A one-time resident assistant (RA) training session focused on reverse racism and tolerance, titled “#StopWhitePeople2K16,” garnered national media attention last week.
RA training happens annually, and is a requirement for all Binghamton University RAs. This year’s training lasted from Aug. 11 until Aug. 19.
The session was part of a breakout conference portion of RA training. RAs were given multiple sessions to choose from, such as “Understanding and Valuing Neurodiversity” and “Real Empathy in Tough Times,” which were all taught by returning RAs and green lighted by BU’s Residential Life. RAs interested in hosting a conference session had to submit a proposal for their program well in advance of training.
The Binghamton Review, the University’s newspaper devoted to libertarian and conservative thought, first reported about the training session on Aug. 21. Media outlets such as Fox News and ABC picked up the story, and later in the week sources like BuzzFeed News also reported on the issue in addition to it trending on Facebook. Some news outlets referred to the training session as a course at the University or an ongoing element of RA training; both of these assumptions are false.
Brian Rose, BU’s vice president for student affairs, released an original statement on Wednesday in response to the session’s media attention. He said that after the University became aware of concerns expressed by off-campus groups and individuals, they investigated the session more thoroughly.
“We verified that the actual program content was not ‘anti-white,’” Rose said. “Topically, the discussion in the program was far-ranging, student driven and explored reverse racism, the relationship of communities of color with police, whiteness, crime and segregation in an open conversation format.”
Rose also explained that the RAs who hosted the event did not develop the hashtag themselves. According to him, it is commonly used on Twitter, and is frequently posted ironically.
In a statement released on Friday, Rose further commented on the situation as media attention grew. He agreed that the title was in bad taste and misleading to the general public.
“The program should not have been so titled,” Rose said. “Out of context, it is offensive and alarming. That was not the intent. The mistake made by staff who let it go to print was a failure to consider what impression the program title would create if it circulated beyond those familiar with the hashtag, as it in fact did. We’ll make sure all of our staff learn from the experience.”
Rose added that while its negative opinion was valid, the level of pushback that the student event organizers received was excessive and inappropriate.
“Criticism that the title was poorly chosen is fair,” he said. “Continued cries that the program purpose and intent were racist are not. The facilitators of the program have been personally targeted with threatening, racist and highly vitriolic messages. That is reprehensible and condemnable.”
Rose said that the University aims to foster an environment of open conversation, and that this session did not go against the “respectful environment” Rose associates with BU.
“I’m supportive of the students’ efforts to facilitate dialogue around a challenging set of topics,” Rose said. “We can’t control those conversations and are not trying to do so. What we hope to do from an administrative level is cultivate an environment where our students listen to one another, learn from one another and do so in a manner that doesn’t cause unnecessary harm.”