President Krislov: Use Pace University's NYC Campus to Support and Aid Peaceful Protestors

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Aimee Smyke
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Pace's Original Statement:

An Open Letter to the President of Pace University, In regards to his June 1st Statements, the Current Protests Nationwide, and What Can Be Done to Help.
June 2nd, 2020
Dear Mr. Krislov,
My name is Alex Knezevic, BFA Acting Graduate from 2019. If you remember, I composed music for a dance piece that was part of a celebration welcoming you to our school my Junior year. I spent my years at Pace getting to experience all types of culture and diversity across the city, something that wasn’t available to me growing up in white affluent Illinois suburbs. Through my years at Pace, the people I met in and around my education and college experience, all helped me open my eyes to a broader world view. At the same time, I heard and saw people of color, my friends and colleagues, consistently voicing concerns about how they were treated in day to day life. I saw many teachers in my program voice ignorant/racist comments, as well as stereotype and pigeonhole the abilities of my peers. I’ve heard of teachers and program heads, of Caucasian descent, tell people of color “how the world is going to be for them” or “this is what your career will be because of how you look”, or even encourage white students to do performative blackface, in a case or two.
            Now I’m sure that these incidents aren’t exclusive to the Pace Performing Arts Community. In fact, there were majorly mishandled issues regarding racial conflict in the NYC Housing/Res Life team this past winter. In my limited experiences as a privileged white male at Pace, having seen these issues, can you imagine what students of color are seeing in the school every single day? With teachers, administrators, and peers?
            You said in your statement that the recent days have shown us that “significant number of our fellow citizens are devalued and mistreated because of the color of their skin”. With all due respect Mr. Krislov, the incidents I saw in my college experience at Pace, over the years, are examples of devaluing and mistreating people. The police have murdered innocent people in the streets. That is beyond mistreatment, and the comment alone devalues what is truly happening out in the world.
            I was out marching and protesting yesterday. We walked the Brooklyn Bridge. I passed Pace, set up conveniently blocks away from Police Plaza, while officers stood barricading and blockading our school, a private university. With the resources and privileges Pace possesses, in location, space, and money, why is a written statement the only action taken while protests are right in Pace’s back and front yards? In the streets and neighborhoods of its students? I know many Pace students returned to their hometowns during the pandemic, and with school being out, many students are not in the city. Yet I know so many current and former Pace students are out marching, donating, and truly fighting against many repulsive forms of injustice in modern society that are rooted in the deep racist history of the United States.
            My question to you is this: With so many of your students not only fighting for this movement, and many that are directly affected by systemic racism in their daily lives. Rather than “standing with your students” as your suggest, why don’t you do what you’ve claimed:
“We are steadfast in our belief in the power of peaceful protest. And we support anyone and everyone in our community working to change the world for the better.”
Given Pace’s proximity to many of New York’s most important public spaces and forums, I call on Pace University to truly aid and support those peacefully protesting, until we see true, tangible proof of progress.
1.     Open up dedicated spaces in the school that are meant as protestor rest/recovery points.
2.     Let protestors use the restrooms.
3.     Hand out water and snacks.
4.     Be fully stocked with first aid gear from our currently unused health center to assist anyone that may be harmed.
5.     Provide masks and gloves and other items to assist stopping the spread of COVID while engaging in necessary protest.
These are just the ideas of one person, I’m sure as a Pace Community we can continue to develop this list into more actions.
Of course, this presents a whole slew of logistical issues.
1.     First and foremost, I know many people are concerned with looting and destruction of property. There are two groups involved in these demonstrations, and we cannot confuse them – Protestors calling for change, and looters looking to selfishly take advantage of the current movement in order to get some expensive items. However, the group I was with yesterday was completely nonviolent – actively confronting and pressuring those inciting violence to stop, in order to reinforce the peacefulness of the protests. The most property damage I saw during this protest was spray painting, which is not all that hard to fix up. Even so, if we are to provide refuge for those protesting, they in turn are going to be protecting a sacred space from looters and anarchists. The movement wants peaceful protest. The property destruction that is going on will be blamed on people of color no matter what, and those who truly care about the cause know better than to let that occur.
2.     1 Pace Plaza is a large building. We’ll need to block off certain entrances and exits, which could require security staffing or work beforehand to lock up certain doors and disable elevator access to Maria’s Tower as well as the classrooms above the main floors and B level. While I cannot speak for the financial costs of bringing in security, nor do I know if they are already in the building most days or not, it could be a welcome source of income and employment during a difficult time.
3.     We’re going to need organizers. I am currently offering to spearhead the organization of volunteers. I have started a petition online which I will link to you, and I hope you check it regularly. From that group, I will send out a call for NYC based volunteers; I already have a few alums who are willing to help me in this. I would encourage any faculty that feels they don’t know how to help, to show up to volunteer, in addition to donating some of their money.
4.     This will cost money. I do hope that Pace will put some money behind this. Students all over are using their own money to donate to organizations on the ground trying to do the work to bring change, despite their large debt at the hands of Pace. I wouldn’t want Pace to effectively draw donations from places that could be doing stronger work, while Pace has plenty of money it takes in already. However, I do think students and teachers should be able to donate – but ideally that will be time and supplies, rather than a PayPal receipt and a hashtag on Facebook.
True change starts from within. I call on you, as President of the University, to take steps to ACTIVELY MOVE towards tangible change. Past my call to support the protests in action, not simply words, I don’t know what those steps may be for you and the rest of the University. There is so much work to be done to dismantle the structures in place, but we need big players like Pace to step in and use their power. You have said you will hear us, and I am calling to be heard. Actions speak louder than words, Mr. Krislov. Aside from a one-page press release on Pace letterhead, how will you be using your power as President of Pace University to truly enact change?
Alex Knezevic
BFA Acting, Pace University, 2019