Interview by Montana Kowalczik, Visual Arts Education Major
with Curt Thomas, Junior, Graphic Design Major
What personal experience our journey brought you into your current role at or connected with SUNY New Paltz?
I would say that I ended up coming here mainly for opportunity and financial aid. Originally, I was going to go to SUNY Purchase and that was going to be a four-year thing, but they ended up being expensive and not having all my credits transferred over from my first two years at SUNY Monroe Community College. So, I transferred from that school in Rochester over to this one in New Paltz, since they also have a nice art program here.
What issues or challenges are you confronted with?
I think being a transfer student in a new school is a challenge in itself because for the first time I’m really coming into a school without knowing anyone. Even when I went to elementary, I knew people, and the same with middle school to high school. And I had my group of friends from high school to my first two years of college. So, this is weird, but it hasn’t been too bad because I’ve been encountering different people who are in the same position. I’m still trying to stay true to myself and like not try to fit into any like cliques or anything. Since so many people have their already-established cliques and friend groups from their previous schools, it’s an interesting issue that I’m not too used to, but I think that I’ll be fine.
Can’t disagree with that, I’m in the same position.
Why do these challenges exist?
I think the reason why they exist is just because college as a concept kind of becomes a melting pot for a lot of different kinds of people. You get a ton of different kinds of people and with that, you’re kind of bound to have different backgrounds and different archetypes of people that you’ll end up encountering, and some of those people are going to be like quieter, more reserved people, and that’s usually where I fall. That creates an issue of actually desiring to meet new people, but at the same time I think it’s a good issue because it forces you out of your comfort zone and you’ll learn skills on how to meet new people. That’s a skill that’s always useful.
That’s true. What are the blockages?
I think that a blockage would be the fact that I brought my PlayStation up here with me to campus, so when I’m having time to myself I’m usually playing that. Chances are I’ll probably just be in my dorm like just playing for a couple hours, and that’s not really time spent interacting with new people. I think like my whole “Sticking to myself” type thing could be worked on now because that’s just something that I’ve sort of grown into. I have a motto that is essentially like “I’m gonna do me”, and that can definitely hinder me from actually going out to meet new people. I’d say that can be a blockage at times.
What are your most important sources of success and change?
I think for a source of change would be being put in the current position that I am in. With a new college being unfamiliar and uncomfortable, it really it forces a new reaction out of a person like me. I know one of the things that I did earlier this week was signing up for a bunch of clubs just so that I could meet a variety of people likely with different interests that may be similar to my own. As for a source of success, I would say really just ambition. I’ve always been pretty invested in art from a young age. Back in high school I always had like people at telling me how good I am at drawing and it really took me until like 10th or 11th grade to be like… “OK wait…I’m kind of…I’m kind of OK at this whole drawing thing. It took that self-acknowledgment to help push me to continuously keep working at it. I want to keep pushing to get to a point where I feel like I am unmistakably great at art, and not only to just have people tell me that but to feel it. That’s what ends up being my point of trying to get success, yeah.
What would a better university or community system look like for you?
I think a better community system would be really if people just got along way better, and I think the main way that that would happen is just if they listened instead of reacted because it’s really easy to just react to something rather than actually hearing someone. And that was one of the things that I had to learn the hard way with people. You can’t be so impulsive all the time and you have to hear people out fully and answer from that point. I think if everybody did that, there would be a whole lot less conflict, especially verbal conflict. You’d be able to empathize with other people. As for a more universal level, I would say the same thing. If we as a people just had a common unity point, we would be at a much further progress point as a human race.
What initiative, if implemented, would have the greatest impact for you for the system as a whole?
I think that real equality under the law would have a pretty big impact on how I see things and how I see people and on my outlook on everything. I know for a lot of people this can be race, this can be gender, this can be sexual orientation, or a ton of other groups. Lot of places have issues of inequality, and here it’s a big issue of unequality for people of color. I think that is a big one, with me being a person of color myself, I think that would hit home especially. Just growing up and seeing different injustices not even only on TV, but also in my hometown because Rochester is notoriously bad. I think that would be a big point for me and actually inspire me to speak out for change.
If you could change just a few elements of the system, what would you change?
Educating the police force would help significantly. I know that a lot of people will jump at the idea that all cops are bad and stuff like that. I’ve never felt that way and took it as a person-by-person situation rather than an entire system. Granted, there are systems within different police systems that are inherently bad for certain groups of people. You’ll have certain cops in New York City who will plant evidence to be promoted for achieving a certain number of busts. That promotion concept in nature encourages more police officers to do stuff like that, even though they know it’s wrong. I feel that if certain parts of the system didn’t encourage that sort of behavior and instead just said, “thank you for doing your job”, would help. I feel like there’s a whole lot of “not seeing eye to eye” and that’s because of a lack of empathy and the lack of understanding between people. I’ve seen a lot of people in, for example, the All Lives Matter movement bring up these arguments that are essentially “if this group wasn’t so violent or didn’t commit these crimes, then they wouldn’t have this issue” and that’s just a massive disconnect from what is happening in reality. I saw this one thing on social media saying that, “when you have desperation, poverty, and really no clear way to get better that you can see, people turn to crime”, and I look at a lot of places that are in that exact situation daily. A lot of people just say, “if they were just like this, then this wouldn’t happen”, and those people have not been in those places and walked those streets of desperation to see why some choose to act this way. I don’t condone any violence like that, but I understand why it occurs and base my statements off of that, rather than just the action. Many people just see the violence on the news don’t have that understanding, and that’s where the lack of empathy comes in.
Who else do we need to talk to?
We need to talk to each other, especially people with views that differ from our own. Anything we can do to see the full picture is essential, and you have to interact with far more people than just your circle to really experience that. That is one of the biggest disconnects that I see on a daily basis, especially online. So many people actively choose to ignore the other side of a conversation and get so immersed in the “I’m right, you’re wrong” mindset that it turns into an argument. I see this with many communities online, from black people and white people to people of different sexual orientations. They just don’t see “it” and get so lost in bashing the other person or community that they lose their entire meaning of the discourse. I feel like it takes putting yourself in another person’s shoes to truly understand and empathize. And to be fair, a lot of organizations try to pursue that understanding and empathy for those who’d oppose and put the cause in a format that is essentially, “OK, let’s create something that we both can get behind”. That’s why I think that the responses to the Black Lives Matter movement were always so wild to me. The All-Lives Matter movement being created as a response movement to the Black Lives Matter movement undermines its entire promoted “intention” even though I didn’t buy any of it. If people just understood, I don’t think that the ALM would even gain any traction at all. Outside of just racist people that is. BLM folks aren’t saying that only Black Lives Matter, they’re just saying that these people have been oppressed. It’s not a bad concept, since all lives do matter, but you can’t make a movement as a response to another movement and try to justify it. So, I feel like if we all just talk to each other and learn to listen rather than react, we’ll all be better people.