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Collegewide Forum on Race and Policing Opens an Important Discussion

Layla Abdullah-Poulos ‘10, graduate student, SUNY Empire State College

April 3, 2015

Attendees at Collegewide Forum on Race and Policing

Panelists and participants gather at the Long Island Location for the collegewide forum

In an effort to generate a dialogue about issues surrounding law enforcement and people of color across social lines, SUNY Empire State College hosted the Forum on Race and Policing: Issues, Progressions, Comments. The forum was a concerted project between college faculty, students and members of the surrounding communities across New York state.

The primary question posed by the forum asked, “How can New Yorkers best respond to the racial tensions that have surfaced in the aftermath of recent national events, such as racial profiling, police brutality, and the deaths of marginalized peoples?” Panelists addressed historical, social and political factors that contribute to tensions. When asked about the significance of the event, Dr. Rhianna Rogers, an instructor at Empire State College’s School for Graduate Studies, explained that it served as a way to open an uncomfortable, and often avoided, discussion. “One of the things that was really unique about this experience was that it placed people in an uncomfortable situation, where roles were reversed, and led to some pretty interesting questions.” Rogers also observed that the forum bridged a gap between the college and its students. “This was an organic project that grew out of the students. We are showcasing students across the college.”

Associate Dean of the Metropolitan Location, Cathy Leaker, Ph.D., one of the event’s organizers, expounded how the forum demonstrates SUNY Empire State College’s academic excellence among its student body. “I want to applaud the committee for their decision to let students provide the lead voices in this event,” explained Leaker. “It was wonderful to see our students shine; in this sense, too, this event showed the college at its best.”

Student Panelists at Collegewide Forum on Race and Policing

Left to right: E. Reginald Pope, student; Michael Spitzer, dean of Long Island Location; Layla Abdullah-Poulos, graduate student; and Frances Boyce, mentor, Long Island Location

Student panelists included: Layla Abdullah-Poulos ‘10, president of Minority Students in Action; Carolyn Massey, student at the Genesee Valley Region; E. Reginald Pope, vice president of Minority Students in Action; and Omar Richards, Co-Chair of Empire State Education for All. Center for Distance Learning adjunct Alfred Medina also served on the panel. At the Long Island Location, Donovan and Joan Howell, whose son Kyle was beaten by two police officers, voiced their son’s experience. Mr. Howell shared with the audience the psychical abuse and emotional distress their son suffered at the hands of officers. After the panelists presented their diverse perspectives, they fielded questions by the audience.

E. Reginald Pope, who is pursuing a Bachelor of Science in Psychology, expressed the importance of the forum from a student’s perspective. “The forum was excellent and well represented by the speakers. The subject content about systemic racism and the impact that it has on African-Americans and People of Color was absolutely phenomenal.”

Many students expressed that they felt empowered that the college was recognizing the need to address important social issues and anticipation for future events. This sentiment also was held by faculty and staff. Aimee Woznick, director of Academic Support Services at the Niagara Frontier Location, noted the professional treatment of the issue. “I want to congratulate all the facilitators and speakers on doing such an excellent job tackling such a politically and emotionally charged –and important– issue,” says Woznick. “I hope we can do something like this again soon!”

The Forum on Race and Policing: Issues, Progressions, Comments is potentially the first of many events where SUNY Empire State College provides its diverse and dynamic student population an opportunity to apply their multifaceted learning to analyze pertinent social issues.

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