Kaitlyn Tambasco, Tangerine Clerk
The UC Moose Snapchat story is new this year and gives students the ability to post their “snaps” throughout their day. On Friday, Sept. 29, two photos were posted on that story and started a controversy marking the third racially sensitive incident at the college this year.
The first photo showed two white students eating upstairs in the dining hall. In front of them was a sign that said “Whites Only, we are privileged.” The second photo showed two black students behind a sign that said “Black Student Section.” Within hours, the pictures were shared on Facebook as well as other social media platforms.
The overall reaction from the college community was negative and caused a lot of uproar with both students and faculty. A decision on whether or not the students will face disciplinary action from the college will come on Friday, Oct. 6, according to the students involved.
The college did not release the names of the four students involved in the incident, said Jeffery Gates, senior vice president of student life and enrollment. Two of the students involved in the incident spoke to the Tangerine under the condition of anonymity because they are concerned about their safety.
The students said what transpired was part of an “ill-conceived joke” and all four parties left the breakfast in good spirits. It wasn’t until a few were notified by campus safety that they realized many who saw the photos did not think they were funny.
It began when the students asked a female friend questions, which started to “annoy” her. The question “is it because I’m black?” was then thrown into play.
“It also just coincidentally occurred that the African-American students sat across from each other and the Caucasian students were across from each other,” one student said. “We separated the tables to add to the joke; but they weren’t even a foot apart.”
That’s when one student made the signs – as an extension of the joke. The photos were put on the UC Moose Snapchat, but once one of the students received a call from campus safety, the photos were removed.
The four students met with campus safety to give statements about the incident.
“The apology that was included in the president’s letter was not staged,” one of the students said. “We actually got together and wrote that.”
Two of the students wrote the apology from Gates’ computer. The white students were not present when writing the apology, which was highlighted in President Laura Casamento’s memo to the Utica College community.
“We appreciate that the students came forward and have taken responsibility for their ill-conceived actions, and I ask that members of the college community to allow the judicial process to move forward,” Casamento said in that memo.
The students reflected on a few past experiences on campus. While they are proud of the diversity displayed at UC, one has been on the receiving end of racial slurs prior to the incident.
“I grew up with all different families and I lived with caucasians,” one student said. “I dealt with racial slurs, I was called the N word back then and have been called that on this campus, but I learned to handle it and not let it bother me.”
“We didn’t mean for everything to get out of proportion,” the other student said. “We don’t want to give off the vibe that we are racist. We both have built tolerance against hate and don’t consider ourselves to be racist.”
Both students also remarked that they were advised by campus safety to stay off campus last weekend.
“I didn’t go to class on Monday or Tuesday,” one of the students said. “This was on my mind all weekend and I was just afraid about what was going to happen – if anything.”
The students went on to say they are big believers in diversity and volunteer for a variety of different organizations off campus.
“I’m proud of the diversity at UC,” one student remarked “I think it’s so cool to learn about different cultures.”
Both agreed that they meant no harm in this situation and that it was just a joke gone wrong. However, they feel the incident drew more attention than needed.
“I felt like we committed murder,” one of the students remarked. “(We) can both agree on that.”
The students both said they are planning on publicly apologizing the campus and will have a conversation with anyone who would like to talk about the matter, but they will not stand for being attacked.
Weekend conversations on campus
On Friday Sept. 29, members of the Black Student Union held an evening meeting for all organization leaders and faculty members in the Boehlert Conference room to discuss what happened and give students more information on the incident.
Many students vented frustration about another racially charged incident taking place on campus.
“I feel like this incident degrades all of our efforts,” Utica College student Alexia Colacicco said. “We just had a unity walk a few week ago. I thought we were making progress.”
Junior Hermina Garic also added that she is tired of just talking about diversity.
“I want action,” Garic said. “Professors need to talk to students about these things. They need to be aware that these things do happen.”
Some other students didn’t take this incident as a joke and considered it hurtful.
The conversation shifted to how officials handled the situation. Many students agreed that they were happy the administration was taking action, however they felt the issue was being swiftly swept under the rug.
Senior and Black Student Union student adviser Patricia Gortman then shared why she is passionate about diversity and racism.
“I joined the Black Student Union and wanted change,” Gortman said. “Racism is as American as baseball. We need to educate others on why racism shouldn’t be happening as well as ways to overcome it.”
Following this event, Gortman and BSU President Gianna Boone held a community conversation on Saturday, Sept. 30 in Strebel Lounge. They opened up the floor for students to share their feelings and opinions after they saw the pictures of the signs.
“It was personally very difficult for me,” Utica College student Joshua Henry said. “I felt a lot of anger and tension.
Henry also remarked about how the Unity Walk held earlier in the semester was a big step.
Lauren Crandall, area coordinator at the Ramada and Burrstone House, related this incident to bullying.
“It’s frustrating in a lot of ways,” Crandall said. “People do not realize that these so called ‘jokes’ can hurt people. Social media can be very dangerous.”
Talking diversity at Utica College
Utica College’s image after numerous events regarding racism and other prejudice was another topic of conversation.
Utica College Senior Tanelli Davis also contributed to this topic.
“I’m a little disappointed because we are supposed to be a diverse community,” Davis said. “Now, this is what people are going to see when they look at Utica College. Something needs to be done about social media.”
The night’s conversation then turned to how the college can incorporate diversity into the college’s curriculum. Most students agreed that finding a way to incorporate diversity into all of the majors would be very beneficial.
Garic agrees with this statement.
“We all have to take two science classes while in our career as a Utica college student,” Garic said. “I like science, but studying physics will not impact me in my life – diversity will. Diversity is going to impact me.”
Assistant Professor of History Clemmie Harris feels there is more segregation today than there was in 1968. He also referred to racism as a social cancer.
“We need to recognize the power of change and lay down the legacy,” he said. “Having a woman as president of this institution is a step in the right direction.”
Boone ended the night by challenging everyone there to go out and make someone’s day, which received a very good response from both Utica College students and faculty.
After the discussion was over, Casamento spoke about diversity.
“Our world is diverse, diversity is more than just race,” Casamento said. “It’s how we learn about the world. We need to learn how to live in a diverse world.”
Casamento said the college is planning more events to discuss diversity, such as speaker series and anti-racism trainings. She feels when students hold diversity talks there is a different outcome.
“We need to work more to be more involved in diversity, and that starts with influencing diversity into our curriculum,” Casamento said.
Anyone with ideas about how Utica College can incorporate more diversity in the community can contact [email protected]