One month after several racist incidents occurred at Binghamton University, faculty are calling on the administration to take action.
In a B-Line Addition on Feb. 27, BU President Harvey Stenger acknowledged the incidents, calling them “antithetical to our core values.”
“We do not tolerate acts of discrimination, hatred or bigotry, whether they are spoken or written as acts of vandalism,” Stenger wrote. “We, members of the administration and members of the community at large strongly condemn racist and offensive acts of any kind. Personally, and as a campus community, we reject these acts, we will call them out as long as they persist and we will continue to support the victims of racist acts.”
One of these racist incidents occurred in a discussion section of a sociology class taught by Joshua Price, professor and chair of the sociology department. While Price was not present in the discussion section when the incident occurred, he was able to provide a secondhand account of what happened: a student in the discussion section made a racist, sexist remark about the teaching assistant (TA), an African American woman.
“After the section ended, an undergraduate emailed me and alerted me to what happened,” Price wrote in an email. “The [TA] also emailed me and gave me her account. Other students subsequently wrote me and told me they’d witnessed it and heard what the student said. All these accounts, by different people who don’t know each other, were consistent.”
After speaking with the TA, Price, the TA and Gladys Jiménez-Muñoz, an associate professor and undergraduate director in the sociology department, spent two class periods discussing racism.
“I wanted the [TA] to feel supported and to address the racism to the extent to which she felt comfortable,” Price wrote. “The offending student wanted to address the class, 200 students, but I didn’t allow him. He subsequently dropped the class. Students wrote me that they were glad I was not ‘pushing it under the rug.’”
Seeking guidance from administration, Price said he wanted to check what were the rights of both the offending student and the students who witnessed the incident in addition to his own rights and obligations.
“All I can do as a teacher is address this forthrightly in class and try and support the [TA] and the students as best I can,” Price wrote. “As a professor, I have limited disciplinary tools at my disposal as far as I know, and that is why I sought guidance. Some of the guidance seemed unhelpful.”
Price also sought guidance from his union, the United University Professions (UUP) Binghamton Chapter. Benita Roth, UUP Binghamton Chapter vice president for academics, professor of sociology and director of the women, gender and sexuality studies department, said the incident was reported to administration during a UUP labor-management meeting. Roth added that she “personally [hopes] to see a real engagement by the administration with the real, on-the-job issues that students of color face at BU.”
“I would just say that professors, instructors and teaching assistants, who are in a different union [the Graduate Student Employees Union (GSEU)], deserve to work in an environment free from harassment of all kinds, [including] harassment based on their race or ethnicity,” Roth wrote in an email.
Price said he is unsure whether any further plans are being made to address the issue.
“My [undergraduate students] have said that the [Student Handbook and Code of Student Conduct] should be revised to address racist incidents,” Price wrote. “This seems wise to me. The [undergraduate students] have also pointed out that there is a framework for dealing with plagiarism, which includes significant academic penalties, so why isn’t there a framework for dealing with racist incidents?”