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Student-Led Town Meeting Advances Change, Understanding

Creating change and greater understanding on campus was the focus of a Tuesday, Nov. 17 town meeting coordinated by the Educational Opportunity Program Student Association.

Carrying the hashtag #EOPeopleForChange, the evening forum brought more than 200 students, faculty and staff associated with SUNY Plattsburgh EOP and invited guests. The program included a panel discussion focused on how attendees could personally assist the campus community as it works to advance in matters of diversity, social justice and understanding.

"Every day, knowingly or not, we see and hear people saying and doing things we know are harmful and a byproduct of a dysfunctional culture," said student Francesca Muro, who serves as secretary of the EOP Student Association. "Something as simple as a joke, posting a status on social media, or goofing around with friends truly does reflect the person we are and what we believe. To us, it might not be that big of a deal, but to the person it offends, it is everything."

Campus conversations and initiatives have been highlighted over the past few weeks on campus in the wake of an offensive illustration that ran in the Oct. 23 edition of the Cardinal Points student newspaper. Forums and a student-led march have followed. Steps taken by President John Ettling have included the appointment of a chief diversity officer and advancement on a long-term plan to increase support for ethnic and cultural diversity on campus.

In organizing the event, the EOP Student Association recognized that, given the program's history and mission at SUNY Plattsburgh, it is deeply connected to issues of diversity and social justice.

"We are very proud of the EOP-SA for planning and executing the event," said Cassie Christman, a counselor in the program. "It was very well put together, and the students really did a great job at leading the conversation with their peers, the panelists and distinguished guests."

Those behind the forum see this time as one which can benefit from a collective conversation about how EOP students and the program are situated to positively impact the campus culture.

"The very spirit of EOP is hope and belief," said Kyla Relaford, director of EOP. "Right now, the college needs our students, faculty, staff and administration to believe strongly that our campus can and will be better for our struggles. The EOP Student Association has inspired great hope and reminded us that victory will be in the collective actions and contributions of each person in our community."

The Educational Opportunity Program provides academic, personal and financial support to New York state residents who hold a high school diploma or its equivalent and who have the academic potential to earn a college degree. 

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