Activist Notes: Binghamton Students Fight Inequality on CampusPosted: April 17, 2015
By: Students for Change This semester Binghamton students have been organizing for change. As vague as that word often sounds, we’re attempting to fundamentally alter the climate of our campus community. “Students for Change” emerged as an umbrella organization inspired by the BlackLivesMatter protests, a national movement challenging the blatant disregard for black and brown life by the police and legal system. On campus this movement has evolved to one dedicated to fighting for a variety of causes, including an end to racism, sexism, and homophobia, among others faces of discrimination. The recent non-indictments of police officers in the Michael Brown and Eric Garner murders gave the BU community the opportunity to rethink the way oppression plays out on campus and the momentum to do something about it. While Binghamton and its administrators are fond of describing Binghamton as an institution that welcomes diversity, it consistently comes up short in delivering on that promise.
Students of color on our campus face regular harassment, verbal and nonverbal, including social media (especially anonymous applications like Yik-Yak), micro-aggressions from professors, teaching assistants, resident directors and fellow students, and a university structure hell-bent on ensuring that students and faculty of color remain underrepresented. Racial justice is central to our platform, but our demands are not limited to racial inequalities. Students for Change are organizing around the basic principles of equality, education, and most importantly, justice. For us, this means creating a coalition with advocates from many areas of concern, including LGBTQ rights, ethical treatment of workers, gender activists, and proponents of racial justice. Our demands are hardly unreasonable; we are simply asking for disadvantaged communities to be treated with dignity and respect.
What do we want? In a nutshell, we want the administration to require cultural competency training for all employees, institute an anti-oppression general education requirement, hire more faculty of color, ensure that racist/sexist/homophobic/transphobic harassment is properly punished, recognize people who do not conform to the gender binary on forms and in physical facilities like bathrooms, refuse to stand by outside contractors who mistreat their workers, and ultimately to make a concerted effort to change the oppressive atmosphere on this campus.
The administration’s response has been slow, lackluster, and completely inadequate. They took over two months to respond to our demands and Harvey Stenger, the University’s President, has consistently refused to attend meetings between students and administrators. Instead, they have sent Valerie Hampton, BU’s Chief Diversity Officer, and Director of our campus’ Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (OEDI) in his place. Hampton, who was appointed to the position several years ago, has been designated with the task of implementing “Strategic Priority 3” of the University’s Road Map plan, which is to “Unite to foster a diverse and inclusive campus culture.” Of course, Hampton alone cannot accomplish this goal when her office is not equipped to appropriately deal with issues of discrimination and harassment on campus. While Students for Change may not agree with Hampton’s position and actions, we recognize that she is a part of a larger power structure that is out of her control.
Perhaps the most pointed critique we have for the administration is their understanding of what oppression is and what it means to be oppressed. ODEI’s perception of cultural competency is to emphasize individual conflict and individual differences. Students for Change understands oppression as institutional in nature, and that understanding demands that we take action to disrupt the normal flow of oppressive institutions. With that, we have used a variety of peaceful yet forceful methods to protest the university’s lack of attention to our demands, including marches, town hall meetings, and the disruption of classes. The question that remains is how much longer senior administrators will continue to ignore us. Or, better yet, how long can they afford to?
Editorial note: After the above’s writing, President Stenger met Students for Change (SFC) in an open meeting. Answering a question at the meeting’s conclusion, Stenger angrily stormed out. His reaction prompted a wave of racist intimidation on campus by other students, who confronted members of SFC in support of President Stenger. In response, SFC protested, eventually occupying Stenger’s office. Five hours later, President Stenger met protestors, gave a brief statement, and left, turning his back (again) on victims of discrimination and his administration’s ineptitude. Looking for support and strong leadership students instead had a cold shoulder’s shrug thrust their way.
For Broome County residents these actions and non-actions call into questions the University President’s ability to foster equitable growth in the Southern Tier. President Stenger is the Co-President of the Southern Tier’s Regional Development Council and his chief of staff, Terry Kane, is the President of the Broome County Industrial Development Agency. BU’s administration are leaders in local economic development, handing literally tens of millions to private businesses yearly. If they cannot even properly attend to students to whom they are directly accountable, how can they possibly be responsive to county residents’ concerns? They cannot even design policy initiatives to handle blatant acts of discrimination on a college campus, how can we trust them to combat structural inequalities, like childhood poverty and wage theft, in our local economy? Furthermore, many (although certainly not enough!) students are local people. These are our neighbors, friends, and family being attacked. SFC’s agenda must be the community’s agenda if either is to make any progress toward a more just future in Broome County. Send President Stenger an email showing your support for Students for Change at email@example.com or find him on Twitter @PrezHarvey.