Diversity & Inclusion Council convenes forums for Hasbrouck Complex naming dialogue

A broad cross-section of SUNY New Paltz stakeholders, including current students, alumni, faculty, local residents, descendants of Huguenot families and representatives of Historic Huguenot Street, took advantage of an opportunity to have their voices heard at one of two Hasbrouck Complex community forums on Jan. 25 and 26.

The forums were hosted by the College’s Diversity & Inclusion Council. President Donald P. Christian has charged the Council with leading a campus dialogue about buildings named for the Huguenot families who bought land from the Esopus-Munsee indigenous peoples and founded the Village of New Paltz. Some members of those families owned enslaved persons during the period when slavery was legal in New York State.

Each of the forums began with an introduction to the history of SUNY New Paltz that touched on the role that the Huguenot families played in establishing, supporting and financing the educational institutions that later became SUNY New Paltz.

The introduction also addressed the history of the buildings in question and their naming, some points about current SUNY naming policies.

The final decisions about naming or changing the names of buildings do not rest with the Diversity & Inclusion Council or anyone else at the campus level. However, these forums are instrumental to the Council’s goal of fostering an inclusive dialogue that informs the final report, and helps educate the community about the College’s history and contemporary approaches to understanding that history.

“This discussion will draw attention from audiences beyond our university, and others will be watching our process and its outcome,” said Diversity & Inclusion Council member, EOP Advisor and New Paltz alumna Jessica Purcell ’04 (Psychology) ’09g (Mental Health Counseling).

“We have an opportunity here to be a model for how these discussions take place, and how these issues are addressed across the country and throughout the world.”

The Council then ceded the floor so that audience members could share thoughts about the buildings and their names. Speakers were allotted two opportunities to speak uninterrupted for up to two minutes at a time, with audience commentary making up more than one hour of each 90-minute forum.

Dozens of speakers registered their opinions over the course of the two forums. Their comments were filmed and the videos will soon be posted on the College’s Diversity & Inclusion website.

Community members who were unable to attend one of the forums are invited to send written feedback before Feb. 28 to dandicouncil@newpaltz.edu. This commentary will help inform the on-going work of the Diversity & Inclusion Council as they continue gathering information and public opinion about the building names.

The Council has planned a number of additional events this semester, including conversations in residence halls, a group visit to Historic Huguenot Street, and a Black History Month speaker and film screenings.

In March, Council members will begin synthesizing their findings into a report on the Hasbrouck Complex building names, which is due to President Christian by April 16, 2018.

More information about the Hasbrouck Complex community dialogue, including President Christian’s charge to the Council and detailed event information, can be accessed at http://www.newpaltz.edu/diversity/hasbrouck-dialogue/overview/.