On June 10, Binghamton University President Harvey Stenger sent out a B-Line announcement to students and faculty, addressing the recent protests and the Black Lives Matter movement.
Stenger states that police reform, as indicated by New York state (NYS) and the NAACP, will be applied to the Binghamton’s New York State University Police (UPD), effective immediately. He called for the creation of a “Campus Citizens Review Board, composed of students, faculty and staff, that will be charged with reviewing and improving the Binghamton University Police Department’s policies, procedures and practice,” as well as to reallocate funds from UPD to other campus services with the board’s guidance. Stenger also said that $200,000 will be reallocated toward the Clifford D. Clark Diversity Fellowships for Graduate Students and the newly established George Floyd Memorial Scholarship. With an endowment of $1.5 million, this scholarship will be given to “support future African American leaders who seek racial justice and endeavor to make a positive impact on the world.”
The announcement also comes over a week after Stenger’s first B-Line announcement, in which he expressed solidarity with those upset with the death of George Floyd, but also called “on those responding with violence to desist.” The most recent message also comes 10 days after the Black Student Union (BSU) sent a letter to Stenger, criticizing his first message and lack of appropriate response to the death of George Floyd. The BSU also noted his lack of acknowledgement to the specific issues and violence faced by black BU students. Stenger’s most recent announcement has provided no clear and direct response to the BSU’s letter.
It is safe to say that Stenger’s promises will be received with a healthy dose of skepticism. Stenger’s responses to issues affecting students of color on campus have been consistently delayed and have even completely missed the mark. He has a track record of delayed responses to incidents affecting students of color on campus, and he infamously walked out of a Students for Change meeting in 2015. His response to racist and hateful graffiti on campus in 2017 only occurred four days after the first incident, with a concrete statement released after a second incident. When a Muslim business owner was murdered in spring 2019 in Johnson City, the administration took six days to release even an initial response, after several campus groups repeatedly met and sent a letter of demands his way. The history of Stenger’s and the administration’s responses to racial issues affecting the BU community shows that responses have only come after significant student outrage has begun to boil over.
Should the promises in his statement actually come to fruition, they will be an uncharacteristic and significant step in the right direction. As has been the message surrounding the nationwide outrage and protests over the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade and countless other black men and women at the hands of police officers, the momentum must continue. Black students and other students of color deserve more than empty promises. They deserve concrete action since they haven’t received enough support thus far.
Both BU and Stenger must keep students informed and provide specific details regarding the training of UPD officers. No matter how often B-Line announcements will have to be sent out, students deserve to know what the officers charged with their safety will be learning. As of now, it is unclear just how many of the items on the NYS police reform agenda will be implemented on campus.
The creation of the Campus Citizens Review Board sounds like a unique way for students to have their voices heard, but it must be comprised of both faculty and students of color, as they face the greatest threat of police violence. The selection process for this board must be shared with the student body, as well as just how much authority the board will receive from the administration. Throughout the reallocation of funds, all students, whether on the board or not, should be privy as to where their money is going, and should be able to express where they feel need is greatest on campus.
As a public college in the United States, we have to acknowledge BU’s roots and history in both structural and institutionalized racism, something the administration has failed to do. To have a university in a city that was headquarters to the Ku Klux Klan from 1923-1928 and not discuss racism with transparency and honesty is a disservice to its students — especially black students. This cannot continue.
Lastly, the Editorial Board stands with students of color and with the Black Lives Matter movement.
We know that we, as a paper, have made mistakes in the past. However, we would like to go forward with a strong commitment to transparency within our organization and its relationship to the community it serves. We hope to expand on the efforts of the previous semester to continue mandatory training for all staff in cultural sensitivity and will strive to increase diversity within our newsroom. The goal of our paper, with each new administration, is to learn from our mistakes and set future members up with the tools they need to be an accurate voice for the campus community.
To BU students: we are listening. We welcome your feedback, criticisms and concerns. We invite both interested student organizations and individuals to reach out to us, whether to learn more about our process, publish a guest piece with us, discuss an issue or to inquire about writing with us in the fall semester. We will gladly make time for you.
The past few weeks have proved that America is changing. For BU to do the same, President Stenger must follow up these promises with decisive action. We all must do our part to challenge our current systems, but the administration must lead the charge for equality on campus.
Editor’s note: This article was updated on June 12 to reflect a correction regarding the murder of business owner Shakeel Khan in spring 2019. The article initially stated Khan was murdered in Downtown Binghamton. However, this was incorrect. Khan was murdered outside his restaurant in Johnson City. Pipe Dream regrets the error.