As faculty and staff in the human development department, we stand in solidarity with the students who participated in the actions that took place on Thursday, Nov. 14 and Monday, Nov. 18. Missing from the various discussions on campus is the underlying issue at hand, which is not the tabling event nor the speaker who came. These are symptoms of the problem. The issue on this campus is simple; students of color do not feel welcome here! Again, students of color do not feel safe on this campus! The incidents which took place last week are a response to a campus climate which for years has felt hostile, unsafe and exclusionary to students and faculty of color. The continued persistence of this environment on the campus of Binghamton University is deeply hurtful for the students of color who walk the grounds and enter the classrooms navigating these spaces feeling unsafe every day.
We believe the rights to speech protected by the First Amendment are essential to any democracy, and fully support any campus policy that protects those speech rights. However, we also believe that the application of University policy regarding speech has been biased against students of color, contributing to the creation of a hostile environment. The incidents of these past few weeks are illustrative of this bias. The tabling event that catalyzed the campus unrest was organized in violation of campus policy and without permission from the University. Those students face no consequence for their violation of University rules. Rather, Binghamton’s New York State University Police acted to protect and support the continued presence of the unauthorized tabling event. Students of color regularly experience repression on campus when they organize against racial discrimination, even when their actions comply with University policy. Given this disparate treatment, it is not unreasonable for students of color to feel unwelcome and silenced at this institution.
We ask that the University administrators not hide behind the First Amendment. We seek their assurance that the University administration will take measures to provide the students, faculty and staff of color a safe, supportive environment to learn and grow. The first step in this direction would be to refrain from the criminalization of the student participants. The administration instead should offer apologies for the campus climate that forced the need for students to respond. While white supremacist ideas may be protected under the First Amendment, the University should not be providing more protection for these ideas than values of egalitarianism and diversity.
For those who walk this campus as racialized and marginalized people, the administrative response to acts of racism has been inadequate and ineffective. The arrest of one student of color who is one of our human development students has enhanced the culture of terror for people of color on this campus. We ask for a commitment from the administration to implement a policy that does not tolerate and support “hate” in any form on this campus, and to implement all University policy in a nondiscriminatory manner. The students, faculty and staff of color deserve nothing less.
Denise Yull is chair of the human development department and an associate professor of human development.