By JENNIFER HILL Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com
ONEONTA – While most SUNY Oneonta students were at OH-Fest festivities today, eight students, a faculty member and a staff member met gathered at 5 p.m. to discuss ways to avoid selecting musical performers that did not match “the values of SUNY Oneonta.”
SUNY junior Eric Battista scheduled the meeting after he emailed students early about a resolution he drafted, proposing to “change the way speakers/performers are chosen and handled in the future” by the college’s Student Association. He said he received “hundreds of emails” back from students who said they supported his proposal but already had plans at the time of the meeting.
Battista decided to write the resolution and introduce it after SUNY Oneonta administrators Friday canceled tonight’s OH-Fest concert. Their decision came after learning students intended to protest the concert’s top performer, Sean Kingston, after discovering 2010 gang-rape allegations made against the rapper.
The resolutions will be forwarded to the Student Senate for further discussion and action.
SUNY Oneonta and Hartwick College students organize OH-fest. Students vote for the concert headliner at both colleges, and majorities of students voted for Kingston in January. Although organizers at SUNY Oneonta said the headliner candidates were vetted, they were unaware of the nine-year-old allegations. Kingston was never charged with the crime and he and his accuser settled out of court in 2013.
According to participants at today’s meeting, a student at SUNY found out about allegations on hearing the University of Connecticut canceled a scheduled Kingston performance on April 11. The news traveled quickly over social media, culminating in a student meeting on Thursday.
There, students – some identifying themselves as sexual-assault survivors – voiced anger that college administrators had not said anything about the Kingston news, and some planned to protest and/or boycott tonight’s performance.
“I’m assuming that the people voting did not know about the allegations and we should not place blame on the researchers,” Battista said. “It was one of those freak accidents. No one knew.”
“But when we found out, there was no ‘Whoops’,” he said. “There was no, ‘Listen, this was a freak accident, but yes, it should have been caught, communicated’.”
Battista said administrators not sending out emails to all students about the allegations once they were discovered “kept students in the dark” and that students might interpret the lack of communication as “a hush job.”
“I definitely want to change the way of vetting speakers and performers,” Battista said.
He proposed in his resolution to have “a committee to properly research and vet possible performers/speakers coming to the college in the future…[to] make sure details as serious as rape allegations are given the appropriate considerations.”
Attending, in addition to eight students, were Bill Harcleroad, director of Campus Activities & Leadership, Dr. Lynn Heed, philosophy professor.
Heed said the discussions about the Kingston controversy and sexual violence would benefit students and the college as a whole.
“The best prevention for sexual violence is for people to report it…and a discussion like this enables and empowers the people, especially potential or actual victims of sexual violence,” he said.
“The outcome of this discussion is going to be better for victims of sexual violence than if we hadn’t had the discussion at all,” he added.