On Thursday evening, Binghamton University President Harvey Stenger held an open forum on diversity and inclusiveness at 7 p.m. in the Chenango-Champlain Collegiate Center.
The forum was the first of three Stenger plans to hold as part of his Road Map to Success. Yesterday’s forum was led by his diversity and inclusiveness road map team.
Stenger said that the idea for the forum initially stemmed from an incident last spring when students found a drawing depicting a man urinating on the continent of Africa on the white board in their classroom.
Following the incident, Stenger posted a letter to B-Line reaffirming the University’s commitment to inclusive and civil discourse.
“Binghamton University is a campus of diversity and inclusion where persons of all colors, races, nationalities, ethnicities and religions are welcome,” Stenger wrote in his letter.
According to Stenger, he received a mixed reaction from students and faculty regarding the letter.
In his opening remarks, Stenger said the purpose of the forum was to lay the groundwork for the Diversity and Inclusiveness team.
“I wanted to create a starting point for that road map team’s goal,” Stenger said.
Randall Edouard, co-chair of the diversity and inclusiveness team and director of BU’s Equal Opportunity Program, followed Stenger’s comments by explaining the importance of the forum to his team.
“The information that will be gathered from you will play a critical role in our road map team process,” Edouard said.
Following opening comments, the forum participants moved from the fireplace lounge to the C4 multipurpose room to discuss their ideas on diversity at BU.
Groups rotated between five tables, spending 15 minutes at each discussing a different question pertaining to diversity. The groups were given a large pad of poster paper and markers to organize their ideas.
Val Hampton, co-chair of the diversity and inclusiveness team and director of Affirmative Action, introduced the process and told students to speak openly with one another.
“You must be open to new ideas and thoughts,” Hampton said.
She encouraged participants to be creative with their posters.
Suzanne Howell, director of Residential Life & Housing, selected resident directors from various residential communities to lead the discussions at each table.
Stenger spent the forum observing the process and taking notes to prepare an op/ed piece he intends to write about the forum.
“I have a homework assignment,” Stenger said. “I have a paper to write this weekend.”
He said the piece will talk about the incident last spring, discuss how complicated the issue is, and review the ideas he heard at the forum.
Although the diversity and inclusiveness team already works with a number of students, the open forum gave the team a chance to hear from a greater number of people.
“It’s an opportunity to get a broader cross-section of student input,” Hampton said.
As the groups rotated to answer each question, the resident directors running each table were asked by Hampton and Edouard to report what was discussed at their table.
Jacob Bartholomew, the RD of Hunter Hall, reported that his table discussed the lack of interaction between student groups on campus.
“These groups do not come together,” Bartholomew said. “There is little crossing over.”
He added that there is potential for more collaboration between groups.
“There is a big potential that this campus has to come together on identity and diversity,” he said.
Donald Lodge, a junior double-majoring in political science and Chinese, said the forum was a good beginning to dealing with an ongoing issue.
“I feel like the conversation just started,” Lodge said.
He added that having faculty and staff members interested in working toward inclusiveness on campus indicates a promising future for the issue.
“Now that the faculty is involved and has created a task for us, I think that this has the potential to alleviate the situation,” Lodge said. “Maybe not in the next year or five years, but it will happen.”
At the end of the forum, President Stenger, inspired by Chabad’s annual Mitzvah Marathon tradition, asked students from the forum to commit a “random act of inclusiveness” over the next few days, and to report the act back to the diversity and inclusiveness team.
Overall, Stenger said he was pleased with the outcome of the forum.
“The kind of conversations that students were having tonight was different than any conversation they’ve had in their entire lives,” Stenger said. “It was a really wonderful experience.”