Students Protest Separation of Large Groups In Village

Photo by Nicole Williams

The Village’s second quad was host to a student-led protest on Thursday night, attempting to combat Public Safety procedures that have been deemed by some students as unnecessary – an effort that gained the attention and attendance of President Mercer. Organized by students Jeremy Barbara, Nate Moon and Alex Cardazzi, the protest focused on student's rights to assemble within the Village quads without being dispersed.

“The idea came from me and a few other students,” said Barbara in an email. “We, along with much of the student body, felt that for this entire semester, the changes made that were designed to keep us safe were actually suppressing our school's community and the social lives of the students.  We were also frustrated because many of the student leaders on campus, including us, expressed patience with administration and tried our best to work hand-in-hand with them on proposed policy changes. Unfortunately, it seemed that our voices were going unheard.”

Of late, Public Safety officers have been breaking up large student groups as a way to cut down on student gatherings where breaches of policy, like underage drinking and overcrowding in apartments, were taking place. However, Barbara and the other organizers researched the gathering policies on campus and learned that, according to Barbara, groups were being dispersed after breaking none of the outlined policies that warrant such an action by Public Safety.

“Regardless of whether Public Safety was breaking those groups up on their own accord, or if that order had been handed down from administration, it was not allowed,” Barbara said. “If they could do this, what was to stop them from continuing to break the rules?  We felt we had to act to make sure they knew that we wouldn’t be taken advantage of as students.”

A secret Facebook group was made about the event, under the name ‘RamaProtest’; the page had over 1,300 members. The group was used to organize the protest and disseminate information. Students were encouraged to carry around empty red Solo cups as a symbol of something that may look malicious but holds nothing of suspect – a challenge to assumptions of guilt.

More than 100 students came out on Thursday night to assert their right to gather. Junior Kayla Coughlan was among the student protesters.

“I think it’s ridiculous that we basically have to swipe into the Village. There are Public Safety officers just standing out there all night, just waiting to look at our IDs, and I feel like I’m being inspected like a piece of meat,” she said.

At 10 p.m., when the protest began, students gradually filtered into the second quad. Footballs and Frisbees were tossed around, unobstructed by Public Safety intervention, and music played throughout the quad.

“I think it’s awesome people are finally outside, and it’s a beautiful night out, so they should be,” said senior Barbara Carra from a second story balcony, as she looked over the crowd.

Martin Blaszczyk, senior, was overwhelmed by the turnout.

“I’m surprised. I didn’t think this many people would show up,” he said.

President Peter Mercer stood near the entrance of the second quad to talk and take pictures with protesting students. When asked about how he found out about the protest, Mercer spoke casually.

“Various sources, I got copies of emails, and several people notified me actually,” he said. “I mean, it’s pretty hard to keep something like this quiet. Wouldn’t you be worried if I didn’t know?”

Mercer condoned the protest, saying it was an indication of an active student body.

“I think student protest is usually a healthy sign if it’s carried out responsibly in particular. I would be more concerned if the students were simply festering in their dorm rooms and not expressing themselves collectively,” he said.

One objection to the protest made among students on the Facebook page is that the purpose of the protest is misplaced, and should focus around the prevention of sexual assault. For example, several people commented that the nationwide Take Back The Night event, which spreads awareness about sexual assault, was less popular. Carra cited the annual nature of Take Back The Night as a reason for lighter attendance.

“I find that quite sad, because Take Back the Night was a very important thing, but I don’t think it got as much publicity as this did, though,” she said. “They went to Facebook, and Take Back The Night never reached me on Facebook for it. This was a one-time thing, and they were going to get it out there. If it happens all the time, then it might be the same as Take Back The Night.”

Even Mercer spoke about controversy in regards to the protest.

“Well, the Take Back The Night event has been around for several years, and this one has the allure of novelty, this is the first time so a lot of people are here out of curiosity,” he said. “If you decided on Oct. 22 of every year to hold this event, maybe after six or seven years you wouldn’t get much of a turn out. People like something that’s new, something that’s fresh.”

Mercer also addressed inquiry about how Ramapo’s strict alcohol policies are driving students to drink off campus, which can be dangerous.

“I think the breakdown in logic is that it somehow leads to drunk driving,” he said. “I mean there are cabs, there are designated drivers, but I still take the point that if we could arrange for a shuttle, we could do more things to get people off campus safely, we’d be better off – and I’m still hoping to work with SGA to do that.”

The Student Government Association has worked with Mercer in the past about re-instituting a shuttle to bring of-age students to bars off campus.

“In previous meetings with President Mercer the topic of an off-campus shuttle has been discussed. President Mercer spoke about the past successes of the previous shuttle transportation, and SGA is certainly interested in working towards bringing the back the shuttle and parallel successes,” said Alec Weissman, SGA president, in an email. “A key component in the attainment of this success will be the finding of a bar(s) that are willing to allow of-age Ramapo students to be routinely shuttled in large quantities to their establishments. Again, the acquiring of an off-campus shuttle is a matter that will hopefully be resolved and enjoyed by Ramapo students in the near future.”

In all, Mercer was supportive of the effort made by the student protest.

“I wanted the students to understand that not only did I know about the event, but that I was not out of sympathy with it in some ways.  We have more in common than we have that separates us, so I wanted to be here to show that,” Mercer continued. “The students have a right to protest, and to express their feelings, and I sympathized in many ways.”

Barbara, too, deemed the night a success, and looks forward to a meeting with Mercer where the conversation can continue.

“It was nice to see the Village full of students having a good time for once,” he said. “Regardless of the effectiveness we see over the course of the semester as far as policy changes, that was enough for me to consider it successful. However, I am very optimistic about meaningful change. During the event we approached all of the Public Safety officers and explained what was happening and there was definitely an understanding. If anything, I think both the officers and the students realized that neither of them are the enemy and there is no reason to disrespect each other. We will meet with the president and other administrators soon to discuss the future relationship between us and them to ensure that our voice is of utmost importance.”