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Students protest ‘racist’ TikTok post and other bias-related incidents


Students, staff and alumni gathered on Thursday, Dec 2. to protest what they believe to be the systemic way SUNY Brockport minimizes racist incidents on campus and to voice their concerns over the campus climate in the areas of equity, diversity and inclusion. 

The protest was partly in response to a TikTok post with racist language reportedly posted by a SUNY Brockport student. According to SUNY Brockport student Antony Santana, who helped organize the protest, the TikTok post is part of a much bigger problem. 

“The college is trying to put everything under one collective issue and to brush it off,” Santana said. “This is a culture. It’s not just one isolated incident.” 

The protestors were shoulder-to-shoulder in the Seymour College Union before marching to one specific location- President Heidi Macpherson’s home. They shouted for her to “Come outside,” as an expression of their dissatisfaction with her absence at the rally.

College’s response to the TikTok post

Macpherson affirmed her commitment to equity, diversity and inclusion in an email on Friday, Dec. 3.

“The events of this past week and incidents of racism and bias that have been reported this semester have caused tremendous pain,” Macpherson wrote. “It pains me to know our students, especially our BIPOC students, have been harmed by such acts and don’t feel supported on campus. This is not the Brockport experience that I want for you, nor is it the Brockport experience that you deserve.”

She invites students to open office hours next Thursday at 1 p.m. and Friday at 2:30 p.m. in the Union to discuss their concerns with the recent events.

Damita Davis, SUNY Brockport’s Chief Diversity Officer (CDO), said in an email on Thursday, Dec 2 that racist language is contradictory to the college’s values as outlined in the Better Community Statement. She said members of the bias team are working towards a resolution to the various cases and will investigate every alleged claim in an appropriate and timely manner. 

Regarding the TikTok post, Davis says the college must uphold students’ First Amendment right to free speech.

“SUNY Brockport is legally required to uphold the First Amendment rights afforded to all United States citizens and members of this community,” Davis wrote. “This includes a person’s right to post what they choose on their personal social media sites. However, SUNY Brockport stands against hate speech in any form.” 

According to Davis, the First Amendment protects one’s right to say what they want but does not protect those who threaten others with violence. 

Former CDO and alumnus on campus leadership

Former SUNY Brockport CDO Cephas Archie Ph.D., whose firing in January 2020 prompted speculations of racism, came to support the students. 

“I have to acknowledge that I am disappointed because as much as I’ve heard about all the great updates and programs, trainings and strategic initiatives, the people who make the decisions were not here tonight,” Archie said. “If this is so important, where are you when it matters most? Your actions speak so loud that often the people cannot hear the words you say.”

Vince Felder is a SUNY Brockport alumnus and former president of both Brockport Student Government (BSG) and the Organization for Students of African Descent (OSAD). He currently serves as the Monroe County Minority Leader.  

Felder helped draft one of SUNY Brockport’s first community statements nearly 20 years ago and has kept up with all the college’s directives since. He says he has yet to see any of the diversity and inclusion initiatives successfully implemented at SUNY Brockport. 

“All those things are nice on paper, they look good, you can say we have this and this in place but at the end of the day, as long as you have students who don’t feel that is real, because their experience is telling them something different, and you have faculty and staff who have a different experience, then it’s not real,” Felder said. 

Archie says incidents at Brockport impact Rochester

As the Chief Equity Officer of the City of Rochester, Archie said his motivation for attending the protest was to clarify how what happens at SUNY Brockport impacts Rochester. Archie says Rochester depends on places like Brockport and the college plays a critical role in helping to change the climate of poverty in the city. 

“We send our kids here,” Archie said. “They come from many different cultural backgrounds, socio-economic statuses, abilities, sexualities, ethnicities and races and so we depend on places like Brockport to help us create an environment that is conducive to learning for all. That’s how we change poverty in Rochester, by getting them degrees, qualified and credentialed, so that they are able to go back and make a sustainable living for themselves.” 

Chair of the faculty and staff of color interest group at Brockport (FSOCIG), William Turner Ph.D., says he believes one of the ways the college can implement processes that make real change is by filling leadership positions with diverse people. 

“We must have diverse persons hearing biased incidents and not persons who themselves have been implicated and committing racist incidents,” Turner said. “We need a reform of the university campus police. There are incidents where lieutenants and officers are engaging in racist, biased incidents and that’s problematic.”

According to Turner, the college should take corrective action against the student who reportedly posted the racist TikTok video. Turner says he believes it aligns with the student code of conduct to reprimand a student for social media posts that traumatize people of color.

However, as stated in Davis’s email, SUNY Brockport is legally required to uphold the First Amendment rights of their students which includes their right to post what they chose on their personal social media platforms.

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