On Sunday, Binghamton University hosted a celebration of life for Benita Roth, a professor of sociology and history and a former director of the women, gender and sexuality studies (WGSS) program.
Roth, who also served as vice president of academics for the United University Professions (UUP) and won an Excellence in Teaching Award, passed away on May 27, 2023, after a short battle with cancer. Known for her work ethic and leadership, Roth was devoted to her work both in the community and at the University and was extremely close to her friends and family. The ceremony, sponsored by the UUP and the WGSS, sociology and history departments took place at Casadesus Hall in the Fine Arts building, followed by a reception in the building’s grand corridor.
Nancy Appelbaum, one of the event organizers and a professor of history, met Roth for the first time 25 years ago during new faculty orientation, and they were close friends and colleagues. She described Roth’s impact on the department and the people she worked with.
“[Roth] was extremely effective as a union leader and helped a lot of faculty members individually,” Appelbaum wrote in an email. “She really built up WGSS. She also developed an incredibly extensive network of very good friends, both here and across the country and abroad.”
Melissa Zinkin, a professor of philosophy, collaborated with Appelbaum to celebrate the many dimensions of Roth’s life and work. Roth’s sister and friends from across the country were in attendance.
At the time of her death, Roth was conducting research at Truth Pharm, a nonprofit organization that helps to raise awareness and advocacy and reduce stigmas surrounding the opioid epidemic. Alexis Pleus, the organization’s executive director, spoke about Roth’s work.
“[Roth] was studying Truth Pharm and the work that we do related to the opioid epidemic, the developments of movement building and the potential impacts on regional actions and impacts,” Pleus wrote in an email. “[Roth] spent time with our family for holidays and gatherings and also was a member of our Rainmaker — volunteer — family and community.”
Pleus mentioned the “countless” times Roth went above and beyond. She was a certified Narcan trainer and provided one-on-one and community Narcan training. She would also attend advocacy or conference trips with the organization, often working all day long to compile her notes, even when she took a sabbatical.
She added that Roth’s countless volunteer hours, training, community and academic work did not go unnoticed.
“[Roth] only contributed to the positive aspects of our community by working hard, remaining positive and boosting the morale of other Rainmakers,” Pleus wrote. “She had this sort of relationship with most of the people around her, finding ways to imbibe levity into what can be a very dark and sad place here at Truth Pharm as we deal with so much turmoil, death and trauma.”
Roth was an award-winning feminist scholar of social protest movements. Her research dove into the intersection of Black, Chicana and white feminist movements and looked at the inequalities and advocacy surrounding the AIDS movement in Los Angeles. She authored two books and multiple journal articles.
Emily Lai, a junior majoring in graphic design, expressed her condolences and acknowledged Roth’s legacy.
“Roth seemed like a trailblazer in both research and academia, especially with her work that helps advocate for victims of the opioid epidemic,” Lai said. “People like Roth are integral to a community like here at [BU] or even Binghamton in general, and she will be greatly missed.”
Appelbaum reflected on her and Roth’s shared memories.
“I think most about our many conversations over the years, along on long walks or over dinner or with our other friends,” Appelbaum wrote. “She was a smart and funny person, sometimes grumpy and brusque, but a warm and loyal friend. She had a big personality and intimidated some people, but was greatly loved.”
Editor’s Note (10/2): This article has been fixed to include Roth’s correct title of vice president of academics for the UUP.