In an effort to address the recent racist incidents that have occurred on campus, Binghamton University’s sociology department sponsored an antiracist town hall on April 18.
The event, which saw over 300 attendees over Zoom, was held in light of an incident that occurred during the first discussion class in Sociology 100: Social Change: Intro to Sociology. When a student in the course expressed racist and sexist remarks to the TA, an African American woman, the instructor of the course, Joshua Price, professor and chair of the sociology department, and Gladys Jiménez-Muñoz, associate professor and undergraduate director in the sociology department, both consulted with the TA for support and spent the following class periods discussing racism and racial discrimination.
In a Feb. 27 B-Line News Addition, BU President Harvey Stenger and Vice President for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Karen Jones condemned this and other racial incidents that occurred on campus this semester.
“We have just learned that this week our campus community experienced several racist incidents,” the News Addition stated. “These offensive incidents do not represent who we are as a campus community. In fact, they are 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. 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.”
In response to these incidents, the BU sociology department in combination with the Black Student Union (BSU), the Latin American Student Union (LASU), the Asian Student Union (ASU), Binghamton Pan Asian Leaders Council (BPALC) and the Graduate Student Employee Union (GSEU) organized the town hall to provide a platform for an open discussion on racism at BU and in the community as a whole.
Gladys Jiminez-Munoz, an associate professor of sociology and director of the undergraduate studies program in sociology, opened the event. She shared words condemning racism and recent deaths at the hands of police, including George Floyd and Daunte Wright, a 20-year-old Black man who was killed last week by a Minnesota police officer.
“I think that George Floyd and Daunte Wright are signals that continue to come our way to let us know that we cannot rest,” Jiminez-Munoz said.
Gabreella Friday, ‘20, explained how during her first year at BU she was arbitrarily pulled over five times and added that she observed many racist incidents throughout her time at BU, including death threats toward herself and other students of color.
Shanel Boyce, ‘14, MSW ’18, had her own experience to share regarding attending graduate school at BU and the hardships she faced as a result of her skin color.
“I was told I don’t belong here since I was asking for accommodations as a Black teen mom,” Boyce said. “My graduate student experience almost killed me.”
Price was one of the speakers at the town hall. When discussing the incident that occurred in the discussion section of his course, Price said “the undergraduates in the section reported that the TA dealt with the situation with poise and grace.”
Price explained that the TA feared the threat of administrative kickback if she reported the incident.
“Institutions are more upset with those who are upset with racism than racist actors,” Price said.
Nortee Panpinyo, president of the ASU, founder of BPALC and a junior majoring in systems science and industrial engineering, shared his experience with not only external racism toward the Asian community but also internal racism.
“Some of my oppressors are other Asian people,” Panpinyo said.
Not all of the speakers were directly related to the University, as two reverends also offered their comments on racism in the Greater Binghamton community. Rev. Harold Wheat of Tabernacle United Methodist Church offered a summary of how racism is prevalent within his faith. Wheat explained that racism had been prominent throughout the Christian Church for “centuries.”
Rev. Ronald Wenzinger, ’94, of Centenary-Chenango Street United Methodist Church, shared his perspective both as a BU alumnus and as a pastor that accepts LGBTQ+ members in his congregation. Wenzinger’s call for action revolved around coming together and uniting to face racism.
“How do we get to know each other and build community?” Wenzinger said. “That’s where our power lies.”
Rabbi Barbara Goldman-Wartell also spoke about the need for decisive and quick action.
“We have to pursue justice, we can’t just wait for it to happen, it won’t,” Goldman-Wartell said.
Other speakers included some BU alumni looking to contribute to fighting racism in the community, as well as students of color from other university communities, including a student speaker from SUNY Purchase. After the initial 90 minutes of speeches and sharing thoughts, Claire Choi, a junior double-majoring in sociology and Korean studies, shared a poem that she dedicated to Daunte Wright, Adam Toledo, a 13-year-old boy who was shot and killed by a Chicago Police Department officer, and the lives lost in the Atlanta mass shooting on March 16. Her poem discussed the racism she faces as an Asian.
Following the reading of the poem, Katrina Huffman, ‘96, inquired about “specific tools” she and other alumni could make use of.
Ryan Yarosh, senior director of media and public relations for BU, said the University is working “to foster a diverse and inclusive campus culture, and this goal continues to be one of our key priorities.”
“In efforts to address concerns for the emotional health, physical safety and civil rights of Black, brown, Asian and other people of color on our campus, we have created a Division of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, established the Campus Citizen Review Board to oversee police activities and worked closely with the Student Association and other organizations to provide activities that promote respectful dialogue,” Yarosh wrote in an email. “This is in addition to the creation of the [Harriet Tubman Center for the Study of Freedom and Equity], the Inclusive Pedagogy workshop for new faculty and others, as well over 50 campus-wide workshops on cultural competency, active ally and other programs.”
Aside from these initiatives, Yarosh also explained how the activities and programs offered by the Multicultural Resource Center (MRC), including debates, promotion of voter rights, domestic violence discussions, food drives and virtual programs, aim to help students who are unable to attend protests for racial justice.
“The MRC is one of the many resources on campus where students of all backgrounds can find support and a place to listen and to be heard, and as a campus, we will continue to encourage inclusiveness and dialogue,” Yarosh wrote.