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Paul Smith’s exercises ‘zero-tolerance’ toward hate speech

2023-03-14
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Racially charged incident comes as college is looking to recruit more minority students

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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