Hundreds of students and faculty members attended a forum on race and discrimination on the SUNY Cortland campus yesterday. The event was intended to open up a conversation on race amid increased racial tension nationwide.
With protests over inequality and discrimination on campuses across the country including down the road at Ithaca, the SUNY Cortland Black Student Union and other groups decided to hold a forum to talk about the issues in and around the Cortland Campus.
The forum featured several students of color talking about their experiences at Cortland. Many of the students said that their experience hadn’t been all bad, but there is room for improvement.
Many of the students said they felt like they didn’t belong on the predominantly white campus.
In many cases, they were the only students of color in their major or classes. Some of the students talked about dealing with uninformed questions about their culture.
Others said they felt like they were discouraged from celebrating their culture on campus. Students talked about being confronted with hateful speech posted on social media forums like Yik Yak.
Black Student Union President Michael Guity shared his experiences both on and off campus. He said on multiple occasions he has been followed at local stores because employees thought he was going to steal items.
Deidre Kirkem, a communications major at the college, said the issues of racism and discrimination don’t just stop at the college. The community needs to be involved in the conversation as well.
Colleg President Eric Bitterbaum and members of the administration participated in the panel discussion.
Attendees applauded the willingness of the administration to participate and have an open dialogue, on race but also pointed out the lack of diversity in the administration.
Some of the student speakers said they felt like the faculty didn’t understand their struggles with discrimination and sometimes discouraged discussions on race in the classroom.
Bitterbaum said he was pleased by the response to the forum, but was disappointed to hear about the experiences that some students have had on the campus.
At the end of the forum, attendees were urged to continue the conversation with their peers and to speak up when confronted by racism or discrimination.