Racially charged incident comes as college is looking to recruit more minority students
By James M. Odato
As Paul Smith’s College attempts to recruit more minorities to attend the enrollment-challenged four-year school, the school took a “zero-tolerance” approach to a hate message posted on social media and removed two students from the Adirondack campus.
According to email messages to the campus community from Interim President Daniel Kelting, the “racial incident” which he later termed a “bias incident” drew immediate reaction by school officials which resulted in the post being taken down.
“College leadership moved swiftly to address the offensive sign posted on social media,” he wrote. “The post was removed, and the students involved were asked to leave campus. They will go through the Student Conduct process as soon as the investigation into this matter is complete.”
He did not provide details in his memo, and college media liaison Zoe Smith did not respond to a request for information.
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In an interview with the college’s student newspaper The Apollos, Kelting revealed a student posted an image Feb 25 on the platform BeReal directed at a specific minority group using “very offensive language.”
“We need zero tolerance of such behavior; it runs contrary to our values and will prevent us achieving our institutional goals,” Kelting told the campus community in a letter.
He has said the college’s top goal is to boost enrollment. The school is recruiting students widely and through its partner The Fedcap Group, which is seeking to acquire Paul Smith’s. Fedcap, based in New York City, is a nonprofit business preparing people for employment.
“The racism and intolerance that still exists on our campus will continue to be a barrier to PSC becoming the inclusive and welcoming campus it must become if we are to attract and retain minorities and other underrepresented groups,” Kelting wrote in his community letter.
He revealed that the college — the only four-year institution of higher education in the Adirondacks — started this semester with just 597 enrolled and after graduations, withdrawals and suspensions, the school may start the next semester with 440 students. That is well below campus capacity of 1,200.
The incident that drew Kelting’s concern follows other signs of intolerance within the college in recent years. In August 2020, then-interim President Jon C. Strauss cited the display of the Confederate flag in a dormitory window as unacceptable and “an aggressive promotion of a white supremacist belief system.”
“Sadly, I understand that this was not an isolated incident,” he wrote. “On this campus, people of color and others have been faced with disparaging and hateful behavior. Yet, we are generally a caring community that is constantly demonstrating values of selflessness, generosity, and goodwill. Our failure to accept and appreciate everyone is a form of cultural sickness.”
In an October 2021 campus protest, several students asserted that the college had problems with racism, sexual harassment and bigotry.
Kelting sought to use the recent matter “as an opportunity to bring greater awareness to the need for diversity and inclusion rather than contribute to a climate of fear and anger.”
It comes as the college announced the creation of a New York City-based culinary program at Fedcap’s Food Arts Center in Manhattan, as Paul Smith’s seeks permission from the state to open a branch in the city.
After completion of the new program, students will receive 33 college credits in culinary arts, would spend the summer finishing their certificate at Paul Smith’s traditional campus and would be eligible for immediate enrollment into the school’s associate degree and or bachelor’s degree college courses in culinary, baking or hospitality. Paul Smith’s also envisions opening an urban forestry program in New York City in the fall of 2023.
“These programs will attract more students, which we need to meet our enrollment goals,” Kelting said in correspondence to the campus community. The city programs, he said, should help “increase diversity of our student body as we bring more urban youth and minorities to our main campus.”
The application for the proposed acquisition of the school by Fedcap is pending before state and accreditation overseers, but Fedcap officials have been involved in campus management for months.
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louis curth says
The Paul Smith’s College that Jim Odato writes about is a far cry from the place I graduated from in 1963. That is not to say we weren’t intolerant, but back then our prejudices played out mainly between the “stumpies” and the “hotelies”. For the most part, we put up with each other. Perhaps it was made easier by the isolation of the campus, or the weekly assembly when the entire student body trudged up to the gym to hear the booming voice of Doc Pickett (no electronic assist needed by him) inform us about activities for the week ahead.
I was part of a student body which was overwhelmingly white and very, very male dominated. There were, however, a handful of black athletes recruited to play on the college basketball team and they were good! Without even decent radio reception for entertainment, the turnout for our collegiate basketball games was a sight to behold!
The entire white student body would join together as one and root for our team with cheers and foot stomps that shook the rafters of that old gym. The irony in this was how we could all come together at such times, yet, in the days that followed, the old forester/hotelie rivalries would resume. Even more egregious was the isolation that our black basketball heroes faced daily and at mealtimes in the cafeteria, once they were off the basketball court.
That invisible wall of separation changed for me when two foreign exchange students, one from Ghana and one from Liberia, joined our forestry class. For the first time in my life, I had real conversations with black people, and I discovered, much to my surprise, that they shared concerns and aspirations that weren’t so different from my own and those my white classmates.
Such experiences, along with so many others, during the time I spent at Paul Smith’s College changed my life in ways too numerous to count. I would only wish that Paul Smith’s College may continue to influence today’s more diverse young students to rise to their better nature as they move through life in whatever future awaits them.
Vanessa B says
I have to admit, when I clicked through I was unsure per the title of this piece if the admin would be doing the right thing. I am happy my skepticism was unnecessary in this case. And you’re not just doing it so that future students will enroll – the real reason not to tolerate hate speech is because hate speech is immoral, period.
LeRoy Hogan says
Hate speech has a potential to be against anyone of us so we need to kick it in the butt.
Mark Neale says
I grew up in the 70’s and 80’s just outside of Paul Smiths. (For you old timers, my dad owned “The Leaning Pine”). I remember the rivalries between the Foresters and the Hotel students and how Woodsman insect repellant smelled so bad but worked so well!! A couple of the foresters took me out shooting when I was old enough and although they were teenagers or barely older, they showed a lot of character. The only snowflakes there were those that fell from the sky….
When the College says its “top goal is to boost enrollment” I am concerned. People are drawn to quality and if you focus on that, they will come. I suppose if you stray from a quality education experience long enough, you have to resort to gimmicks just to keep the doors open.
The incident described is the high-tech version of “he called me a bad name”. I understand you want to minimize this but “zero tolerance” policies generally come back to hurt you.
I’ll tell ya what would help the enrollment and reputation issue with the school. Not letting 10,000 + people have their information, including social security numbers, stolen and then sitting on the information for 6 months before sending out some sorry, wrongly addressed/named letters to some of those affected. And then never formally reporting on, admitting to, or recognizing that the event happened. And then ignoring every concerned alumni’s phone calls when they try to get any kind of information from the “leaders” of this school. It would help enrollment very much if clowns weren’t running the place