During a town hall meeting on racial justice Tuesday evening, Binghamton University’s Harriet Tubman Center for the Study of Freedom and Equity released more details regarding the upcoming Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC).
According to Anne Bailey, director of the Tubman Center, director of graduate studies in history and professor of history, a TRC is a restorative justice model that provides a means “for listening and dialogue.” The TRC allows for the BU community to acknowledge difficult aspects of its past while working toward reparations and reconciliation.
The TRC will consist of six confidential, private listening sessions. All members of the BU community, such as faculty, staff, students and alumni, are welcome to share testimonies related to race and ethnicity. Every session will be held over Zoom from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. on Feb. 18, March 4, March 11, March 25, April 22 and April 29. Interested parties can register here to either give live testimony or upload a written or video testimonial.
The mandate of the TRC states the time period covered will be from 1946, the founding of the University, to the present. While the TRC will be focused on the campus community, the Tubman Center said it expects testimonies will be given that relate to individuals’ experiences within the wider Southern Tier community.
“This is a research-driven process based on restorative and procedural justice models,” the mandate stated. “We welcome written and oral testimonies on issues related to race and ethnicity. As a panel, we want to listen to your experiences on these issues, hear your personal and professional experiences with an eye toward remedy and redress. To that end, we ask that you consider offering solution-oriented recommendations as you make your testimony.”
The TRC, which is a project run in partnership between the Tubman Center and BU President Harvey Stenger, will not be publishing a report, according to Sharon Bryant, associate director of the Tubman Center and director of diversity, equity and inclusion for Decker College of Nursing and Health Sciences. Instead, the Tubman Center is currently working on alternative forms of communication it can use to keep the BU community informed about recommendations being made as a result of the TRC.
The TRC will have a panel consisting of 11 BU community members. The panel will be in charge of listening to testimonies, campus enhancement and more. During the town hall, Stenger said everyone who was asked to serve on the panel accepted the position. Stenger is expected to release a statement announcing the panel members this week.
An advisory board will be working in conjunction with the panel. While the advisory panel will be meeting less frequently, they will be sharing their opinions and making recommendations as well.
Additionally, the Tubman Center is hoping to increase community involvement by recruiting TRC ambassadors. According to Bryant, the TRC ambassador program would be a great way for students and student organizations to get involved. TRC ambassadors would be required to meet at least twice during the semester and discuss or debate the issue of reparations. Bryant said students can work within their student groups, and student groups could collaborate and work together as TRC ambassadors.
Bailey added that the Tubman Center can provide reading material, but TRC ambassadors can also look at their own resources.
“This is our way of saying we would like to invite you as a community, and the BU community at large, to be a part of this process,” Bailey said. “There is an 11-member panel, which will be doing and overseeing these listening sessions, but we really would like community engagements. What we’d like to do is call for TRC ambassadors, whether it be faculty members or staff members or what have you.”
Over 70 participants, including Stenger and Donald Nieman, provost and vice president for academic affairs, attended the town hall to discuss the current status of the TRC. The meeting opened with a statement from Bryant, who acknowledged the history of the land BU resides on.
“We want to acknowledge the land on which we are gathered here,” Bryant said. “We want to acknowledge that we are gathered as [BU] on the traditional land of the Onondaga and the Haudenosaunee peoples past and present. We honor with gratitude the land itself.”
The town hall, titled “The 3 Rs: The Road to Reparations and Reconciliation,” continued with a presentation by Bailey, where she discussed her research with the 1619 Project, an ongoing project developed by the New York Times Magazine that aims to bring the consequences of slavery and the contributions of Black Americans to the forefront.
After “a very strong and racially charged” summer, Bailey said the TRC would provide a structured method of sharing and learning from one another’s experiences with the goal of restoration and reconciliation in mind.
“This model is research-driven, and it’s based on restorative justice and procedural justice models,” Bailey said. “In other words, this is not a name-and-shaming exercise. The idea is to restore to the community the ideas to move forward and to receive actionable recommendations that can lead us toward the progress that we would like to see.”
Following Bailey’s presentation, Stenger shared a few remarks on the Tubman Center. Stenger said the Tubman Center went through the process of becoming a research center on campus but was not initially successful.
“I realized that we had just run into what we were exactly trying to stop, which was trying to get people to recognize that this is an issue important enough to become a research center at [BU],” Stenger said.
Following the establishment of the Tubman Center, Stenger said he was happy to support the TRC.
Bryant said the most important part of the TRC is allowing people to make mistakes in order to learn.
“We have to give people permission to learn,” Bryant said. “If somebody misspeaks out of ignorance, we have to be able to speak with that person with empathy.”
According to Bailey, the Tubman Center hopes to convey that there is no reason to fear this process.
“It has to be said that none of us are perfect, and there are going to be things that are said and done that we need to learn from,” Bailey said. “But, I think we want to be mindful of just how important this is and the legacy of this difficult history in the present for many groups.”