By MICHAEL FORSTER ROTHBART • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com
ONEONTA — At 18, Sasha Fleischman was lit on fire while riding the bus home from school in Oakland.
Fleischmann is gender non-binary and uses they/them pronouns. They fell asleep, and another teen, Richard Thomas, lit their skirt as a prank. Thomas was arrested at school; Fleischmann was hospitalized for weeks with severe third-degree burns.
Dashka Slater, a journalist who lives close to the bus route, began covering the story. She spent three years following both instigator and victim.
Slater’s book “The 57 Bus” tells both their stories, and in doing so, explores the difficult collisions of gender identity, race (Thomas is Black, Fleischmann white), class, crime, punishment and forgiveness.
“The 57 Bus” was selected as SUNY Oneonta’s 2021 Common Read, with 1,200 free copies distributed to students. Slater came to Oneonta on Tuesday, Oct. 18, to give the annual Mills Distinguished Lecture.
Within days of the fire, community members were trying to balance contradictory feelings, Slater told a crowd of 225 at the Alumni Field House.
“Concern … for Sasha who was the victim … and at the exact same time, this sense of condemnation and dismissal for Richard.” There were public calls to try the 16-year-old as an adult. Slater rejected the idea that she could only have compassion for one of the two parties, and set out to understand root causes. “Curiosity is how a conversation begins. Opinions are what ends it,” she said.
The final chapters tell how this incident changed both their lives: medical procedures for one, imprisonment for the other, and then, eventual rehabilitation for both.
“We think about hate crimes in a legalistic fashion, as opposed to being a social problem,” Slater said. People tend to see these crimes as a violation, “rather than as a manifestation of the wounds in our own community fabric,” she said.
“I was open to the possibility that the truth would remain murky, that I would have to hold two things in my head at the same time: the fact that Richard did something horrible and cruel, and that he was more than the sum of his worst actions,” Slater said.
In opening remarks, President Alberto Cardelle wel-comed the public, the first public event on campus since COVID began.
“We weren’t sure we’d be able to do this until ten days ago, but the (COVID) numbers are really good now,” said Bill Harcleroad, director of campus activities. “We cancelled alumni weekend because we weren’t ready. We’ve got to be safe.”
The next large event, a delayed commencement celebration for the class of 2020, is scheduled for Oct. 30, with graduates limited to two guests each.
STAFF REPORT • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com
SUNY announced that Dr. Alberto Jose Cardelle would be appointed SUNY Oneonta President on Tuesday, July 20.
This appointment is effective Sept. 6.
“From our first meeting with Dr. Cardelle, I was impressed, and the entire search committee was unanimous that he would be the ideal candidate for SUNY Oneonta,” SUNY Board Vice Chairman Cesar Perales, said in a press release. “His abilities go beyond his resume, which is extraordinary, as he shares a passion for creating a more equitable system in which students can thrive.”
The Nutcracker (Caio Legname, right), and Clara (Julianna Brzezinski, left) dance with Sugarplum Fairy Maya Schonbrun during the Fokine Ballet Company of Oneonta’s annual production of Tchaikovsky’s “The Nutcracker” Saturday afternoon at SUNY Oneonta’s Goodrich Theater. Inset, Mouse King Evan Clark and The Nutcracker lock in a duel of swords beneath the Christmas Tree. (Ian Austin/AllOTSEGO.com)
Gene Schmidt, organizer of this afternoon’s 10th Mountain Division Jazz Band concert, shakes hand with World War II veteran Tony Drago, Oneonta, after Drago was honored with a surprise mayoral proclamation preceding this afternoon’s performance in the SUNY Alumni Field House. At 97, Drago is among the city’s oldest surviving veterans. At right, soloist Sgt. Michelle Dykes, stationed Fort Drum near Watertown, sings while accompanied by Specialist Derrick on tuba. (Ian Austin/AllOTSEGO.com)
Some 1,500 graduates took their final walk across the stage at this morning and afternoon in three-session SUNY Oneonta’s 130th Commencement in the Dewar Arena. Above, graduate Michael Bagby, Oneonta, shakes hands with SUNY President Barbara Jean Morris, who gave her first commencement to the class of ’19. At right, Oneonta’s Sapphira Koerner beams as she and her fellow students march out during the recessional. Two alumni delivered commencement addresses at separate ceremonies: James C. Zachos, ’81, a widely published paleoclimatologist, professor of geology, and National Academy of Sciences member,, spoke at the first session; Crystal L. Williams, ’77, CEO and executive director of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, spoke at the two others. Also, eight faculty members and four students received Chancellor Awards for Excellence (Ian Austin/AllOTSEGO.com)
Al Rubin, president, A&D Transport Services, which provides taxi and medical transport services in Central New York and the Southern Tier, took the honor of leading the The Catskill Symphony Orchestra in ‘Stars And Stripes Forever’ during this year’s Guest Conductor Competition at the SUNY Alumni Field House this evening. At right, Libby Cudmore, Managing Editor of The Freeman’s Journal, Hometown Oneonta and AllOTSEGO.com, challenged the audience to help her write the headline “Symphony Raises Record Amount” and they delivered, bringing in $46,321 by the evening’s end. Also in the competition was Cindy Donaldson, choral music director for Oneonta Middle School, director of First Presbyterian Church Choir and conductor of the Catskill Choral Society Children and Youth Choir. Laura Dohner, executive director of the Catskill Symphony Orchestra, said, “Not only was it the most money we have raised, it was the closest competition we’ve had on record.”(Ian Austin/AllOTSEGO.com)
Enjoy Night Out
Daughters got the royal treatment this evening as they and their fathers enjoyed the festivities at the annual YMCA Father Daughter Dance at the Hunt Union Ballroom at SUNY Oneonta. Above, Brad Amadon, right, Davenport, swings his daughter Natalie on the dance floor before the dinner rush. At right, Tim Gargash enjoys a slow dance with his daughter Skylar, who is wearing a dress he hand-made for her especially for the occasion. (Ian Austin/AllOTSEGO.com)
Amy Shultis, Oneonta, traveled to Japan for the class, Biology 271/Global Studies in Conservation & Sustainability, taught by Dr. Kiyoko Yokota. A biology student at SUNY Oneonta, Shultis visited Tokyo and the islands of Chichijima and Hahajima. The locals of Chichijima and Hahajima work with the Tokyo Metropolitan Government to remove
Bryan Stevenson, above, author of “Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption,” presents this year’s Mills Distinguished Lecture at the SUNY Oneonta Alumni Field House this evening. Founder of the Equal Justice Initiative, Stevenson spoke on ways the audience might go about changing the world. “Our capacity to change our world is waiting for us with the poor and excluded.” he said. “We cannot get to where we want to go if we are unwilling to change our narrative.” He went to highlight the importance of telling the truth and staying hopeful and to be willing to talk about things that are uncomfortable and inconvenient. At right: David Brenner, a College Council member, and Sid and Deb Parisian sit enraptured. (Ian Austin/AllOTSEGO.com)
Above, Nearly 600 Students and staff of SUNY Oneonta gathered in the Hunt Union Ballroom this evening for a tearful Memorial Service for Daniel William Michaels, 18, who passed away in the early morning hours of Dec. 3rd. At right, friends of Daniel find in each other as they look at his photo at the close of the evening. Pastor Peter Derway of Catholic Campus Ministries led the memorial that included readings from friends and fraternity brothers. “He will always be in each of us.” said Derway, “If you look around you can still see signs of him, and it’s okay to acknowledge he is still around.” Following the service, students wrote memories and condolences that were collected in a large cross to be given to the family at a later date. To date, more that $17,000 has been raised for a scholarship in his name. (Ian Austin/AllOTSEGO.com)