Upstate SUNY college president tackling harassment of minority students

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Onondaga Community College President Casey Crabill (Photo: OCC website)

An upstate community college within the State University of New York system, which prides itself on its diversity, is troubled by incidents of harassment of minority students, including Muslims, on campus. The president has condemned the incidents and said those engaging in such acts have been identified and will be dealt with.

On its website, Onondaga Community College President Casey Crabill says her institution “is proud to serve students from all around the world. We know that this diversity enriches the educational experience for all of us.”

That mantra appears not to have been absorbed by all the student community, going by the letter she sent out to the campus community March 8, a copy of which was provided to Desi Talk.

“I am disturbed to report to you that I have been made aware that some of our Muslim students and some of our students of color recently experienced disparaging treatment on our campus,” Crabill says in her letter.  “Some of this treatment has been aggressive-  name calling and threats.  Students have been called “terrorist” or told to “Go back where you came from.”  Some students report being followed by the name callers in an attempt to intimidate.  Other treatment has been more passive, including behavior that was witnessed by others with no intervention,” Crabill notes.  In a television interview to WSYR and Time Warner Cable, on March 9, an audio of which was provided to Desi Talk, Crabill said she found the instances “deeply troubling” and added, “This is something my colleagues have been dealing with around the country,” and that there appears to be a “resurgence,” of such instances of harassment.

The words used in the verbal harassment, mirror those used against Indian-Americans and others around the country and preceded violent attacks even causing death. Srinivas Kuchibhotla, an Indian techie, was murdered by Alan Purinton Feb. 22, in a bar in Olathe, Kansas after he questioned Kuchibhotla and his friend Alok Madasani, about their visa status and told them to get out of the country. Madasani and bystander Ian Grillot who intervened to help, were hurt but  survived the attack.

The same words were used in a shooting attack on Deep Singh Rai, in Kent, Washington, in his own driveway. He was shot in the arm and is recovering from his injuries. The motive in the death of an Indian-American man in his own driveway in South Carolina is still to be determined.

“Given the tone of our national discussion, perhaps this is not surprising, but I want you to know – directly from me- that this condition is absolutely unacceptable,” Crabill says in her letter. “When this type of behavior is witnessed but left unchallenged, it can create the notion-  for both the victim and the aggressor-  that the college somehow condones it.  More importantly, it can exacerbate the victim’s sense of insecurity and fear,” Crabill says.

Such behavior runs counter to OCC’s values, she said. Crabill has moved to act quickly to introduce additional awareness programs. “To help prepare us better to step in when needed, we are arranging training for those among us who want to learn some tools to deal with a situation in which we witness an incident of harassment or threatening behavior.”

According to its website, OCC has some 500 international students from 60 countries enrolled. They include students who are here on a non-immigration visa – F-1 student visa and ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) students, referred to as those who are eligible to establish permanent residency in the United States through their immigrant and refugee status. The OCC spokesperson could not provide a breakdown of students by country of origin by press time. According to data from the Communitycollegereview.com, OCC has a total student population of 12,271 students, 52 percent of whom are fulltime. Minority enrollment makes up 22 percent of the student body, of which the majority is Black.

 

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