The Torch

Staten Island Campus Student’s Racist Post Prompts Investigation

Some student organizations on SI, Queens protest after news of incident broke

St.+John%27s+University%27s+Staten+Island+campus+faces+race+issues+during+last+weeks+of+the+academic+year.
St. John's University's Staten Island campus faces race issues during last weeks of the academic year.

St. John's University's Staten Island campus faces race issues during last weeks of the academic year.

PHOTO COURTESY/ST. JOHN'S UNIVERSITY

PHOTO COURTESY/ST. JOHN'S UNIVERSITY

St. John's University's Staten Island campus faces race issues during last weeks of the academic year.

Derrell Bouknight, News Editor

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After students on the Staten Island campus reported a “racist picture” that appeared on an Instagram account belonging to a fellow student in the Phi Eta Chi sorority on campus, President Conrado “Bobby” Gempesaw said that the incident was “unacceptable and will not be tolerated” in an internal email sent on Wednesday, April 25.

The picture, which featured five edited black faces placed on bodies, included the caption “buzz buzz n—-r.”

According to Gempesaw, the post violates Policy 704, which states that “the University abides by all applicable federal, state, and local laws prohibiting discrimination-related harassment that create an unwelcoming and hostile environment for people because of their personal characteristics.”

The Torch received a statement on Thursday, April 26 from the Multicultural Student Organization of SJU Staten Island (MCSO) in which they said they reported the racist post to the Staten Island campus’ administration mid-April but has yet to hear from them — with Gempesaw’s internal email coming out a week after they reported it.

“We are appalled that our campus has yet to make a statement,” MSCO said. “With administration parading in their continued participation in Greek Week, we are witnessing privilege take prevalence over the issue at hand.”

As of Wednesday, May 9 no statement was released from University officials on the Staten Island campus.

They added that the student who posted the racist photo belonged to the Phi Eta Chi sorority, who on Wednesday, April 25th posted a statement on their private Instagram account where they said that they “feel offended on ‘false accusations’ and want the support of other organizations on campus throughout this ‘difficult time.’”

MCSO said that the sorority as a whole should be held accountable “being that the post was left on social media platforms for days.”

The Torch reached out to Phi Eta Chi, who did not immediately respond for comment.

“We are outraged at the lack of support and basic representation from the staff at a school we pay 10’s of thousands of dollars to attend. Why should members of the Black Student Union [SI] and the Multicultural Student Organization have to fight for basic rights and equality standards to be met?” MCSO’s statement said. “This is a hostile environment in which we feel targeted, outnumbered, and concerned for our safety. We will not tolerate racist discrimination within our institutions, social settings or fellow peers.”

A day after Gempesaw’s school-wide email was released, students of the Staten Island campus organized a protest there that was attended by students of the Queens campus, including members of the Black Student Union (BSU) and Students of Consciousness (SOC).

That night during the Greek Week Talent Show on the campus, the Queens BSU members said that they were met with profanity and racial slurs from audience members.

“During the walk around the auditorium, we were met with a barrage of explicit insults including but not limited to “f— you”, “Go back to where you came from”, and “f— off,’”Queens BSU’s statement to the Torch said. “Simultaneously, white students shone camera lights in our faces, pointed in our faces and proceeded to laugh at us with their friends. Parents in the audience watched as this happened and were compliant with this behavior, in essence condoning the actions that white students were taking.”

General Counsel Joseph Oliva, who they said to be present at the event, was told of the comments by students. In a statement to the Torch, University Spokesman Brian Browne said that they are aware of what was said and that an investigation is ongoing.

“The University has retained outside counsel to investigate complaints made to Mr. Oliva, and other University officials about the conduct of certain individuals present at last week’s talent show on the Staten Island campus,” he said.

The Queens BSU statement also said that members of the organization and black students from the Staten Island campus were called the n-word multiple times, and that Public Safety members “never proceeded to stifle the interaction.”

“Black students convened in the courtyard on campus after the incident in the gymnasium to debrief,” the statement continued. “Three members of the fraternity Kappa Sigma, while wearing their letters, passed by the members of Queens’ Black Student Union and proceeded to say ‘look at these n—–s’ and ‘what is this n—-r pow-wow?’ as they walked by.”

When contacted, Kappa Sigma did not immediately respond for comment.

In a statement released on MCSO’s Instagram on Friday, April 27, they said that the talent show was not meant as a demonstration against any organizations. Instead, it was an act of solidarity for students of color and minorities.

“We would like to genuinely express how sorry we are for making our Staten Island community feel excluded and disrespected by our actions,” the statement said, “and for misrepresenting ourselves and our intentions.”

MCSO and the Black Student Union on Staten Island (BSU SI) also posted a picture of an apology made to the Rho Sigma Chapter of Kappa Sigma. The post said that other posts had been made by people outside of the MCSO and BSU SI that were “untrue,” and that no member from either organization was involved in what was stated. This post has since been deleted from both accounts.

It is not clear why the organizations posted those apologies. When asked about the posts, MCSO and BSU SI did not respond to the Torch for comment.

Since then, MCSO held a “Silent Protest” taking place on the Staten Island campus on Monday, May 7 on their Instagram.

Upon learning of the initial incident regarding the racist posts on the Staten Island campus, Gempesaw said in his email that an investigation was conducted by the Director of Employee Relations, Compliance and the Title IX Coordinator, who concluded that the policy was violated.

The results of the investigation were sent to the Office of Student Conduct. According to an article that appeared on NY1 on May 7, “one of the students involved with the Instagram post is no longer enrolled and the school says a second will likely leave at the end of the semester.”

NY1 added that the sorority is under investigation with its activities restricted.

University spokesmen did not respond when asked for updates on the students and sorority involved in the incident.

The Torch also reported on another instance of racist vandalism of a poster in St. John’s Hall two weeks ago. The poster showed alumnus Xavier Buck reading “Black Power,” a book written by Kwame Ture and Charles V. Hamilton. It had the word “Black” crossed out on two separate occasions.

This prompted SOC to post a picture of the poster and the Staten Island racist posts on Tuesday, April 24, saying that since Feb. 1, little has been done by the University to “promote accountability.”

Buck responded to news about his poster on Facebook a few days later.

“It was not the color of my skin that was a problem on posters and brochures but the belief in the black liberation struggle that caused my poster to be vandalized,” he said. “I chose those books because I knew it would be vandalized. I knew it would show lack of progress.”

The two incidents come nearly three months after a student on the Queens campus sent a string of racist harassment messages to another student, which led over 150 students to protest and demand change to how minority students are treated.

“The University has been concerned with making the campus more diverse, more equal, without addressing the problems of equity in a majority white-run institution,” Buck continued. “It’s not all about access. It’s about the seat at the table, the designed curriculum and the funding for programs that help bridge our diverse campus together.”

Angelica Acevedo and Ariana Ortiz contributed to this story.

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Staten Island Campus Student’s Racist Post Prompts Investigation