On Feb. 27, Binghamton University (BU) students received a B-Line News Addition from administrators condemning “racist incidents” on campus. With little to no detail as to what these racist incidents entailed, Pipe Dream worked with both students and professors to establish contact with those affected in order to publish a news column. On March 15, prior to writing our articles, Pipe Dream staff got in contact with Joshua Price, professor and chair of the sociology department, to discuss racist and sexist slurs voiced against one of the teaching assistants (TA) for his course. The TA, an African American woman, did not respond to our request for comment, and we intend to continue to respect her right to anonymity.
Following the process of gathering information from those involved, as well as dealing with an unexpected shutdown of the Pipe Dream website, our first article reporting on such incidents was published April 7, five weeks after our staff’s initial contact with Price, with his account of the incident, as well as any guidance he sought out, included.
On April 6, one day before this piece was published, the Graduate Student Employees Union (GSEU), a workers’ union representing TAs and graduate assistants (GA), started a petition calling for the resignation of Nicole Sirju-Johnson, Multicultural Resource Center (MRC) director and assistant vice president for diversity. The petition was in response to a circulating email thread between Sirju-Johnson and Price in which Sirju-Johnson wrote that “everyone has as much a right to be racist as they have a right to be culturally competent.”
Pipe Dream first reported on this petition specifically, as well as its call to remove Sirju-Johnson, on April 19, as now explained in an editor’s note at the bottom of the news piece. The same day, Pipe Dream’s news editor reached out to the two original reporters for the piece asking whether they contacted Sirju-Johnson for comment. Once it was made clear that Sirju-Johnson had not been contacted prior to the published piece, the article was immediately removed from the website. In an attempt to rectify this error, one of our staff members sent an email to Sirju-Johnson requesting for a comment on her original email statement, as well as the petition. Since then, Price has also claimed he was not contacted for comments, despite the fact our news staff reached out to him, only to receive no response to our questions.
In response, Sirju-Johnson sent the staff member an email shaming and belittling her, stating she would be fired if she had worked at other, larger newspapers, for not doing her job. Sirju-Johnson also demanded a printed public apology, stating, “This is the gracious space we get for being human.” Despite this follow-up email, she declined to respond to our questions, prompting our asking Ryan Yarosh, senior director of media and public relations for BU, afterward. Our updated piece was republished April 22 under the same title with his response added to the piece, and the editor’s note was added April 28.
It was after this republication that Price inappropriately sought out the personal emails of Pipe Dream’s editor-in-chief, news editor and the original two news reporters, inquiring whether it was our “standard journalist practice” to publish a piece related to his class, when he had not been contacted for comment. As stated earlier, Pipe Dream news staff had emailed Price for comment in regards to the April 19 article detailing the GSEU petition and received no response. Since our staff informed him of this, Price has not contacted our staff through our personal or professional emails.
It has come to our attention that this article and its republication, in particular, has led many to feel that we were biased in our reporting on the petition. While that was absolutely not our intention, we’d like to take a moment to apologize for lack of a communication with our readership. Were the explanation clearer, it would’ve been more easily understood by the public that we were attempting to do our journalistic duty and reach out to all parties involved in the incident. We apologize for this miscommunication and should’ve explained that we were not given full information and responses from our sources, including this situation directly in the article. We still are only working with what we have been given directly from those sources, and encourage those involved to call for action with this in mind. This is not the first time that those within the University, be it the MRC, individuals, student organizations or the administration, have found themselves at odds, but it is the job of the administration especially to use their power and leadership positions to deal with these situations in an appropriate manner — not to behave as though they have no experience or judgement in these matters.
Regardless of everything that has happened afterward, it is important that the original issue is not lost in the crossfire of placing blame. At the end of the day, a student was still racially attacked and met with a wildly inappropriate response from the University, and department, that was meant to help them. This is abhorrent and we commend Professor Price for using the following classes in his course to open a discussion and provide education on racism and its history in Binghamton. Students of color are feeling especially vulnerable and betrayed during this time, and their voices should be at the forefront of this conversation. Racism shouldn’t be allowed to thrive on this campus, but yet again, it is affecting students plain and clear for all to see and they remain unprotected. The situation that has followed the initial incident also feels like a defining symptom of a larger issue — an issue of respect for students.
We pay tuition to come here to learn, make mistakes and to grow as individuals, not to watch our administration do the same. They are supposed to be our leaders, they are on the winning end of an unequal power dynamic and they are the ones who, at the end of the day, have spent more time trying to pass the buck than actually supporting their students. It seems that we are good enough for our money, for our contributions to the school, but not worthy of autonomous respect. Even our experiences as an organization have proved that we are not important enough to warrant professional respect, boundaries, responses or courtesies, but are suddenly treated with authority when they realize we are capable of shaping a narrative in their favor. For the student in particular, and other graduate students like them, they are treated as important enough to be elevated from their student status to be seen as employees, but are still left hanging by their employer. The criticism of students is valid and if anyone is in a position of privilege and power to accept that criticism, it should be those who receive the money from our loans and payment plans. This should never have dissolved into determining who was right and who was wrong, but rather whether or not a student has received justice. It should go without saying that intimidation on behalf of the University, regardless of who it is directed at, is beyond unacceptable.
While again, we apologize for any miscommunications or clarity issues regarding the information we were given, we want to make a point, here and now, to stay we stand with students first. It is the reason Pipe Dream publishes independently from the University without any faculty supervisor — to allow us the fact that we are never obligated to paint them in a kinder light, nor to make excuses for an issue they mishandled. That never has been, and never will be, our intention. We are calling on the University, and all other parties involved with this incident, to step up, admit their mistakes and move forward understanding that what happened was unacceptable. This is not right, and we all, ourselves included, should work to decenter our own feelings to allow those most affected by this incident to receive justice and healing.