In recent weeks, a tweet published by MCC student and Hilton High School graduate Wil Forberg has been the cause of massive criticism and controversy on campus. The tweet read, “shout out to the n***** at mcc who vandalized my confederate flag… you’ll be a white mans property soon enough give trump time.” The 124-character tweet has opened up Pandora’s box and initiated immense debate on various topics, spanning from race and inclusion to diversity and implicit-bias. Due to FERPA, aka the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act that protects any student’s record from public knowledge, MCC and Kress were unable to comment on the status of the student’s enrollment and punishment for the tweet. The student who Forberg referred to in the tweet who vandalized his confederate bumper sticker, was unable to comment due to the sensitivity of the matter.
SEGA Requests Apology
In a recent report from SEGA’s President Daniel Skerritt to Faculty Senate President Amanda Colosimo, Skerritt stated that SEGA held an open forum at the Downtown Campus on October 18. During the forum, students voiced their concerns about how MCC President Anne Kress handled the tweet incident that has unfolded in recent weeks.
In his email, Skerritt said, “they were discussing ways to ease the tension between Administration and the student body.” Skerritt went on to say, “students shared they believe the first step would be a public apology from the Administration.”
Many forums and forum-like events have been held since news broke of the racist tweet posted by MCC student Wil Forberg on September 28. The forums were an opportunity for students, faculty, and staff to express themselves and be heard by their community in hopes change would come. To the disappointment of many, they only felt let down by the college.
Students are not the only ones who are upset with the college’s response. Some faculty and staff members have been outspoken in their opposition of the college’s stance and response to the incident.
Demario Brantley, a Sociology professor at MCC, has been one of the leading voices pushing for change. In a panel interview segment of Connections with Evan Dawson, WXXI on October 4, Brantley, when asked if he was satisfied with college’s response, said, “initially I was not very satisfied.”
The dissatisfaction does not stop there- Colosimo was not pleased with the college’s initial response either, saying “to be honest, I was disappointed by the initial response both on Spectrum TV News and also the first post that showed up on the MCC Facebook page. I was disheartened that the word racism wasn’t in any of the college’s initial responses.” In the same WXXI panel, Kress reaffirmed her stance on the issue from previous interviews she did earlier that week. Kress said, “hard cases make bad law. We can’t break the practice and the rules for this student because we protect the rights of all our students even if they do things that we find things reprehensible.” Kress went on to say, “my call to the college community, to faculty, to staff, is where did we fail to live out our values for this student?” The community took this statement as “shifting the responsibility” from the administration to the college staff.
Christal Knight, Co-President of the Black Student Union at MCC, said “you can lead them to the water but you can’t make them drink it. It didn’t matter what the school’s values were, he didn’t uphold them.” When further questioned about her statement and the community’s thoughts on it, Kress said, “I would say that’s not what I did and I would say we have repeatedly indicated that this individual is responsible for his own speech.”
In response to Kress’ statement, Colosimo said, “there are ways MCC can be better and so this was not in my opinion a way to build community and to move forward by going on public radio and saying negative things about the very people who could fix this problem and work on this problem.”
Following the panel on Connections with Evan Dawson, WXXI, Kress released an email that outlined an action plan following the criticism from the tweet. In the 18-point action plan released on October 9, Kress set out to achieve three main goals: preventing, identifying, and responding to bias; improving inclusiveness and equity; and building a shared understanding of our rights and responsibilities. Within these goals were individual steps that would be led by big-name administrators such as President Kress herself, Faculty Senate President Amanda Colosimo, and Vice President for Student Services and part-time Chief Diversity Officer Lloyd Holmes.
The college community’s response to the email was one that produced more questions than answers. One question that professors, faculty, and students were all asking was “why didn’t we just respond with the procedures we already have in place for something like this?” In an interview with Kress, she responded to the criticism by saying “I think we did. As much as we’ve done (the community), we heard from students, we heard from faculty, that it’s not enough. And I think that’s the direction I think we need to go in.”
Much to her surprise, Colosimo’s name was listed to spearhead initiatives four times within the email. Prior to receiving the email, Colosimo had no knowledge that she would oversee these action initiatives, saying “I was reading the Trib (Tribune) in the morning and I was very surprised to see my name several times.”
In response to Kress’ action plan, the African American Affinity Group, or 3AG, released their own revision of the plan, making it more action based and less reshaping and reinventing structures we already have in place. The 3AG twenty one-point plan consists mostly of making the college campus more inclusive and diverse by changing aspects from within their own group to help stimulate outside change, stating, “the goal is unification, not division. This is not easy work, but it is necessary.”
Weeks after the incident, SUNY Chief Diversity Officer and Vice Chancellor Carlos Medina made a visit to MCC, per request of the college to assess the situation. On November 3, MCC released Medina’s recommendations for the college. In the recommendation, Medina’s first point stated, “serious consideration should be given to hiring a Chief Diversity Officer (CDO) on a full-time basis.” Medina’s recommendations were not only a clear and definitive answer for those at unrest, but gave most hope for change very soon.
Medina focused heavily on rebuilding aspects of Human Resources, Education and Professional Development, and Student based initiatives. Following the release of Medina’s recommendations, Kress attended a BSU meeting to talk to the club about what will be happening in the future and hear their concerns with the situation overall. The meeting between the President and the BSU was one of understanding and progress, and also came with the announcement of a new multi-cultural center for the Downtown Campus to increase inclusion and diversity. The new multi-cultural center is still in early planning and has no solidified completion date.
When asked in regard to the college’s first response, Kress admitted, “we probably didn’t come out of the gate the way we should’ve.” Kress then took the chance to respond to the news of SEGA requesting a public apology, saying “it may have already been issued, we’re issuing an apology, I’m issuing an apology on my behalf but also talking about the real work that needs to happen.”
MCC is set to have a full-time Chief Diversity Officer by the Fall 2018 semester.