After the alleged strip search of four black 12-year-old girls at a local middle school garnered national attention, all eyes are on the Binghamton City School District.
The four East Middle School students say that they were strip-searched by the assistant principal and school nurse during school on Jan. 15 after appearing “giddy” and being accused of possessing narcotics. The Binghamton City School District denies these claims, stating that it simply administered medical examinations: “When conducting medical evaluation, it may require the removal of bulky outside clothing to expose an arm so that vitals like blood pressure and pulse can be assessed. This is not the same as a strip search.” When national news outlets such as Buzzfeed, Washington Post and HuffPost reported on the incident, the school district hired a third-party firm in Syracuse to investigate. Furthermore, Gov. Andrew Cuomo has asked the New York State Department of Education to assist in the investigation, stating that the allegations are “deeply disturbing and raise serious concerns of racial and gender bias.”
The attention from the governor and popular news outlets indicates the severity of this issue, and the Editorial Board is glad that the allegations are being taken seriously. We maintain that no search of any kind should have been conducted without notifying the parents of the girls, and we support the decision to investigate further. Twelve-year-old girls being “giddy” is nothing out of the ordinary; this search had little basis in the first place. Regardless of the degree to which the girls were instructed to remove clothing, they are minors and cannot consent to a search. Additionally, the Editorial Board recognizes that this is not the first time the Binghamton City School District has faced controversy regarding troubling allegations against its students.
The Editorial Board commends the work of Progressive Leaders Of Tomorrow (PLOT), a community advocacy group that is largely responsible for bringing this incident to the public eye, especially through the utilization of “#BelieveBlackGirls” on social media. Its ability to bring so many people together in solidarity with the girls highlights the importance of community organizations and direct action. At a rally organized by PLOT, community members and Binghamton University students demonstrated outside the middle school on Jan. 29 to show their support for the girls, vowing to hold the school administration accountable. Several people who attended school in the district as children recounted experiencing similar disturbing incidents, including Korin Kirk, a member of the school board. Given that such accusations against the Binghamton City School District have persisted for years, it is clear that this is an institutional problem in this school district. The Editorial Board wonders why it appears that little has changed after all these years.
Middle school students are in a transitional period in their lives and their education. The Editorial Board realizes that a child’s school experience during their adolescence sets the tone for their education in the future. We are concerned about the lasting effects that actions like these may have on these young black girls. With statistics showing that black students and students of color are suspended at higher rates than their white counterparts, it is easy to see how incidents like that at East Middle School help proliferate racial inequalities in education. Such inequalities can even persist at the university level and beyond.
As BU students, we too are members of this community, and we must pay attention when incidents like these occur here. Moreover, although BU is not directly involved, it is a leader in the area and should take the community’s concerns seriously.
As more details become available, the Editorial Board urges students to keep their eyes on local affairs and to support the Binghamton community. After all, a community can only be as strong as the bonds between its members — local residents and students alike.