Discriminatory acts spur investigation by University, New York State Police

The campus community has experienced multiple incidents of discrimination following the presidential election, including swastika graffiti in Nassau Residence Hall, offensive text messages and voicemails that were received by students and inappropriate messages found in the key-card access labs of the Geography Department. President Battles held a discussion called “Campus Convening” on Wednesday Nov. 16 to discuss the college’s values and how such offenses are not tolerated.

Geneseo has seen an increase in incidents deemed discriminatory, prompting a response from campus administrators and an investigation by the University Police Department and New York State Police. The first episode occurred on campus after a Residence Assistant reported graffiti in a Nassau Residence Hall common area, which included a Swastika with the word “Trump!” written underneath it. The University Police Department, New York State Police and the State Division of Human Rights are still investigating the graffiti incident and have not determined whether it constitutes a hate crime, according to Chief of the University Police Department Thomas Kilcullen.

“SUNY Geneseo’s police are taking the lead on this investigation, with some assistance from New York State Police and the State Division of Human Rights. The resources that the state has contributed to the investigation indicates the governor is serious about dealing with the situation,” Kilcullen said. “There are campus police investigating the situation by talking to people and figuring out what happened. We have a tip line for students to call in if they have any information or see anything else happen.”

Gov. Andrew Cuomo started to create a toll-free hotline on Wednesday Nov. 16 so that discrimination cases can be reported, according to an article in the Livingston County News.

New York State considers the swastika a symbol of hate and its placement in a public area is a crime, according to Vice President for Student and Campus Life Robert Bonfiglio.

“To draw a swastika in a public place like that is a crime in New York State. That doesn’t fall under the hate crimes law—that falls under a different law in New York State,” he said. “To prove something is a hate crime, you have to prove that the crime was committed against a particular person and it was committed against a particular person because of who they are. That’s what the police are investigating.”

The college and University Police Department did not initially break the news of the graffiti incident to the public, according to Bonfiglio. The Livingston County News contacted the college asking for a statement from the administration, and the college is unaware where the news source originally received their information, Bonfiglio added.

Further discriminatory cases on campus include offensive text and voicemail messages that have been sent to students, which refer to these individuals’ race and religion, as well as the occurrence of inappropriate post-election incidents in the Geography Department’s key-card access labs.

The inappropriate text and voicemail messages are not believed to be connected with the swastika incident, according to Kilcullen.

Bonfiglio believes the election climate may have caused some students to feel unsafe on campus.

“I think that there were some things that were said during the election campaign by both candidates that people found troubling, but certainly some individuals feel that one of the candidates made statements that made them feel particularly personally vulnerable,” Bonfiglio said. “I think that you can be supportive of a candidate and ignore those kinds of statements or you can take those kinds of statements very seriously and very personally, and so there is a certain accountability that comes from making statements like that. People have to be prepared to be held accountable for those.”

Battles, cabinet members and student campus leaders hosted a Campus Convening event on Wednesday Nov. 16 in order to discuss the swastika graffiti and inappropriate phone calls and voicemails, as well as to reaffirm the college’s values.

Battles began the discussion by condemning the swastika graffiti.

“This is a deeply offensive act, one that is an affront to our value of inclusivity in which we work hard at fostering a diverse campus community that is marked by mutual respect for the unique talents and contributions of each individual,” Battles said. “I condemn, in the strongest possible terms, this senseless act, which runs completely counter to the core values and welcoming environment of Geneseo’s inclusive community.”

President of the Student Association senior Michael Baranowski urged event attendees to reflect on the discriminatory actions and to stand together as a community.

“We must hold our heads up against such injustice, and then with the eyes of millions upon us, we will change the narrative and show them what Geneseo really stands for,” he said. “Show them the community, family and home each and every one of us knows Geneseo to be. Take a stand against injustice, continue this open and understanding dialogue and remember that we are a part of the same family.”

Editor-in-Chief Emma Bixler and Associate News Editor Malachy Dempsey contributed reporting to this article.