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September 4, 2012

SUNY Oneonta looks past Black List

Cornell West to speak tonight

ONEONTA — The criminal case was never solved, but the police probe of Sept. 4, 1992, sparked protests, lawsuits and sometimes intense discussions about stereotyping, racism and civil rights.

Twenty years ago today, state police at Oneonta began an investigation into a reported burglary on Upper East Street near the campus of the local public college. The suspect, a 77-year-old woman said, was a young black male.

The State University College at Oneonta gave troopers a list of black male students, and in the days following, police questioned about 300 black students and residents. No arrests were made.

The release of the list and its aftermath became known as the Black List, and the discussion continues formally today as SUNY Oneonta presents a day of observance, atonement and learning titled “Beyond the Black List.’’

The college has made steps toward recovering from the Black List, and that momentum must continue, according to a former mayor and a former student who lived through the trying days and years after the incident.

“Is it cured or healed?’’ David W. Brenner, Oneonta mayor from 1986 to 1997, asked last week. “No, not yet. But I think the community is better positioned to prevent such things from happening.’’

The Black List was a tragic event that hurt not only college students, staff and faculty as victims but also administrators who acted without malice in making difficult decisions, said Brenner, who retired in 1993 from SUNY Oneonta as associate vice president for academic affairs.

The college’s vice president for administration who authorized release of the list was demoted and suspended as a result of the Black List, and the director of SUNY Oneonta Public Safety, a department now called University Police, resigned.

Major Barnett, a student at SUNY Oneonta in 1992, described the Black List as a “growing pain,’’ and peoples’ reactions to it vary.

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