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Monday, May 20, 2013

Frat Incident Brings About Open Meeting To Address Issues


ROTA Studio and Gallery recently held an open meeting to discuss issues facing both the community and the campus.

On Saturday evening, April 27, the Take Back the Night march, an event to raise awareness of violence against women, passed by an off-campus fraternity house.  Someone called the marchers "sluts."

This incident raised a number of issues that were addressed at an open meeting held at ROTA Saturday evening.  Coordinated by ROTA Vice President Matt Hall the forum was open to citizens and officials.

Representing Plattsburgh State University were Arlene M. Sabo, Chief of the university police department; Bryan Hartman, Vice President of Student Affairs; and Lynda J. Ames, Ph.D., Professor of Sociology and Affirmative Action Officer.

A circle of chairs gave the participants a comfortable setting to discuss various topics. 

ROTA member and former PSU student Sarah Martin questioned the university's message to students regarding gender discrimination and violence.

When she attended orientation for new students a PSU official spoke about diversity but not much about gender discrimination.  Sarah stressed that the responsibility for avoiding incidents is always placed on female students.

 "When you look at the things that talk about rape prevention, messages to girls like 'Don't go to these areas,'... 'Don't leave your drink out,' -- very true," she observed.  "But culturally we need to start shifting to 'Hey, guys, don't rape girls."

Matt agreed with her.  While growing up, he said, he never heard any messages about the proper attitude he should have as a male towards woman.

He realized that PSU was doing what it could with the resources it had but thought the college should work more with the community.  ROTA could be one place to help to get out the message about gender issues, taking on more responsibility with other community organizations and businesses.

Professor Lynda Ames said that one problem faced by PSU is that some students don't want to change.  While getting information out was important, sometimes it was preaching to the choir.  She added the college would be conducting workshops on how to report an incident.

Sarah praised PSU Gender and Women’s Studies Department Chair Simona Sharoni, one of the Take Back the Night marchers, for using Facebook to raise awareness of the frat name-calling incident.  "It's fantastic she spoke up, saying 'No, this is not OK.'"

Student Affairs VP Bryan Hartman said that the college must respect free speech rights even when that speech is hurtful.  At the same time the fraternity mentioned in the incident, AXP, was under judicial review.


Three representatives from Plattsburgh State University attended the open forum held recently at ROTA on community-college problems.  [Left to right]: Chief Arlene M. Sabo, PSU Police Department; Lynda J. Ames, Professor  of Sociology and Affirmative Action Officer; Bryan Hartman, Vice President for Students Affairs.

One topic was how PSU was handling certain incidents and how what appeared to be a lack of any response was leaving in some people's minds the impression the college didn't care.  Sarah mentioned the brutal off campus beating of Chris Rigsbee and his girlfriend by a group of students, most who were members of a campus sports team, back in November 2010.  The victim, she said, had teeth knocked out.

Chief Sabo explained that since the situation occurred off campus, handled by the city PD, PSU was limited in what could be done.

After the meeting wrapped up I spoke with Chief Sabo about the beating incident.

"Here's the process we have with any student that is arrested in the city of Plattsburgh," she said.  "The city police review those records with us and they send us copies of the arrest reports of students.  So if it is a misdemeanor or felony, our police department [PSU] uses the city's evidence on the charge, not the outcome, sends it to our campus judicial [department]."

Action can only be taken if the charge is a felony or a misdemeanor, she explained.

As I've documented at this blog, the only person arrested in the Rigsbee gang assault was let off only with a violation after an "extensive" investigation by the Plattsburgh City Police Department.  The perp was charged with just harassment for kicking, stomping and knocking out teeth of an innocent passerby.

"Harassment" victim Chris Rigsbee.

The ROTA forum raised more awareness for PSU officials about public relations problems it has with certain incidents involving its students.

Plans were made at the end of the meeting for another open meeting in September.

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