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