Ana Beliz Olmeda, a SUNY Buffalo State student, is enraged with a well-known club on campus for the way that African American members have been treated.
Olmeda, a senior studying sociology, has come forward with statements concerning alleged unfair treatment from the Pride Alliance group on campus. She has been a member of the group for two semesters and noticed right from the start that there was something strange about the club’s membership.
“When I first started attending Pride Alliance, it was an all-white group,” Olmeda said. “There were no people of color in the group and it felt very foreign.”
Olmeda felt that a group that promotes diversity on the Buffalo State campus should also promote diversity within the group itself.
“The group doesn’t represent the demographic of students on campus,” Olmeda said.
United Students Government President Derek Jorden said USG, as well as Pride Alliance and African American Students Organization, welcome everybody to their organizations regardless of race. He said they are culturally based, however, which makes some students feel like they can’t go and join a club.
“People don’t go. There’s a lot of African Americans that are homosexual,” Jorden said,” and they’re like, ‘Hmm, this school’s Gay Pride Alliance does not fit them.’ It’s not that it’s a bad thing or a good thing, it’s just, ‘That’s just not my scene.’ But I’ve been to those meetings and I’ve seen people that are not white, if you want to say.
“There are black people that join Pride Alliance, so I’m really not sure where these allegations are coming from, but I’ve seen it from my own eyes. I didn’t hear anything about grievances, but it’s just personal opinions to people.”
More issues ensued after Olmeda made the decision to attend the camp weekend hosted by the Pride Alliance group and the Caribbean Students Organization.
Camp weekend is an activity that many of Buffalo State’s clubs and organizations participate in to encourage togetherness within their groups. The college maintains a 615-acre camp, located in Franklinville, NY, that can be used by clubs on campus, including Pride Alliance.
Prior to camp weekend held in March 2015, a meeting took place between the two groups that would be attending. The purpose of the meeting was to identify any potential risks, especially those that dealt with homophobia.
The following meeting, attended by Olmeda, was a debriefing of the previous meeting between the two clubs. Olmeda claims that during this assembly, the Pride President, Nickey Sereluca, directly referenced an African American member as “colored.”
Upset over the remark, Olmeda and others expected that Sereluca would apologize for the words she chose to use. However, the president has yet to make this apology.
Olmeda then decided to attend the camp weekend that March. There, she was once again met with an uncomfortable feeling of exclusion.
“As soon as we walked in, they began to blast rap music,” Olmeda said.
It became apparent to Olmeda and her friends that the weekend would not be as uniting as they had hoped it would be. Even a simple icebreaker game made one African American student member feel victimized by others.
Other Buffalo State students and Pride Alliance members have had similar experiences at the annual camp weekend.
“As the trip progressed, the exclusion based on my skin was well known. Not a single member even spoke to me. I felt that I was not welcomed,” said senior Brittany Bennett-Allis, a former Pride Alliance member.
After the trip, Bennett-Allis left the group due to the discrimination she experienced.
Everything from sleeping arrangements to dining arrangements seemed to separate the African American and Latino attendees from the Caucasian attendees, according to Olmeda and Bennet-Allis.
Yvonne Bradley, another African American student and former member of Pride Alliance, was also upset over the unfair treatment that she and her friends received during a camp weekend.
“It was surprising to me that a group that faces adversity would go out of their way to make the minority feel isolated. I felt like I was in a nightmare and I could not wait for this weekend to end,” Bradley said.
Olmeda made communication with another student who had attended this year’s camp weekend. The student was subjected to similar treatment as Olmeda had the prior year, but does not feel comfortable coming forward to address the situation.
Chief Diversity Officer Dr. Karen Clinton Jones and Diversity Program Coordinator Jason Parker of the Equity and Diversity Office both said they haven’t heard of any allegations or grievances surrounding the aforementioned issues with Pride Alliance.
“One of the things that I tell students, that I tell everyone is I think sometimes we need to assume good intent until proven otherwise,” Clinton Jones said. “And so, they may have thought that they had heard ‘colored,’ when in fact she (Sereluca) may have said ‘persons of color.’ There may have been an instance where we may not have heard something and rather than checking with that person to say ‘Hey, did you really mean that as a statement?’ and ‘Here’s why I’m taking offense to it.’
“Even in that moment, there’s an opportunity to make certain that there’s some clarity and that you’re walking away educating the person, in this instance students, to say ‘You know, that language is a little offensive, here’s why I find it offensive, what did you mean by that?’ And so, without that dialogue, you’re really struggling to put pieces together that may not fit.”
If students were to file a formal complaint, Clinton Jones said that normally, she would review it and work with the Dean of Students Office to see which, if any, policies were violated and what discipline would be put into place. Clinton Jones said students can also go to the Dean of Students Office to file a complaint.
“It’s hard to express what someone’s intent was because you can never prove intent,” Clinton Jones said.
After taking one semester off from attending Pride Alliance, Olmeda decided to get back into the group to see if anything had changed. She was not surprised to find that the club and its members had not changed their ways since her experience at camp.
After becoming aware of the unchanging standards of Pride Alliance, Olmeda addressed the group’s executive board with her concerns, including the lack of diversity within the club.
“My intentions are not to end the group, but to remove the president from a position of power,” Olmeda said.
Olmeda gave the executive board suggestions to improve the lack of diversity and compassion within the group, including the incorporation of a diversity officer.
Olmeda fears that the attitudes and beliefs of the Pride Alliance group are not going to change if this issue is not resolved.
Sereluca was unavailable for comment. The Record went to the Pride Alliance’s office and asked several other current members if they wanted to comment but the members declined. Dean of Students Dr. Charles Kenyon could not immediately be reached for comment.
Record Editors Dave DeLuca and Patrick Koster contributed to this article.
email: morr[email protected]