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Snapchat bigot: Looking at a story of racism

by The Stylus
Tue, Feb 27th 2018 07:00 pm
Racism is alive and well in America, so much so that racists feel comfortable enough to take their bigotry to social media, spouting it loud and proud. Students at SUNY Plattsburgh, however, were less than compliant when the administration responded by doing nothing about racism on campus.
Elliott LaPoint/EDITORIAL CARTOONIST Racism is alive and well in America, so much so that racists feel comfortable enough to take their bigotry to social media, spouting it loud and proud. Students at SUNY Plattsburgh, however, were less than compliant when the administration responded by doing nothing about racism on campus.

It’s 2018: why do we still have to remind people being racist is not okay?

SUNY Plattsburgh and members of its administration have come under fire due to a racist Snapchat from first-year student Maria Gates – a picture of the student and her boyfriend with the caption, “lynching n*****s tonight.”

The picture was shared to a Snapchat group and was screenshotted by one of the members, who recognized the picture as being offensive and threatening. While the picture itself was reportedly sent in January, it didn’t gain attention until February, and that’s when it really hit the fan.

Before we get into students’ reactions, though, let’s remember the situation they were dealing with. The message, besides being strongly racist, carried a very specific threat. Students felt threatened. Students were threatened. Combining this with the history of racism in Plattsburgh, which will be addressed later in this article, the students were in a vulnerable, emotional state, with anger and the call to action brewing within them. While some of the actions taken by the students may be perceived as extreme, whether they are or aren’t isn’t the big issue surrounding this incident. The issue is the racism that continues to fester within our modern society.

Students of Plattsburgh organized a forum for community members and students alike to come and voice their thoughts on the issue after everyone had been infromed. Peaceful protests began, according to North Country Public Radio (NCPR), which involved students missing their classes and jobs in order to show their dissatisfaction with the administration’s inaction at the time. 

The students also asked for the resignation of President John Ettling and Chief Diversity Officer J.W. Wiley, among other members of the administration.

The protesters believed that the administration hadn’t done enough to combat racism in the past, and as days passed without any perceived action taking place, students lost all hope in Ettling and Wiley. As said by Wiley himself, students’ strong reactions have developed from fear, a fear that has manifested in the town of Plattsburgh. 

According to Wiley, as he told The Press Republican, students have also reported racial epithets being yelled from cars, “graffiti displaying dysfunctional language” and “trucks with Confederate flags menacing students by hurling obscenities as they drive up” are all instances where the administration has failed to provide strong leadership.

Strong leadership at these times is essential. If the administration had stepped up and taken care of the situation immediately, it wouldn’t have landed in the hot water it currently finds itself in. But after days of waiting for confirmation that the racist student had been dealt with accordingly, the other students got anxious.

Even now, after Gates has been removed from the campus, the administration still refuses to be hard on this topic. At first, the only word on the status of the woman was that the student was “still enrolled in the college but not on campus,” according to NCPR. Then, a spokesman for the college, Ken Knelly, finally said that ‘Maria’ was no longer enrolled in the college, but he couldn’t give a solid answer on whether she was expelled or left voluntarily.

One would think Plattsburgh would learn how to handle these situations, too, considering they had another terrible racist incident just two years ago.

In 2015, the Plattsburgh student-run newspaper Cardinal Points published an offensive cartoon in one of their issues. The image depicted a black student in a graduation cap and gown, walking in a very run-down “ghetto” neighborhood, according to NCPR. In the wake of that, members of the newspaper stepped down, and the administration rushed to send “we’re on your side” messages to affected students.

“In my 11, going on 12 years here, I have never seen such a spontaneous and widespread outpouring of anger and hurt as this cartoon has triggered,” President Ettling said.

While there was a small response from the administration in regards to the Snapchat post, it simply wasn’t enough. When students are being racially threatened and discriminated against, it’s a no-brainer: someone has to go. And since the administration refused to admit it should be the student, the students put the pressure on the administration.

Here at The College at Brockport, we’re no strangers to racist incidents. Back in 2015 the college faced a slew of racially charged slurs and threats on the anonymous social media platform, YikYak. The current president at the time, John Halstead, responded to these by first emailing students to, essentially, remain civil, before sending a letter to YikYak in an attempt to have the company modify or shut down the app.

Then again, in 2016, Brockport faced more racially-based harassment. “N*****s deserve to die” was written on a whiteboard outside of a dorm room. President Heidi Macpherson was even quicker to the punch than Halstead, sending out an email that stated both that University Police were looking into the incident, as well as emphasizing her distaste for the racism.

In both of these situations, Brockport students took action and voiced their thoughts. However, they didn’t rise against the administration. While in the first case students did agree that the administration should have done more, the fact they did anything substantial at all held value for the students.

Moving away from the administration, the fact that anyone felt like they could post something like that on social media, and suffer no consequences, is outrageous. It’s been decades of desegregation, yet racism still persists.

Not only that, but we as a culture seem to have moved back in time. People have created safe spaces for racism to brew and fester. Racist people should feel embarrassed to make racist remarks, and have to worry every waking moment about not screwing up and showing their true, twisted colors. 

Instead, we have people blatantly sending a threatening message without batting an eye. Without proper consequences, racists get bold.

Even in a story as negative as this, there are heroes. The students who have stepped up and aren’t afraid to fight back against the hate are powerful, and exactly what this generation is made out of. 

While we at The Stylus are at odds on exactly to what degree the students should have protested, we can all agree that the power these students hold is what will shape the future of our country.

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