Binghamton University’s Harriet Tubman Center for the Study of Freedom and Equity is gearing up to make actionable recommendations toward reparations at the University following the conclusion of their Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) panel series.
The TRC has been a collaborative project between the Tubman Center and BU President Harvey Stenger. Panelists consisted of co-chairs Anne Bailey, director of the Tubman Center and a professor of history, Sharon Bryant, director of diversity, equity and inclusion, Khaleel James, Student Association (SA) president and a senior double-majoring in economics and human development, and eight other BU professors, deans and faculty members. The TRC panel worked alongside an advisory board while formulating recommendations.
Bailey said she is pleased with the progress that the TRC panel has made throughout the semester.
“We’ve been thankful to have had these six sessions,” Bailey said. “We think that people shared their testimonies honestly and frankly, but they also gave us good recommendations that we now can work on. That was always the idea — to be solution-based. Not just to focus on the past, but how we can make things better in the present and the future.”
The last session, held on Thursday, April 29, marked the completion of the series of six confidential conferences that had been ongoing since mid-February. Sessions were held on Feb. 18, March 4, March 11, March 25, April 22 and April 29 from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. The conversations of these panels revolved around issues regarding racism and ethnicity at BU from 1946, the year the University was established as Triple Cities College, to the present.
Through this series, students, faculty, staff and other members of the BU community had the opportunity to share their experiences regarding diversity and race. These testimonies were either prerecorded, spoken directly on Zoom or written beforehand. The TRC panel was based on a restorative justice model and encouraged participants to provide potential solutions in conjunction with their testimonies.
Bailey believes that listening to the testimonies gave her insight into how the BU community functions.
“What I learned is that when one member of the [BU] family hurts, we’re all hurting,” Bailey said. “That’s why this matters. It’s not a political issue. It’s not what’s in the news. We’re all members of the same community, and if a student comes here for four years, this becomes their home. We’re their family away from home, we’re the people that they’re living among and we need to really be our brother’s keeper.”
Now that the TRC panel has come to a conclusion for this semester, actionable recommendations are being developed based on the testimonies.
“We are about to put forth an infographic of our top 10 recommendations,” Bailey said. “One recommendation we’re trying to advocate for, and we’re happy that [Stenger] is in agreement, is more hires of people of [Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC)] communities — more hires on the level of faculty and staff. We know that there are others also advocating for these things, so we’re just climbing to work with them. We also are advocating for a stronger policy on incidents having to do with race and ethnicity on campus, a more coordinated effort to address those issues.”
Bailey said she hopes to see a “brother’s keeper” culture, where individuals look after one another, develop at BU in the future.
“I would love to see something like my brother or my sister’s keeper’s kind of initiative where people don’t travel by themselves,” Bailey said. “It’s almost like that concept where if you are going somewhere and you will be in a specific situation where there could be a racial thing that could come up or the potential for sexual assault, that there is somebody — like a buddy system.”
Bailey confirmed that the work of this year’s TRC panel will carry into the 2021-2022 academic school year.
“Next year is a year of reparations and implementation,” Bailey said. “We’re not planning so much to have a lot of testifying, but we’re not planning to have a long set of sessions as we did this semester, because we have enough to work on.”
Matthew Johnson, TRC panelist and professor of psychology at BU, said he felt that his involvement in the TRC panel was a rewarding experience.
“I can tell you that I have found my work with the panel to be emotional, enriching and educational,” Johnson wrote in an email. “I remain profoundly honored to be part of the panel and to be entrusted with this task.”
Curtis Kendrick, dean of libraries at BU, believes addressing racist incidents as collective, related events is a more proactive way of handling racism.
“When we address racist incidents as isolated events by bad actors, it obscures our ability to see patterns that might suggest systemic issues at work — consequently our efforts to address problems meet with limited success,” Kendrick wrote in an email.
Kendrick hopes that there will be an increased awareness of BIPOC experiences through this panel.
“Among the changes, I would like to see on campus is a wider awareness of the lived experiences of the [BIPOC] among us, and a broad-based commitment to ensure that our reality here aligns with the ways in which BU represents itself,” Kendrick wrote.