SUNY Buffalo State students need to be more aware of their surroundings

Kassia Balus, Contributor

My semester is pretty light this fall; class in the morning, a three-hour break, class after Bengal Pause, sometimes class on Monday nights and an online poetry course. Despite a full school schedule, I have enough time to comfortably handle my schoolwork, manage a social life, and work as a direct caregiver at Suburban Adult Services Inc. (SASi).

I am blessed. I realize that not every student has this kind of semester very frequently. Usually our lives are bombarded by deadlines; we are made functional by consumption of coffee and energy drinks. The busy lifestyle we live is overwhelming, yet we find time to do it all, somehow.

A few weeks ago, students gathered in the Quad during Bengal Pause for homecoming. I’ll admit that I’m not super social at school; I would rather stay in the background – usually with headphones in – and observe my surroundings.

Homecoming was no exception; I watched students set-up the stage from a park bench, and I watched the dancers practice their routine for the enjoyment of hundreds of college kids. I watched students scurry to get some Lloyd’s for lunch, or rush into the library to claim a computer before it was too late. I watched young adults laugh with friends. I observed the area of SUNY Buffalo State with the densest population of students at that very moment, but I also saw something that was very out of place.

I saw an older, white male with a large paper bag trying to get the attention of the students around him. I removed my headphones to get a better understanding of what was happening. He kept asking, “Excuse me, can you please help me get to Roca?” Let me tell you, he was not quiet. He was loud and out of the ordinary, but he was not heard. At least that’s how it appeared.

Perhaps the music was too loud in some people’s headphones, or their sunglasses were too tinted to see him. He asked with panic in his voice as student after student passed him by. Before I could even gather my thoughts, this man – who we will call Mike for protection of his real identity – suddenly began walking past me, and another young lady seated on the park bench to my left. He was heading for Bishop Hall.

Instinctively, I asked the girl next to me to watch my things and ran after him.

Mike was still asking every single person that passed him by where Roca was, yet no one acknowledged his existence. He got looks from students of confusion, fear, and almost a hint of disgust. I watched this as I ran to him, and grabbed his attention before he could enter Bishop Hall. Mike again asked me how he could get to Roca.

Within minutes of talking to Mike, I realized that he was meant to be next door at the Wellness Center, perhaps his cab driver confused Roca with Rockwell. I am unsure. He allowed me to call campus security for him so that they could help him get to the place he was supposed to be. Mike was very kind – and loved superheroes, come to find out – Mike was also petrified.

He was confused and lost and had no idea how he was going to get to where he needed to be, and worst of all, he couldn’t find a single soul to help him. Even at the busiest time of day in the busiest part of campus, Mike was alone. Thankfully, the nice girl on that park bench – whose name I never got – and myself were at the right place at the right time, and were able to help this man.

Mike was extremely thankful that someone was stayed with him while the police came to help. He was so much more comfortable after someone took the time of day to help him and speak kindly to him. Mike just wanted to be heard.

So what’s the point?

Mike’s mind works differently than ours, and the details of Mike’s story are unclear prior to our brief encounter. I can surmise some things, but do not know with any certainty what brought him to our campus. I did do some follow up though, and Mike is safe and where he is supposed to be.

Maybe I should mention here that I’m also an exceptional education major, and I work with adults that are “not normal.” I seek to work with students someday that also have disabilities, but what is “normal” other than a setting on a drier?

On a daily basis my calling is to advocate for those who cannot express themselves the way you and I can. So sure, my job and life passion prepared me for my run in with Mike, but to simply help him get to Roca is not enough. The message needs to get out to everybody that people like Mike may be all around us, and we are not even taking a second out of our day to notice.

Maybe we aren’t running into people with mental disabilities at every corner, but the point remains the same. Take the headphones out or the sunglasses off, and acknowledge when someone is crying for help. For sure, some people didn’t see him. We are humans. We miss things. For sure, some people ignored him.

We are humans. We get scared. It’s easier to turn a blind eye than to interrupt our own goings-on to help a stranger. It’s easier to keep walking. It’s easier to let someone else deal with it. Trust me when I say the last thing on my mind is to tote my own decision to help here. For me there only was one option- to help this lost man. I perhaps threw caution to the wind a little bit, but I couldn’t just let him pass by.

My intentions are pure in desiring to create awareness that we need to step up. We need to become aware of our surroundings and maybe get out of our comfort zone a little bit to help someone else in need. We need to be encouraged to not let opportunities pass us by, that we later regret not speaking up or standing up. We need to look past ourselves and look at everyone around us. We need to stand up for those who cannot themselves. After all, don’t we all want to be heard?

Buffalo is the city of good neighbors. Buffalo State stands for its students being upstanders instead of bystanders, yet our community fell short this day. We owe it to our city, our community, our institution, and ultimately, we owe it to Mike to step up and stand out.