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Social inequity, identity crisis and the social rift at Buffalo State

Buffalo State's unique, primarily two-toned social fabric has created an unhealthy social dynamic

According+to+Buffalo+State%E2%80%99s+2015-16+annual+report%2C+there+were+2%2C703+African+American+students%2C+1%2C164+Hispanic+students+and+5%2C586+white+students%2C+but+the+college+still+lacks+diversity.+
According to Buffalo State’s 2015-16 annual report, there were 2,703 African American students, 1,164 Hispanic students and 5,586 white students, but the college still lacks diversity.

According to Buffalo State’s 2015-16 annual report, there were 2,703 African American students, 1,164 Hispanic students and 5,586 white students, but the college still lacks diversity.

Joseph Cumbo/The Record

Joseph Cumbo/The Record

According to Buffalo State’s 2015-16 annual report, there were 2,703 African American students, 1,164 Hispanic students and 5,586 white students, but the college still lacks diversity.

Dan Almasi, Executive Editor

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Buffalo State has a very unique social fabric. There’s a social rift everyone knows is there, but most walk right around it. The rift is well-defined and extends deeper than race.

Buffalo State seems pretty diverse, right? It’s not.

Buffalo State has two main student demographics: Buffalo area students (commuters) and New York City area students (residents). Most Buffalo area students are white, and most NYC area students are African American or Hispanic, but race is far from the only thing separating the campus.

Buffalo State’s primarily two-toned social fabric results in a well-defined social divide that manifests in many different ways, most of which create an atmosphere inconducive to social equity.

Buffalo State – based on numbers – is a “commuter school.” But when you apply that label to Buffalo State and look at it purely from a student social life and campus events perspective, you realize it has a serious identity crisis.

Buffalo State,  we need to talk.  So, let’s.

The inspiration behind diversity dialogue

I’ve been with The Record for four years now, and it’s always been primarily white. I’ve seen many African American students walk into a Record meeting, act visibly uncomfortable and quiet for the entire duration, and never come back.

Olympcia Desamour is the exception. Buffalo State desperately needs more Olympcia Desamours.

Olympcia is an African American girl from New York – Brooklyn, to be exact. She’s a sophomore journalism major and a reporter for The Record.

After her third meeting, she stuck around and hung out with us for a bit. She asked us about our social lives, what kind of parties we go to and what kind of music we listen to. We failed to find virtually any common interests.

On this particular day, the Record meeting consisted of all white dudes between 20-26 and Olympcia. We all listen to a lot of different music, but found common ground in Blink-182. Pop-punk icon Blink-182 is a flagship band for a lot of suburban white kids.

I made her listen to the Blink song “Dammit”. She said it reminded her of something out of a Disney movie (she’s probably not wrong), or something that she would expect to hear on a Lizzie McGuire re-air.

She said when she thinks of a white Buffalo kid, she thinks of a skater-type. I don’t skate, but we all nearly died of laughter when Alex Field – a reporter – pulled a skateboard out from under his desk and raised it in the air, effectively validating her generalization.

Olympcia showed us the type of music they play at the  “venue” parties she goes to – mostly hip-hop with reggae influences.  I’ll explain what – and how seemingly crazy – “venue” parties are later on.

The conversation continued, so she texted a friend, Shanelle, who is from Harlem, to come up and join the conversation to make the social dynamic a bit less lopsided.

We discussed differences, stereotypes, our social lives, what we thought about New York City students and what New York City students think about Buffalo students.

Pretty much every topic ended in a harmless joke and laughter, but the harsh truth is that Buffalo State’s unique, inequitable social dynamic is no laughing matter. It results in an unhealthy academic and social environment that’s not conducive to receiving a proper college education or experience.

I pitched the idea of filming a “Diversity Dialogue” round table discussion to further discuss Buffalo State’s social issues. Olympcia and Shanelle were all about it.

I reached out to Kerriann Salmon, BSC-TV’s president, for help with the project. After a quick chat, she was on board, too. As of this writing, we’re two interesting, enlightening discussions deep.

Talking about the issue is by no means a fix, but acknowledgement of the issue is the first necessary step. We didn’t come to any conclusions, just talked about whatever social topic came up.

The ice was not only broken, but melted away into a puddle of transparency, mutual understanding and some level of respect.

Everyone walked away from the discussions with their own feelings and realizations.

Here’s my long-winded takeaway based on my four-year experience at Buffalo State and the diversity dialogue round table discussions:

Buffalo State’s social fabric is primarily two-toned  

For students from New York City, Buffalo State is an opportunity at a decent, affordable college education (in-state tuition doesn’t consider miles, just state borders) – and even more attractive to some – it’s a “party school” seemingly worlds away from home.

For students from Buffalo and its suburbs, Buffalo State is desirable for equal and opposite reasons – it’s affordable and offers a serviceable college education, but campus life is so unfamiliar most commuters don’t even dip their feet in the water.

Many only stay on campus for classes and whatever other group projects they need to work on.

But that’s not an effective college education – college is supposed to be a time to network and gain valuable friendships, get involved and experience the most rewarding and unified social atmosphere you’ll ever be a part of.

But for Buffalo State commuters, it’s simply not. The commuters that get involved with student organizations are the exception and minority. And even those that do (like myself), few attend campus events outside their own organization’s.

It’s not the fault of any Buffalo State students, but Buffalo State’s primarily two-toned social fabric results in a lack of campus involvement from a large majority commuters. Too many commuters leave Buffalo State with a diploma, but not a college education, nor a true college experience. If it’s anyone fault, it’s their own – but not entirely.

Athletes are the third sizable well-defined social sphere. This is normal and expected. Still, within each program there are cliques, and the Buffalo-NYC social divide is well-defined, even in a tightly knit team social sphere.

Buffalo State’s campus belongs to New York City students

Sitting in The Record office one afternoon, I asked Joel Hopkins, our opinion editor, and Nadiya Roache, a staff writer, if they think there are more black or white students at Buffalo State. Both are commuters and both believed there are more black students.

I love throwing this statistic at my commuter friends, almost always to their disbelief: According to Buffalo State’s 2015-16 annual report, there was 2,703 African American students, 1,164 Hispanic students and 5,586 white students.

Of course, some of those non-white students are commuters, but a large majority are NYC students. Buffalo State had 5,949 students from Western New York (Erie and Niagara counties) and 3,941 students from other places in New York State (a large majority NYC students, of course).

Before I knew the reality, I figured the campus was about half white and half black or Hispanic. Most assume about the same, or even that there are far more black students than white.

The reason behind this common misconception is simple and obvious: Commuters are only on campus as often as they need to be; residents (primarily NYC students) rarely leave.

But if you give Buffalo State’s campus the eye test by glancing around the quad or union, you’d probably say it was about half white and half black/Hispanic with some other minority races mixed in.

And if you attend a campus event, the misrepresentation is even more glaring. A majority of campus events appeal to and draw virtually only NYC students.

Not that NYC students have anything to apologize for – they’re just taking advantage of and enjoying their college experience.

The issue is that commuters feel as though the Buffalo State campus isn’t their own, and for that reason, they often don’t get involved and don’t have a sense of pride in their college.

It seems the administration has at least some notion of this, and does what it can to create a campus welcoming to all. Student Life holds commuter appreciation events including a Commuter Appreciation Week in April, but that doesn’t and will not change the unhealthy social dynamic.

The Empire state of mind manifests at Buffalo State, and its presence reverberates through every fiber of the campus social fabric.

The Empire state of mind

“People have this misconception that New York City people are aggressive. That’s the demeanor that we must come forward with,” Olympcia said. “In the city, you’re vulnerable to many different things, and that’s the attitude that has to come off. I know people that have gotten robbed for their phone just standing there – just looking normal, just breathing.

“In New York City you have to come off with this aggression, that ‘Oh, I’m not one to play with.’ So up here, it’s just natural for me to bring it up here with me. I’ve been told many times I have this facial expression that I never knew I had. I feel like that’s why there’s a gap – commuters, or Buffalo people period, feel like, ‘Oh no, I don’t want to associate with them; they’re a little rowdy, they’re aggressive and I don’t want to come off looking ridiculous or not cool enough.’ New York City people aren’t that cool, trust me. It’s all a façade.”

Why Buffalo State is unique, and wherein the problem lies

Your typical American college campus draws students from across the nation, and – in the case of large universities – around the world.

On most college campuses, there is a sense of unity in diversity. You might consider Buffalo State “diverse” based on its ethnic representation, but it’s not at all. Diversity is about more than ethnicity, it’s about cultural and geographical influences – and New York City’s culture dominates campus life and alienates commuters.

Geographic diversity on college campuses prevents the formation of cliques based on where students are from (at least on a large scale). At Buff State, a huge majority of students are from either Buffalo or New York City. This is the main culprit for the well-defined social divide.

It’s obvious that Buffalo State’s administration aims its marketing and recruitment efforts primarily at Buffalo and New York City students. And for some reason, they seem to be more accommodating to NYC students – perhaps because they’re filling the dorms, and therefore bringing the school more money.

I was left with a very bad first impression of Buffalo State when in one of my classes my fall semester as a freshman, student ambassadors (or something like that) came into our classroom and offered everyone free tickets to a comedy show as a welcoming gift. Here’s the catch: The tickets were for comedy clubs in New York City. I felt alienated and unappreciated.

The assertion that Buffalo State markets primarily in NYC and WNY is backed by the fact that there is much greater geographic diversity within the athletics department. Coaches and their scouting and recruiting staffs are, effectively, their own marketing departments. They often reach out to and land athletes from around the country. Student-athletes are much more likely to be from some random place than the average Buffalo State student.

Buffalo State’s marketing and admissions tactics are much less broad-scoped. This wouldn’t be such an issue if they didn’t focus on just two very different areas – Western New York and New York City.

So if I’m blaming anyone here, it’s certainly not New York City students. Yes, they have created a social inequity in campus life, but that’s natural and expected – they live here.

Indirectly and more importantly, the methods by which and from where Buffalo State recruits students has created this issue.

This issue is compounded by the fact that New York City instills a strong sense of pride in place, for many reasons.

The cultural differences are stark and glaring – from fashion to the way we speak to way of life, Buffalo and New York City students are vastly different and often socially incompatible.

So, why don’t we all just get along and become friends?

In a perfect world.

For the most part, Buffalo and NYC students do respect each other and get along when they need to. Buffalo State is a very mature campus in that sense.

It’s not like there’s a race or culture war going on. The attitude is more like, “Yeah, we’re different, so let’s accept and walk around the social rift and only assimilate as much as class group projects or student organization collaborations require.”

“This campus, we just need a kick in the butt to get more diversified. There’s no reason we’re so separated if we’re all here for the same thing,” Olympcia said. “I’m sure we all came here to college thinking, ‘Oh, I’m going to have some fun.’”

But there are times when the social rift presents real problems, even for nonjudgmental, open-minded, kind people.

Francesca Bond is The Record’s social media editor. She possesses all of those traits, but failed to make any friends in her Porter Hall dorm building freshman year. She moved to an apartment in Kenmore after having a bad experience dorming.

“I remember the first night, we had a hall meeting and we were all sitting there and everyone was gossiping,” Francesca said. “Then they all just kind of clicked off right away, and all the sudden it was a week later, and I was like, ‘I know no one,’ and I tried to talk to people, but it just didn’t really work. It was so obviously a social divide. It was not a fun experience whatsoever. I kind of blocked it all out.

“I would walk around a lot. I would just leave and walk around Elmwood [Village] all the time. And then I went home pretty much every weekend. I only stayed there one weekend, and I didn’t even last the whole weekend. I usually didn’t eat in the dining hall because I felt awkward because I didn’t have anyone to eat with. I made a couple friends from my classes that I would eat with occasionally. It wasn’t that terrible. I made a few friends, they just went home at night, which was the worst.”

Chloe Mitchell is a senior communication design major. She had much more success making friends, but still felt unaccepted by some. She lived in Porter Hall and Tower 3 her freshman and sophomore years, but moved home junior year as she was no longer eligible for the scholarship she was receiving which paid for her on-campus living expenses.

“I actually had a really positive experience dorming. I made friends that I would never have met if I commuted,” she said. “It is funny though, because all of the friends I made were guys. Not one girl on my floor ever once tried to be friends with me or hung out in the lounge area when I was there. My roommate was from Buffalo and we were best friends. Every other girl was not from Buffalo and did not try to be friendly.”

Nadiya is a sophomore communication studies major.  She dormed in Porter Hall and was Francesca’s roommate for a semester before moving back home to Amherst.

“When I got there it kind of seemed like everyone already knew each other and had a group of friends,” she said. “I thought everyone would sort of be in the same boat in terms of, like, not really knowing anyone, and it wasn’t like that at all.

“I think it might’ve been because most of them were from the city [NYC], so they sort of already had a bond in that way. I liked my roommates, but outside of that, I guess I just figured I wouldn’t fit in and I felt super out of place, so I wanted to leave.”

Nadiya is black – Jamaican, to be exact, for what it’s worth.

The social rift presents issues within student organizations as well. WBNY, the campus radio station, is mostly white, as is The Record. BSC-TV is mostly black.

But I don’t believe that every member of the three student media organizations joined their respective organizations based solely on career trajectory, as it should be.

When I was sports editor, one of my reporters was a black student from Harlem. I appreciated that he stuck around and was a core member of our sports staff (he recently quit) for over a year, but he would never actually talk to me. Any question was answered with one or two words. He seemed hesitant to act comfortably or be himself around me, and I felt as though he didn’t really trust me for some reason.

I figured he was just really shy, but I’ve seen him having full-on, open conversations with friends around campus on several occasions.

I like to think I come off as accepting, open-minded and nonjudgmental. The way he acted around me made me question all of those things.

He didn’t seem to have the want or willingness to navigate the social rift. And that’s something everyone should learn to do in college as they prepare to enter a diverse workforce where effective communication with bosses and co-workers is vital to success.

Because such a large faction of Buffalo State students are from the same place as him, perhaps he felt there was no need to fully assimilate with The Record staff aside from submitting work and attending meetings.

The social rift is deeper than race

Race itself is divisive enough. Mix in geographic and cultural differences that correlate directly to race, and you have oil and water.

Sure, there are cultural differences between two people of different races from the same place, but geographic influences are equally impactful, if not more so in many cases.

I asked Manny Rodriguez, a sports staff writer for The Record, if he feels he would likely have more in common with a Latino from Buffalo, or a black person from New York City. Despite being from New Rochelle – a suburb of New York – he said, without hesitation, that he would “definitely” feel more kindred with a black person from New York.

In the eyes of many black NYC students, black Buffalo students might as well be of another race.

In fact, Olympcia and Shanelle both assert that they can pick out a black student from Buffalo. They claim to have a sixth sense for it – they pick up on things like style, attitude and even pace (Buffalonians walk, speak and even think at a painfully slow pace, according to New Yorkers). Bria Degraffenreid, a junior media production major from Brooklyn, used the word “lackadaisical” to describe Buffalo people.

“The fashion senses are different, “Olympcia said. “I can tell a Buffalo woman from a New York City girl. I feel like sometimes [Buffalo women] don’t care. I care about how I look. I care about what I have on. Some people just don’t care about stuff like that.

“But if you’re my friend, we’ve got to represent each other. We represent each other and we’ve got to look good as a whole. You don’t have to wear expensive clothes, just carry yourself well.”

Olympcia admitted she has no close friends from Buffalo. She feels as though most Buffalo women she meets judge her for the amount of money she spends on superficial things.

“The black kids from Buffalo kind of creep me out. Not creep me out like, ‘Eww, they’re gross,’ sometimes it’s some things they talk about. Amongst women we talk about hair, makeup, nails… If I talk to a buffalo person, like ‘Oh hey girl, how much you paid for your hair?’ and if I say the amount I paid, they look at me like I’m crazy … I can’t even deal with it.”

Francesca mentioned that such a generalization can’t be made about all Buffalo women.

“I love fashion, so I will spend a lot of money,” she said. “I do actually spend a lot of money on my hair. But I do agree; a lot of Buffalo people are a lot more frugal, especially compared to the city kids.”

“They’re cheap,” Olympcia said. “Frugal is such a nice word.”

How New York City students feel about Buffalo and Buffalonians

A big reason why many NYC students don’t feel the need or want to venture off campus is because they have a “There’s nothing for me here; I’m never going to come back after I graduate,” mindset.

Bria is BSC-TV’s promotions directions. She feels Buffalo has “no variety.”

Olympcia agreed and added Buffalo has “no diversity.”

They aren’t interested in exploring the city for several reasons.

Olympcia said, in comparison to NYC’s homeless, Buffalo homeless people can be “friendly,” but are often “frightening,” and “aggressive,” – especially the ones on buses.

She’s also felt frightened by some areas of Buffalo and their people.

“The people that live in the hood here are very frightening and aggressive sometimes,” Oympcia said. “In New York City, it’s a façade. But here, y’all might just be like that.”

Matt Brutus is a junior business major from Long Island and a videographer for BSC-TV. He senses that much of Buffalo’s youth feels so disadvantaged they often have little hope for a bright future.

“I look in some of these Buffalo kids’ eyes and there’s, like, a glare – I’m talking about African American kids,” he said. “The African American youth that I’ve seen, they have a glare in their eye like they have nothing to lose, and it’s scary. People like that back home, they’re at the lowest of lows and they’re just done. These are kids that have stuff, but they don’t have anything. Over here it’s different; there’s no resources.”

Matt feels Buffalo is segregated “socioeconomically,” but not “racially,” because he’s seen more interracial couples in Buffalo than anywhere else he’s been.

Every NYC student agreed they felt unwelcomed at – and this came as a surprise to me – Wegmans.

“Wegmans is racist as hell, and that’s why I don’t go there,” Olympcia said, stating she gets followed or watched when she visits the grocery store.

“They have a social class they’re trying to reach,” Bria said.

I explained that Wegmans is generally viewed as a community-oriented corporation with a highly favorable reputation.

“Why would an organization that’s so stable in the community in this time and era still be racist or stereotype certain people?” Matt asked.

This seems like a bit of a side point, but it’s just another of example of why NYC students don’t take advantage of what the City of Buffalo has to offer – they feel unwelcomed in certain places, so they’re hesitant to venture out. Buffalo State isn’t just their home turf; they feel it’s their only turf.

How commuters (I) feel about New York City students

None of the commuters said much about their opinions on NYC students during the diversity discussions, so I guess I’ll have to be the lone voice here.

I feel no animosity or dislike toward NYC students. I’m against generalizations, which might seem ironic given what might seem like the many I’ve made in this commentary. However, I consider these generalizations pertain to the collective social fabric, which must be generalized in order to comprehensively understand.

Yeah, NYC students are typically outspoken, prideful and they party really, really hard. But they have nothing to apologize for. The issue is Buffalo State’s lack of geographic diversity, not the culture brought to Buffalo State by NYC students.

The social shift

An influx of NYC students in the past decade has reworked Buffalo State’s social fabric entirely.

I was recently flipping through an archived 1980s issue of The Record that contained a commentary piece about the United Student Government’s lack of black representation. Based on the featured image, there were at least a few black USG members.

Today, USG is primarily black. There are three white student members of the student government – two of which are commuters, one of which is a resident.

“Creating a more diverse senate is something that we are definitely working on,” said Monique Maxwell, USG President-elect.

But it’s not like there was some total overthrow within USG at some point. There are open seats on the USG senate, meaning if anyone – regardless of social status or race – were to have run for the unfilled positions, they would have been granted the position by default.

The gradual shift in student voice representation from commuter-heavy to equitable representation to NYC student-heavy  is well-defined by the lack of diversity featured at Buffalo State’s major annual concert (artist and attendee-wise) – Springfest (which is decided upon and booked by USG) – in recent years.

The last non-hip-hop act to play Springfest was Iron and Wine (an indie folk band) in 2012. The last non-hip-hop headliners were Muse and Sum 41 in 2005.

The lack of diversity within booking selections has resulted in some voiced discontent, but USG justifies artist selections by claiming they base them on student surveys. I believe this is true, but they don’t do enough to spread the word about the surveys. It seems a majority of commuters don’t know the surveys exist.

This is just another issue rooted in commuters’ general lack of knowledge of campus events.

Yeah, commuters should be more involved on campus if they want to feel better represented, but those who do get involved still aren’t well-represented. And those that don’t get involved don’t primarily because they don’t feel the campus is their own from the outset.

Buffalo State – a “party school” 

Stories of insane, massive Buff State parties are stuff of legend 400 miles away in New York City communities that filter a sizable rate of high school graduates to Buffalo State before they return home (usually) post-graduation.

Some parents are even hesitant to send their kids to Buffalo State because of its reputation as a party school.

“My mom was so afraid for me to come here,” Olympcia said.

A college campus’ party scenes often defines social groups – at Buffalo State, it does exactly that.

New York City students have “venue” parties with hundreds of people. Very few commuters attend these events. From what I’ve heard and the little I’ve seen on Snapchat and videos on Twitter, they get pretty insane.

That notion is backed by the fact that “Buff State parties” have been banned from a number of venues throughout Buffalo. In fact, there’s only one venue in the area that still allows Buff State parties – Cruisers Bar on Porter Road in Niagara Falls.

“We enjoy being rowdy,” Olympcia said. “In there we can be rowdy and let loose. Even in the city, partying is normal. I know people who have been partying like this since they were like 14 – paying for a ticket, going to a party on a large scale like this. People grew up doing this; it’s natural.”

Chloe Mitchell is a senior communication design major. She’s had two bad experiences at house parties involving NYC Buff State guys.

“I was at a frat party both times, and both times it was African American males – one of them pushed me and started up beating up my boyfriend. The other time I was sent to the hospital; I got hit in the face and had a broken nose and had to get stitches.

“So in my experiences, I’ve been not scared of people, but I’ve also been very intimidated just to go to parties where I know there’s going to be a lot of different cultures and a lot of different people from different places and a lot of people from the city. It’s not even just about race; it’s more about people from the city.”

Bria was surprised by Chloe’s stories, but not to the point of disbelief.

“When Buffalo men get with the guys from the city, it’s like they’re battling for territory or something,” she said.

Big house parties aren’t real “parties” to New York City students used to venue parties with – according to Olympcia – 500 to 750 people.

“You talk about the kegs and that type of stuff, to me that’s not a party – that’s like a little get together or a little hangout,” Olympcia said. “I’ve been to one, and I was like,  ‘Oh, it’s so small, where are the rest of the people?’”

Buff State venue parties are too much for some New Yorkers, even. Manny doesn’t go to parties because he doesn’t like “loud areas and small spaces.”

Nadiya thinks she would have a good time at a Buff State venue party, but doesn’t feel as though she would be accepted because she went to a suburban high school – Amherst.

“I was sort of always that awkward in between [in high school] – not black enough for the black kids but too black for the white kids,” Nadiya said. “Being here, I want to go to those parties and stuff, but like, I feel like I’m not cool enough. Like, I went to the suburbs – I’m not cool enough to hang with the black kids.”

Olympcia invited Nadiya to come with her to the next party she goes to.

If commuters attend or throw parties, they’re usually not considered “Buffalo State parties,” and probably won’t be all or even mostly Buff State students. A true Buffalo State party is an entirely different animal.

Athletes often throw parties at their off-campus houses. Some are team parties, some wind up as team mixers that provide an opportunity for men’s and women’s teams to get together.

During the meeting that inspired Diversity Dialogue, Olympcia invited us all to come with her to one of these parties. She was totally serious, and I thought it was cool that she actually wanted us to come.

Like myself, Reuben Wolf – The Record arts editor – is very straightforward.

“How many white people are usually there?” he asked.

“You guys would probably be the only white people,” Olympcia admitted.

But she reassured us that we’d be totally welcomed and embraced. She promised we’d have a good time.

Her intentions were good and I believe that we wouldn’t necessarily be unwelcomed, but let’s be honest – I would be incredibly awkward and become a spectacle. These parties are dance-oriented, and like most white dudes, I can’t dance. As much as I appreciated the invite, I probably wouldn’t enjoy myself, even if I tried.

I probably sound like the whitest kid ever at this point. While that may be true to some degree, let me at least say this: I used to have an apartment right next to Canisius College where we’d throw parties. I once threw a party where like 70 people showed up. Everyone was smoking and drinking – I was cool with it. Someone took over the music – I was cool with it. Someone broke my railing – I wasn’t cool with it and never had an open-invite party again, but that’s aside from the point.

All I’m saying is I like to party, or at least I thought I did until I realized what it meant to party with Buff State kids.

The point is this – Buffalo State is predominantly white, but at a “Buff State party,” white people are few and far between.

Again, no one’s doing anything wrong here (aside from the people that start fights that give Buff State a bad rep and get its student body banned from venues around Buffalo). I’m only validating the notion that Buffalo State’s culture and social life is defined by NYC students.

There’s even an ongoing joke that Buffalo State – a campus with twice as many white students as black – is an HBCU (historically black college or university).

Different worlds

There’s such a social divide that it seems as though commuters and NYC students live in two different worlds.

I was in disbelief when Olympcia said she had never heard of Canalside – a popular waterfront area of downtown Buffalo that serves as a tourist attraction and concert and event venue.

“When I picture Buffalo, I picture where I’m at right now,” Olympcia said. “If I’m leaving the campus, I need to know my destination because I’m afraid, just a little bit.”

She said she doesn’t usually leave campus unless it’s for a party. Unfortunately, it seems most NYC students feel this way. They dislike Buffalo altogether and believe there are no real attractions or reasons to venture out and explore the city.

Many NYC Buffalo State graduates leave with no real sense of what Buffalo is or what it has to offer. Maybe if they gave Buffalo a chance, they’d think differently, but I can’t be certain, and most never do anyway.

Coming from the Big Apple, I guess you can’t totally blame them.

And this issue is compounded by Buffalo’s lack of efficient public transportation. It seems crappy and to me – someone from Buffalo. I can only imagine how awful it seems to someone from a city with one of the best public transportation systems in the world.

Francesca is much more in-tune with what’s happening on campus than the average commuter. She’s the president of Buffalo State’s PRSSA chapter on top of being involved with The Record. When we sat down at the Diversity Dialogue round table, she didn’t even know what Springfest – Buffalo State’s largest social event – was.

If that’s not a sign of an unhealthy social dynamic, I don’t know what is.

The general consensus

A great way to gain a somewhat comprehensive understanding of a social sphere is to search a keyword on a social media platform.

All the people interested in and talking about Buffalo would be considered “Buffalo Twitter”. All the people interested in and talking about Buffalo State is “Buffalo State Twitter”.

I’ve gained a pretty good understanding of the general feeling of commuters and NYC students. I guess now is as good a time as ever (I graduate this week) to support this assertion by coming forward as the person who runs @BuffStateProbz on Twitter.

I asked the few people who knew to not tell anyone I ran the account. I think a social media account that speaks for and, in a way, represents an entire student body should be faceless. But that’s mostly aside from the point.

This is going to seem like a gross generalization, but it’s really not. I won’t use the “h” word – yeah, hate. But commuters generally dislike Buffalo State. A majority of commuters don’t have many nice things to say, unfortunately.

Here’s Buffalo State commuter Twitter in a nutshell: complaints about parking and parking tickets, complaints about how annoying the commute is, complaints about how Buffalo State always smells like pot, complaints about getting to campus and the professor never showing up or showing up really late, complaints about how rude and incompetent that retail dining staff is, complaints about the lack of snow plowing in parking lots, complaints about how “ghetto” Buffalo State is (I don’t re-tweet these because they seem borderline racist).

Given, @BuffStateProbz is an account for tweeting about problems. But I search “Buff State” and “Buffalo State” on Twitter a few times a week, and the tweets aimed at @BuffStateProbz are mostly in line with the overall attitude of all Buffalo State tweets.

Side note: I understand UPD is only doing it’s job by handing out tickets, but I’ve heard of a lot of instances where they should really have cut us some slack and several instances where they handed out entirely unwarranted parking tickets. Commuters are already generally unhappy, and they’re only compounding that issue (not that they care, probably).

Here’s Buffalo State resident Twitter in a nutshell: That party last weekend was lit, that party everyone is talking about going to this weekend is going to be lit.

I once saw a video on Twitter of a Buff State venue party that could definitely be considered softcore porn. I like to drink – sometimes a lot – but still think Buff State parties get a bit wild for me.

Are commuters only here for a degree?

If that’s the case, commuters have no one to blame but themselves for their lack of representation in campus social events.

There is a general attitude amongst commuters that they want to get their degree at Buffalo State and get it done with.

But do all commuters come here with that mindset? Not always.

A majority of commuters come to Buffalo State seeking not only a college education, but a great college experience. It’s only once they realize the campus social life doesn’t represent them that they give up on the idea of having a truly rewarding and memorable college experience here.

Some realize this and transfer to another school. Others stick it out and become more and more unhappy, counting each resented day until graduation – this is just plain stupid, and is no one’s fault but their own. If you’re that unhappy, transfer.

Others, like myself, join a student organization and form a social life around the friends they make through their org. I don’t attend many campus social events, but I have made plenty of awesome friends here, mostly through The Record.

So, how do we fix the social rift?  

Bria said it best.

“There will always be cliques,” she said. “You’re never going to change that.”

She’s right. But cliques are just about culture and geography as they are about race. Buffalo State is racially divided due to cultural differences, but Buffalo State isn’t racist.

The long and the short of it is this: We don’t.

The best thing that could happen to Buffalo State is an influx of residents from somewhere other than New York City in order to diversify the social fabric and make this campus feel like a real American university.

Meeting people from all over the country is an important part of the college experience – it helps students become more understanding of the many cultures and ways of life within our country. This instills worldliness and understanding – important qualities a post-grad should have entering a diverse job market.

As a SUNY school, Buffalo State’s main attraction is affordability via in-state tuition rates. Buff State probably doesn’t have enough to offer to attract students from around the country (with student-athletes being the exception), but it certainly wouldn’t hurt if Buffalo State made a concerted effort to recruit more students from Rochester, Syracuse and upstate New York (Everything outside of New York City and Long Island is not upstate New York, New Yorkers). This would offer a lot more geographic diversity and would chip away at the social inequity to some degree.

End note

Sociology is a complex subject. I’m certain there are factors I’ve overlooked, and even 6,000-some words later, I still feel I’ve made a gross generalization.

Bringing an issue to light via discussion is always the first step, and that’s what we aimed to accomplish with the diversity dialogue discussion, and what I aimed to accomplish with this commentary.

I’d like to thank everyone who’s read the entirety of this monstrosity and encourage respectful discussion of this topic in comments sections, classrooms and – perhaps most importantly – within the Buffalo State administration.

I realize my assertions might come off as me saying there is no potential for NYC students and commuters to be friends. That’s not the case. I’m sure there are countless cases of such friendships. I’m getting a drink at Goodbar (right down the street from Buffalo State) with Matt Brutus Friday because he mentioned he’s never been to any Buffalo bars during the first diversity discussion.

But there is a deep social rift at Buffalo State that isn’t going to be patched over a drink at a bar or by white kids attending Buff State “venue” parties.

Buffalo State’s social fabric is a stark reminder that diversity transcends race. Due to lack of geographic diversity, Buffalo State’s campus is divided by a social rift, and it’s up to students, faculty and administration to work together to instill social equity and create an academic environment conducive to a quality education and college experience.

email: almasi.record@outlook.com

Twitter: @Almasi_

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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5 Comments

5 Responses to “Social inequity, identity crisis and the social rift at Buffalo State”

  1. Jessica Dubois on May 10th, 2017 10:02 pm

    Wow. As a NYC dorm resident turned to buffalo commuter this article speaks volumes. I think it’s great that someone has finally spoken out and addressed this issue to put it in clear daylight for others to see. Being at Buffalo State for the past 6 six years, I was aware of this divide between the commuter and resident students. Coming from Bronx, NY in 2011, I looked forward coming to Buffstate and making new friends from an area which I never been in. It was something new and strange for me and I was feeling that I desperately needed change in my life. But I never thought about how I might’ve intimidated others with my “New York-ness”.

    The reason I decided to comment on this is because I feel that I don’t fit into these generalizations a lot of Buffalonians think of when they see New York City students. Actually, my first best friend, and still bestfriend to this day, is from Buffalo, and I connected with her better than any New York City student that went to Buffstate. I met her during my freshman year in porter-hall, and six years later we both rented out an apartment off campus. I became so close with her, I was able to establish a good bond with her family, and pretty soon Buffalo became a second home for me.
    I sometimes like to think that Buffalo adopted me, took me under its wing, and showed me things that I now love about it. I love how nice and friendly people are here, I love that there isn’t that constant feeling of having to rush or that “time is money” attitude here. That’s what drew me close to Buffalo. And it’s probably why I won’t ever live in New York City again. But don’t get me wrong, NYC will always be my hometown, I was raised there after all, but the dramatic change of pace here in Buffalo made it easy to adjust to and become familiar with.
    I remember when I was a journalism major and tried working for The Record, but I was immediately uncomfortable and felt unincluded because it seemed like everyone knew eachother and were always cracking inside jokes. I didn’t last long at The Record, so reading what was said about it made sense in my head. I think to avoid this from happening we need to be more open with each other, continue having discussions, try to understand one another instead making generalizations and judgements about certain groups of people. Because I like to think that I was an exception to it. And I know that there has to be more stories like mine.
    Thank you for reading this! Fantastic article!

    [Reply]

  2. Daniel Flynn on May 11th, 2017 10:54 am

    Wonderful article! I am so pleased you did this. I am sharing this with everyone I know. Several of my instructors have read it too. One small nit-pick: if you are going to capitalize the L in Latino, then you should also capitalize the B in Black and the W in White and the A in Asian. Otherwise, you draw attention to one race in particular. Personally, I would omit this style entirely.

    [Reply]

  3. Daniel Flynn on May 11th, 2017 1:15 pm

    After reading the article a second time, I would like to share my experience as a resident and a commuter. My experience as a resident was somewhat mediocre. I came to Buffalo from a small suburb outside Syracuse purely to study; I was in my late twenties at the time. I do not make friends particularly well, but I eventually made a few through my boyfriend, also a resident student. He is a former staff writer for The Record, is from NYC, and is black. I will concur that there are lots of interracial couples in Buffalo.
    I had absolutely nothing to do with the party scene on campus, mostly on account of my age and the fact that I got most of that out of my system years ago. I will say, however, that I felt more like a commuter most of the time. I explored Buffalo in my car and spent little time in my dorm. I sometimes felt like a prisoner in my room. I was used to the quiet from my small town and the noise was difficult to process. The food for residents, I might add, is not even remotely nourishing and is generally AWFUL. I never ceased to complain about it and I know many share my frustration. I had so little in common with the resident students and I felt as though my environment was not conducive to studying.
    I am no stranger to pot and I am certainly no square, but the smell of weed in the dorms is completely obnoxious. To make things worse, there was also a lively drug trade occurring inside my building, with all sorts of “interesting” people coming and going at all hours of the night. My boyfriend’s neighbors in STAC had different groups of 5-6 men coming and going several times a day to buy weed from them, and to smoke it. The stench was out of this world. I constantly asked myself two questions as a resident: 1) doesn’t anyone sleep around here?, and 2) why are the other residents CONSTANTLY high? I mean, the stench of weed is at its peak during CEP week! Doesn’t anyone study?
    I now live off and commute as a graduate student. I enjoy my independence and have little to do with the college other than my studies. I assist one of my instructors in one of her courses and have enjoyed my time at Campus House where I can have an alcoholic drink on campus and network with people. I park my car on Thursday next to Tower 1 and the stench of weed is even worse than it used to be. I realize that campus police probably don’t enforce the law that much on that score, because if they did they would probably empty every single dorm of its residents. I don’t want readers to think I have some kind of disdain for resident students, but I do not think they appear serious enough about their studies. College is a time to network and be carefree, but sometimes you need to get serious and hit the books.

    [Reply]

  4. J Siniscalchi on May 11th, 2017 1:31 pm

    Buff State Commuter Alumni here.
    I fear that the authors failure to address their broader racial dynamics of Buffalo and WNY, including Buffalo’s oft noted role as one of the most segregated communities in the county, is a glaring omission. I can help but think that while the high population of Downstaters among the residential population may amplify some of the issues, we would be remiss if we failed to acknowledge that racial alienation on campus, in many ways, simply represents the racial dynamic of greater Buffalo, writ large.

    [Reply]

  5. Ryan Kirkpatrick on May 13th, 2017 1:09 pm

    Absolutely wonderful article. As a student who hails from neither downstate or Erie County (shoutout to the 315!), this piece captures a lot of my feelings I had upon my arrival to Buff State. However, once I stepped out of my comfort zone, to an extent, I found that a lot of people are very willing to be open to socializing outside their racial background or geographic location. Now, that’s not to say Buff State doesn’t have its problems—suggesting our school is scot-free in many of its areas is an utter lie—but this article really captured a lot of feelings that me, a suburban white kid from a small city in between Syracuse and Rochester shared with a multitude of African-American students from rougher neighborhoods in Brooklyn and Queens that I befriended over the year.

    [Reply]

The Record and its staff encourage a respectful, engaging and informative conversation. As such, we reserve the right to remove or edit comments containing offensive and/or distasteful language directed toward our student journalists or other readers.

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Social inequity, identity crisis and the social rift at Buffalo State