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NYT Response

NYT Response

Below find the messages sent from New Paltz leadership, including President Donald P. Christian, his cabinet, Chief Diversity Officer Tanhena Pacheco Dunn and Dr. Gerald Benjamin in response to a New York Times article published on July 17, 2018.

+  From President Donald P. Christian, his cabinet and Chief Diversity Officer Tanhena Pacheco Dunn - July 26, 2018

Sent: July 26, 2018 10:19 a.m.

Dear Members of the Campus Community:

At this week’s President’s Cabinet meeting, joined by Chief Diversity Officer, Tanhena Pacheco Dunn, we discussed several plans for the coming year in response to a recent student social media post and Dr. Gerald Benjamin’s comments in The New York Times. These events and those occurring in the larger political and social spheres draw us to continue our focus on a sustained campus conversation that began last year through the formation of the Diversity and Inclusion Council and other community efforts, such as the very productive, respectful discussion about Hasbrouck complex building names.

The purpose of these activities is to help our community find constructive ways to discuss issues of racism and marginalization and learn about the scholarly perspectives and approaches that can help us understand these issues. We appreciate those in our community who offered readings and other materials that could help broaden understanding and encourage the community to explore these materials. We are in the process of collecting these resources and will post them, as well as recent Chronicle articles, including one that featured Professor Jessica Pabon’s research about hip-hop music and another by Professor Benjamin about lessons learned, to the Diversity and Inclusion Council website.

In addition, we hear from members of the community that they would like to learn more about ways that individual behaviors and actions can help create a community of inclusive dialogue. That discussion must include recognition that in a diverse community disagreement is healthy and must help us learn to engage respectfully and productively around disagreement.  Building and reinforcing the fabric of community and working toward a more inclusive campus where we invite diverse experiences and voices into the dialogue is important for growing in our understanding and empowering change.

To that end, here are some ways in the coming year that we will seize the opportunity created by these events to sustain dialogue around race and difference. To be successful, this work must involve multiple divisions and units, including Academic Affairs, Student Affairs, the Diversity and Inclusion Council, the Benjamin Center, and academic departments:

  • As Dr. Benjamin, director of the Benjamin Center, pointed out in his recent email to campus, he has reached out to apologize to Congressional candidate Antonio Delgado and Mr. Delgado has graciously accepted Dr. Benjamin’s apology. The two plan to meet in person after the election.
  • Dr. Benjamin and the Center want to listen to the views and needs of underrepresented communities and will hold a series of conversations across the region in this effort. He has already begun outreach to students and colleagues of color to listen to their perspectives on these issues.
  • The Benjamin Center will continue its research efforts and convening expertise around issues of equity and social justice and will also be more explicit in focusing its work on issues of race, power and privilege.
  • Mark Colvson, dean of the Sojourner Truth Library, has continued the Conversation One series this summer and will offer such opportunities regularly as the campus begins a new academic year.
  • The Department of Political Science and International Relations, together with the Benjamin Center, is planning to collaborate with other academic departments to hold a panel discussion about race and politics this fall.
  • The Faculty Development Center will host a discussion titled, Talking Constructively About Race on Campus. The discussion is scheduled for Sept 12 at 3:30 p.m. The Center has held community-building events on the topic of race/solidarity for the past four consecutive semesters and will continue these efforts. http://hawksites.newpaltz.edu/fdc/
  • The Curriculum Committee has developed a Diversity Board whose work will include advising programs about the development of courses that fulfill the Diversity graduation requirement and that speak to diversity, inclusion and cultural competency. 
  • The Diversity and Inclusion Council is planning several efforts:
    • A listening tour of departments and student organizations this fall to hear about the challenges and opportunities for our collective work of inclusion and other roles that the Council can play.
    • A breakfast conversation on Sept. 12 inviting a cross section of the community to discuss inclusion and exclusion within our campus community. This was a successful event last year and the Council is pleased to be able to host this again.
    • A welcome message to the campus community about the role and work of the Council.
  • Student Affairs will expand its diversity programming during student Welcome Week activities and add ongoing conversations for students throughout the year on these topics. 
  • Student Affairs routinely offers training to student leaders and is launching a new leadership program focused on diversity issues in the fall.
  • Training on the limits and responsibilities of free speech will be provided for a variety of student groups, including student athletes.
  • A pilot collaboration with the U.S. Military Academy at West Point in spring 2018 focused on developing empathy and tolerance among cadets and New Paltz students through the facilitated discussion of controversial topics will be continued and expanded this year.
  • Planning is underway to incorporate themes of diversity, implicit bias, and inclusion in new faculty orientation, and Student Affairs has also committed to expand training for its staff on these topics.
  • The Provost and the Deans have begun discussion of how to support the core role of faculty and the curriculum in advancing goals of inclusion and respect. 
  • And, we have begun to discuss a basic “Diversity Allies” program modeled after our very successful LGBTQ Allies initiative.

We will continue to share information in the weeks leading into the new academic year as these and other efforts take shape. We welcome other ideas and efforts to participate in this work and look forward to your support and involvement. To submit ideas, please send an email to DandICouncil@newpaltz.edu.

Donald P. Christian, President
Tanhena Pacheco Dunn, Chief Diversity Officer
Lorin Basden Arnold, Provost and VP for Academic Affairs
Stephanie Blaisdell, VP for Student Affairs
Erica Marks, VP for Development and Alumni Relations
Michele Halstead, VP for Administration and Finance
L. David Eaton, VP for Enrollment Management
Shelly Wright, Chief of Staff and VP for Communication

+  From Associate Vice President and Director of the Benjamin Center, Dr. Gerald Benjamin - July 26, 2018

Sent: July 26, 2018 9:36 a.m.

Dear colleagues and co-workers:

I continue to agonize about the remarks I made to a New York Times reporter regarding Congressman John Faso’s divisive use of race in our local election for Congress, and the enraged reaction to what I said both on campus and in the community. As you know, I earlier sent an apology to the campus community. It is largely irrelevant, I now think, that I had no racist intent; my commentary is reasonably read as racist.

I’ve been talking to reporters for decades on controversial political matters; I am not a rookie. I’ll need a lot more time and will have to do a lot more thinking, listening, and learning before I am satisfied that I fully understand why and how this happened, if ever. But some lessons are already clear

Because this story was national, I’ve submitted an essay to the Chronicle of Higher Education setting out what I think I’ve learned so far; it was published in shortened form as a letter to the editor. However, people on campus and in the community have asked to hear from me directly, especially about what I and the Benjamin Center will do next, to address racism on campus, in the community and especially in public life. So I decided as a first step to set out the key points of my edited remarks in the Chronicle for you and add to it some concrete ideas for action that I have started to work on with my colleagues and the college leadership.

Lesson one: Acknowledge the pervasiveness of racism. As a teacher, dean, elected official, commentator, consultant, writer and editor, I have worked to advance democracy, fairness, inclusion, equity, and justice. I now have directly experienced how racism plays out not only in structural matters like city charters or voting laws, but also in words and actions that, intended or not, create a sense of “us” and “them.” Words are powerful; great care must be taken in selecting and using them.

I thought I was unbiased. And yet, I somehow said what I said. For me, and for other white people who think they are not racist or in other ways biased, unguarded moments may reveal deeply entrenched premises or predispositions that result in the unintended invidious categorization of others.

Lesson two: Confront and condemn racism in politics. Our communities are increasingly diverse, and already deeply divided by partisanship and policy preferences. The intensity of these divisions, the greatest that I have seen in my lifetime, threatens the very fabric of our democracy. Direct or indirect, racist arguments in any campaign anywhere exacerbate conflict and division, making civil discourse harder, even impossible. They are never acceptable.

Lesson three: Communicate directly and personally. Turn communication into action. I called Antonio Delgado, the Democratic candidate and target of race-based attacks, and apologized to him and asked him for an in-person meeting. He graciously accepted and agreed. As further detailed below, I have also begun to approach campus colleagues and have met with Benjamin Center staff to make it a priority in the coming year to partner with others on campus to foster dialogue and action about how divisive race- and ethnic-based tribal politics can be overcome. We need a politics that builds community, rather than persisting in a politics that fosters hate and division.

Lesson four: Pay attention to what you are doing; a lot may be at stake. Reputation grows from being morally and ethically centered, and using any skills you may have to build community, and support others in doing so. Reporters turn to expert professors for ideas that are informed, thoughtful and evidence-based. I now know that when this role is forgotten, community may be diminished, not built, and reputation irredeemably damaged. From this moment, I will use my agency to do better on this front.

As I continue to listen and learn, here are a few steps I will take, personally and in collaboration with Benjamin Center colleagues and others on campus to turn lessons into actions. 

  • I will hold a series of listening visits with members of underrepresented communities in the region to learn how the Benjamin Center can better focus on their priorities in our research.
  • I have begun outreach to students and colleagues of color to listen to their perspectives on these issues.
  • We will join with the Department of Political Science and International Relations and other academic departments, in planning a panel discussion about race and politics this fall, with attention to moving from a politics of division to one of inclusion.
  • Current and past Benjamin Center evidence-based, policy-oriented research has dealt significantly with issues of diversity, inequality, and social justice. Moving forward, we will focus more explicitly on issues of race, power and privilege, and invite colleagues of all disciplines with interests in public policy to join with us in this work. 

I welcome additional ideas. Please write to benjamig@newpaltz.edu or call at 845 257 2901.

Gerald Benjamin
Director - The Benjamin Center
Distinguished Professor - Political Science
Associate Vice President - Regional Engagement

+  From President Donald P. Christian and Chief Diversity Officer Tanhena Pacheco Dunn - July 17, 2018

Sent: July 17, 2018 7:14 p.m.

Dear Members of the SUNY New Paltz Community:

We have learned that a campus leader at SUNY New Paltz made comments about rap music, race, and community in a prominent news article today covering a congressional election. The most troubling comment within the article is the following: “people like us, people in rural New York, we are not people who respond to this part of American culture [rap].” The quotes raise the specter of racism and marginalize members of our community, both of which are antithetical to our institutional values of inclusivity and respect.  

We spoke with the administrator who offered these quotes. He regrets these comments and their impact on the institution and our community and recognizes that language matters. We are disappointed that such language would come from a campus leader and ambassador of the College and reaffirm that the quotes do not reflect our institutional values of inclusivity and respect. Our expectation of any member of this community is that they be mindful of the impact of their speech on others and understand that the consequences of that speech may have unintended and long-lasting negative effects. 

Our support for the First Amendment and the diverse views of our community does not mean that the institution agrees with all views expressed or that the College affords all views as equivalent. 

Sustained dialogue will continue to be a part of our work as a campus as we work through free speech rights and manage intent versus impact of diverse views. It is only through sustained dialogue that we can be build resilience, respect and inclusion in our campus community.  

Donald P. Christian, President
Tanhena Pacheco Dunn, Chief Diversity Officer

+  From Associate Vice President and Director of the Benjamin Center, Dr. Gerald Benjamin - July 18, 2018

Sent: July 18, 2018, 9:43 a.m.

Dear Colleagues and Co-workers:

I have worked at SUNY New Paltz for fifty years in several capacities, and have a deep attachment to the school and the diverse community we have built here. I am therefore very sorry for any unintended distress caused by my remarks in yesterday’s NY Times interview, published today in the print edition.

These remarks  (https://www.nytimes.com/2018/07/17/us/politics/antonio-delgado-lyrics.html) have been condemned as racist. I had no racist intent but understand the impact of those remarks, and regret having made them.

I sought to make two points in this interview. The first was that race is never irrelevant to American politics, and that this is especially the case when an African American candidate is running against a white candidate in a largely white district. The second was that the Republican use of his background as a rap artist was an attempt to open a cultural gap between Mr. Delgado and the majority of the district’s population.

I made these points badly. My remarks were insufficiently precise, my points poorly articulated and my language very insensitive and therefore subject to multiple interpretations.  I particularly regret the casual use of the phrase “people like us” to describe rural upstate New Yorkers. This language is over general, exclusionary and, I see in retrospect, evokes racist connotations.

Academics should stick to what they know. I react negatively to racially charged, violence-inducing misogynistic lyrics I have heard, but knew virtually nothing about rap music as a form of affirmative artistic and cultural expression. I was therefore particularly in error and professionally inappropriate in generalizing from a casually informed point of view, and in doing so turning what should have been an analytic statement into a very badly informed personal one.

I am honored to head a regional public policy research center named for me that does important work to advance social equity, political accountability and environmental justice. My talented colleagues in the Center, especially because it is named for me, fear that my comments in the Times will jeopardize their opportunity to continue this important work. I urge that colleagues and citizens understand that my remarks were not representative of the Center and its staff, and I ask you to continue to value our work on its merits.

I deeply regret my comments and apologize for any unintended offense they may have engendered and for any harm caused to our institution, to which I have devoted my professional life.

Gerald Benjamin
Director - The Benjamin Center
Distinguished Professor - Political Science
Associate Vice President - Regional Engagement