On Thursday, Binghamton University revealed the establishment of the George Floyd Memorial Scholarship and the creation of the Campus Citizens Review Board in response to the nationwide protests against police brutality and racism.
Protests began when George Floyd, 46, a black man, was killed by police officer Derek Chauvin, 44, who knelt on Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes while Floyd repeatedly said, “I can’t breathe.” Since Floyd’s death on May 25, thousands of protests in support of the Black Lives Matter movement have been conducted throughout the country, including a series of demonstrations in Binghamton starting on May 31.
In a B-Line announcement released on June 10, BU President Harvey Stenger said BU supports New York State (NYS) Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s “Say Their Name” Reform Agenda. According to Cuomo’s website, this agenda calls for policy changes to prevent police brutality, such as banning chokeholds by law enforcement officers and prohibiting false race-based 911 reports. Stenger said these policies will apply to Binghamton’s New York State University Police (UPD).
UPD’s policies, procedures and practices will now be reviewed and improved upon by the Campus Citizens Review Board, which will be comprised of students, faculty and staff at BU, Stenger said.
“I am dedicated to creating this board and will work with the campus community toward decisive action,” Stenger said. “We encourage all other local and regional police agencies to follow this lead.”
BU, with the help of the Campus Citizens Review Board, also plans to reallocate funds from UPD to other campus services, such as mental health services, Stenger said. Students have voiced their discontent with the lack of mental health services present on campus for years.
In addition to these policy changes, Stenger announced the establishment of the George Floyd Memorial Scholarship, a $1.5 million endowment. This scholarship, according to Stenger, will be distributed “to support future African American leaders who seek racial justice and endeavor to make a positive impact on the world.”
As an effort to provide this support for graduate students, Stenger said BU will also reallocate an additional $200,000 toward the Clifford D. Clark Diversity Fellowships for graduate students.
“Our alumni and supporters have a tradition of civic engagement and financial support to our students,” Stenger said. “We see no better way for them to put their values into action than to support these efforts. We will make the George Floyd Memorial Scholarship a funding priority, seeking additional donations to increase its impact.”
David Hatami, the Student Association’s (SA) vice president for multicultural affairs and a sophomore majoring in political science, said the University’s administration is making great initial strides toward positive reform.
“I believe that our campus and student body will benefit greatly from the planned reallocation of University resources, and I’m proud to say that the [SA] worked hard to make sure student concerns were heard and turned into action by administration,” Hatami said. “However, it is doubtless that there is still much work to be done.”
This statement came after Stenger’s previous B-Line announcement on the matter from May 30, where he voiced his solidarity with thousands of peaceful protesters in support of Black Lives Matter. Stenger said the violence being carried out during these protests, however, needed to stop.
“While the [BU] community stands together with the thousands engaged in peaceful protest of Mr. Floyd’s killing, we also call on those responding with violence to desist,” Stenger said. “The pain and anger that may provoke these acts is understandable, but violence only deflects attention from the tragedy of Mr. Floyd’s death and the action we must take to stop racist violence.”
On May 31, the Black Student Union (BSU) responded to Stenger’s original announcement in a letter. BSU claimed Stenger’s response was “insensitive and offensive.” In this letter, BSU referred to BU’s response to the fall 2019 protests against the unauthorized tabling of Turning Point USA (TPUSA), a national right-wing organization, and the arrival of Arthur Laffer, an economist and former adviser to former President Ronald Reagan and President Donald Trump.
BSU claimed that students of color were physically assaulted by UPD during these protests.
“This statement comes at a surprise to the black students at [BU] because you failed to address anti-blackness, institutionalized racism and systemic violence displayed toward black students at the hands of the [UPD] on our campus during the fall 2019 semester,” BSU wrote.
In addition, BU’s National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) released a statement on June 2, voicing its agreement with BSU’s letter.
“We echo the sentiments of the mistreatment of black students as expressed by [BSU] in a letter to [Stenger] on May 31 and we stand with them,” the NAACP wrote. “As college students, it is imperative that we realize that the systems that we grapple with on our campus serve as microcosms for the larger systems faced by black people on a national level. [BU] is not a bubble.”