Updated on November 18, 2019 to include more details.
Approximately 200 students congregated on the Spine on Thursday afternoon to protest after Binghamton University College Republicans and Turning Point USA (TPUSA), an organization that is not chartered by the SA, tabled in support of gun rights.
The tablers held signs that read, “I’m pro-choice. Pick your gun” and “Coexist,” spelled out with rifles and other types of firearms. Hours earlier, a shooter opened fire at a high school in Santa Clarita, California. In a statement released by the College Republicans on Nov. 17, they said they were also promoting an upcoming event sponsored by the Young America’s Foundation (YAF) featuring economist Arthur Laffer. During the protest, which lasted approximately 45 minutes, protesters were heard shouting, “No justice, no peace, no racist police” and “Pack it up,” as well as other chants against both groups’ position.
According to Emma Ross, president of the SA and a junior double-majoring in political science and psychology, another SA-chartered organization had reserved the Spine for most of the day. SA groups are not permitted to table on the Spine without making a space reservation with Orrin Kenyon, assistant director of University Union operations, per SA and University policies. Ross said College Republican members were warned twice about breaking the rules.
“They were informed that rule violations are considered when determining whether or not a group will receive office spaces,” Ross wrote in an email. “Despite being given this information, both groups chose not to move their tables.”
Khaleel James, SA vice president for multicultural affairs and a junior double-majoring in economics and human development, said he explained to College Republicans and TPUSA members that they could not table during that time, but they voluntarily chose not to move.
“I tried to explain the SA policy that is going to affect them and how it will,” James said. “At this point, the time went by and they continued to protest and people gathered. I just told them that they have to do it in the proper manner.”
According to Ryan Yarosh, senior director of media and public relations at BU, Binghamton’s New York State University Police (UPD) were dispatched to the Spine following reports of conversations becoming “loud, aggressive and possibly volatile.”
“Police response was appropriate and important to make sure that every student involved in this matter was safe and remained safe,” Yarosh wrote in an email. “The incident ended and the crowd was able to be dispersed without anyone getting injured.”
After officers began separating the groups, some of the protesters turned their message toward UPD, shouting, “Who are you protecting?” The confrontation between UPD officers and protesters comes days after UPD was criticized for arresting Dheiva Moorthy, vice president of BU Progressives, member of the Frances Beal Society and a sophomore double-majoring in environmental studies and sociology, for tearing down Birthright International advertisements on multiple Off Campus College Transport buses. Birthright International aims to provide a nonjudgmental confidential zone to pregnant women seeking help, according to their website, but students have raised concerns that its advertisements are misleading because it presents pregnancy options with an anti-abortion view.
Sam Backner, a junior double-majoring in sociology and philosophy, politics and law, said the police response to the protest highlighted the injustices occurring on BU’s campus by UPD.
“This is very much showing me how the police are actively working against people of color and communities of color at this school and protecting racist [President Donald] Trump supporters,” Backner said.
Jennifer Roman, a junior majoring in psychology and vice president of the Latin American Student Union (LASU), said she was not shocked to see the police response, given the discrimination present on BU’s campus.
“I feel like [with] the administration and the staff you can tell there’s been a whole history of racism,” Roman said. “I was talking to the cops, and they were telling us to leave as if we were the issue. I feel so emotional. I feel like crying.”
Lacey Kestecher, president of BU’s TPUSA chapter and a freshman majoring in business administration, said protesters were aggressive.
“They took our tables,” Kestecher said. “They took our stuff. They were basically ripping it apart, and now we’re just watching everything.”
After the protest, students and community members filled Lecture Hall 9 for “Pigs and Prejudice,” a previously planned event hosted by the Binghamton University College Progressives. Fliers posted around campus publicized a discussion surrounding the increase in the size of the UPD and over policing. The event turned into a student-led discussion on the protest and the reactions of those involved.
The Binghamton University College Democrats released a statement on Nov. 15 requesting the SA suspend the College Republicans for disregarding SA tabling rules and ban TPUSA from tabling in the future.
The BU College Republicans also released a statement demanding the University protect their First Amendment rights by taking action against the protesters. The statement referenced a video posted by the Young America’s Foundation of the protest. As of Nov. 17, the video has more than 79,000 views on YouTube.
Republican Assemblyman Douglas Smith, who represents New York state’s 5th assembly district and is a ranking minority member of the Assembly’s Committee on Higher Education, sent a letter to BU President Harvey Stenger on Nov. 15, addressing the protest and advocating for the protection of free speech for students on campus.
“I would like to know what steps the college will be taking to promote inclusion and diversity on campus; this includes diversity of political opinion,” Smith wrote.
The next day, Smith posted on Facebook, saying he spoke with Stenger over the phone. He said Stenger excused “students bad behavior” and is blaming the College Republicans for the action of the protesters.
“If the University fails to identify and take proper disciplinary action against these students who had a temper tantrum and physically shut down their peers’ ability to peacefully exercise their [First] Amendment Rights, they will be condoning violence against their own students,” Smith wrote.
In response to the protest, Yarosh emphasized the importance of free speech on college campuses and said the University condemns acts that “impede the expression of one’s beliefs.”
“As a University, we encourage everyone to consider the perspectives of others — and the damaging impact words and images can have — even if they are protected as free speech under the First Amendment,” Yarosh wrote. “As an institution of higher education, freedom of speech is fundamental to our core mission; academic inquiry and the exchange of ideas rests on the principle that all have a right to express their beliefs.”
Jacob Kerr contributed reporting to this article.