This semester, Binghamton University decided to lift and adjust some COVID-19 precautions, hoping for a return to normalcy. However, the scope and timing of these decisions were questionable.
The mask mandate was lifted on March 26, less than a week after Spring Break. Although the mandate was lifted amid low COVID-19 case rates on campus and in Broome County, the timing of the decision was rash, as students were arriving back to campus from a variety of different locations. The announcement of the decision occurred even quicker than the timeline proposed in a B-Line Announcement made weeks prior, which stated the University would announce their decision on the mask mandate five days after Spring Break. In addition, just weeks ago cases in BU and in Broome County were on a rise, taking Broome County to a high level of COVID-19 transmission, though the University has yet to instate any clear policy in response, with a recent B-Line simply encouraging students to “take precautions.”
Fortunately, the University has reinstated regular surveillance testing this semester, with students required to receive a COVID-19 test approximately once a month from the Decker Student Health Services Center. Given rising COVID-19 rates, however, testing should be required more than once a month. In conjunction with requiring students off-campus students to “attest” to a negative COVID-19 test result through a Google Form prior to arriving to campus, it appears many of the University’s precautions this semester are lacking substance.
Additionally, although exciting efforts have been made this semester to increase academic funding and expand the University, it feels as though the administration has put more resources toward appealing to prospective students and improving the University for future students than meeting the demands of its current student population.
Over “Launch Day” weekend, BU announced the EXCELERATE funding initiative. The project’s goal is to raise an astounding $220 million to “bring greater excellence and speed to [BU’s] incredible record of success,” according to Howard Unger, ‘82, the program’s campaign chair. On a positive note, the initiative will fund internships, research, academic programs and scholarships, but the failure to promise any funding toward mental health resources is extremely disappointing given the egregious lack of mental health resources at BU, which will be expanded upon later.
In January, BU President Harvey Stenger promised the creation of a new “School of the Arts,” which includes renovating the Fine Arts Building and introducing new majors and masters programs. The prospect is exciting, but Stenger admitted the initiative was “probably a ten-year plan,” so we are looking forward to development. Still, calls for renovations of the Fine Arts Building have been a request of many students, and it is important to see the University invest in such initiatives.
In the realm of diversity, equity and inclusion, the Multicultural Resource Center as well as the Division of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion have held a number of notable events this semester, including BU’s first-ever Men of Color Summit, which provided attendees networking opportunities with professional alumni, as well as workshops and group discussions meant to “help participants gain a greater sense of self,” according to its website. Additionally, BU has recently teamed up with the Onondaga Nation to develop a “Three Sisters Garden’’ on campus to pay homage to the Indigenous people that originally inhabited land in the Binghamton area. Members of the Onondaga Nation Farm and other Indigenous representatives participated in a panel on campus on May 4, after they blessed the land in Haudenosaunee tradition, planting sacred seeds. The Editorial Board hopes the University continues to implement such initiatives in support of underrepresented communities.
However, in a sit-in during Admitted Students’ Weekend coordinated by the newly founded BU Multicultural Coalition, an on-campus student activist group, frustration was expressed at administration for failing to ensure a positive environment for minority students. Protestors cited racist incidents on campus that the University failed to properly respond to, but focused on the University’s response, or lack of, after Ana Maria Candela, assistant professor in sociology, was attacked by national media for promoting a “progressive stacking” policy in her course syllabus. BU’s public comments on the situation were one-sided and incomplete, failing to include any input from Candela herself but frequently uplifting sentiment similar to that of Sean Harrigan, a student who filed a Title IX complaint against Candela, as well as the voice of administrators, who vaguely referenced the Faculty-Staff Handbook that Candela’s policy is said to have violated.
The administration also failed to release an official statement regarding the situation, instead opting to privately share a letter from Donald Nieman, executive vice president for academic affairs and provost, with 15 people by request only. The BU Multicultural Coalition, which particularly aims to provide support Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) students, had released a list of demands calling upon the administration to release a statement, as well as to increase funding to multicultural organizations and protect victims of hate speech, which the University has also yet to respond to. It is important for the University to release statements such as Nieman’s, or even one of Candela’s, publicly, through their own channels of communication, especially given the vitriol that Candela has faced as a result of national attention.
On a similar note, as part of SUNY’s Promoting Recruitment, Opportunity, Diversity, Inclusion and Growth (PRODiG) initiative, BU has appointed two new faculty members in their “Critical Studies in Race and Inequality” cluster hire, with one to start in fall 2022 and one in fall 2023. Although we are excited to welcome these faculty members, as a University whose faculty is 86.36 percent white, we hope that more faculty of color are hired moving forward — this is an initiative that has been going on since 2019. With only four faculty appointments made since then, including the two new hires, the University has much work to do.
Lastly, B-Alerts have remained inconsistent in covering important events this semester. On April 14, a B-Alert was emailed to students regarding a shooting around Baldwin St. in Johnson City, but there was no alert regarding an earlier shooting on April 5 in the student-heavy West Side, that left a bullet in at least one student’s parked car. This was a terrifying situation for students in the area, so the lack of comment or updates from the University regarding the situation was concerning.
While EXCELERATE, the School of the Arts, and new DEI initiatives are exciting prospects, the administration has also fallen short of responding to the needs of many of its students. Moving forward, investing in mental health resources for students and meeting the demands of students of color should be at the top of its agenda.
Student Association: A-
The Student Association (SA) has had no shortage of student-related issues to tackle this semester. Largely, the SA has been playing an active role.
After students expressed concern about dining options on campus, members of the SA worked to establish a Dining Services and Campus Food Committee recommending potential changes, including asking for long-desired options in Halal and Kosher. The survey put forth by the committee, as well as the resulting proposals — including removing the controversial “stealing fee” from BU Dining Services (BUDS) costs, are commendable. Still, the committee is new, and the impact it will have remains to be seen. Making big recommendations is one thing, but actually ensuring their implementation is another.
The SA E-Board had also put forward a strong statement regarding the incident involving Candela, as she faced backlash from national media due to the implementation of the “progressive stacking” policy in her classroom. The statement provided by the SA not only acknowledged their support for the professor, but also called for the administration to respond to the incident, a request the SA should often make with more liberty. When the SA held their Q&A with Stenger in late March, however, instead of questioning the president on what was clearly a pressing issue to students, SA members opted to forget the issue entirely, with the only questions regarding multicultural organizations on campus coming from a few students that had came to the meeting to express their discontent.
Still, the SA has made effort to improve their relationship with multicultural organizations, with SA members often showing up to meetings of multicultural groups, as well as organizing a large Iftar fundraiser for the Muslim Student Association. In addition, the collaboration between various Asian student groups on campus with the SA to propose legislation calling for a University holiday on Lunar New Year was an important initiative. While developing relationships with multicultural groups takes time, the SA’s efforts to improve this relationship deserves commendation.
In addition, the SA has made effort to foster stronger communication with the student body, through increased announcements and social media communication, as well as SA-president-led “fireside chats” and their first general interest meeting (GIM) in years. While SA President David Hatami may have never been able to spell “Pipe Dream” correctly, his communication with Pipe Dream’s media requests as well as the student body has generally been consistent.
Events held by the SA this semester, and throughout the year, have also generally been strong, with Spring Fling drawing a large amount of students in the first in-person format of the event in years. As BU continues to return to in-person and “pre-pandemic” events, it is important to see the SA continue to put time into making sure such events are run properly and have great turnout. In addition, more educational events, such as “Financial Literacy Night,” saw the SA target new audiences. Still, such large student events should also be organized regarding more pressing and serious issues affecting students, including mental health, a topic increasingly discussed on campus.
While the SA has been active on many issues, it has also exhibited limitations in the scope of its voice this semester. Last semester, when three restaurants in Downtown Binghamton closed following allegations of sexual assault against owners, the SA put out a statement acknowledging survivors and expressing support for a boycott of the establishments. However, the SA failed to make a single public announcement following the restaurants’ reopening over the winter, an issue of importance as the restaurants were seeking to rebrand their image. Similarly, the Editorial Board would have liked to see more public statements and initiatives from the SA regarding mental health initiatives, with such issues increasingly discussed on campus following the passing of a recent student.
Overall, the SA’s work this semester has been strong, but room for improvement is clear.
Student Association Programming Board: A
After a great semester of exciting events and concerts last semester, the Student Association Programming Board (SAPB) continued its hot-streak this semester. The SAPB managed to showcase big stars, such as Gunna, and talented comedians like Jaboukie Young-White. They also featured a talk with “Hamilton” star Javier Muñoz and a variety of musical concerts, including Battle of the Bands and Binghamton Underground Music Presents (BUMP) shows.
The biggest success from the SAPB this semester was the Spring Fling event. The first half of the day was dedicated to a festival featuring booths, rides, performances, food and more. A significant portion of BU’s student body attended, contributing to one of the biggest turnouts that the campus had seen in years. In the second half of the day, student band The Plasters and musical duo Social House opened for Gunna at the East Gym Parking Lot E. An enthusiastic crowd of students eagerly waited for Gunna, and, despite many students believing that he wouldn’t show, he did. The SAPB making parts of the festival and the entire concert free was a fun end-of-the-semester gift for students.
As always, the SAPB social media outreach keeps them connected to students. Sending out their spring survey and posting FAQs while constantly promoting their events was a great way to keep everyone involved. Last semester, SAPB delivered popular events that featured WILLOW, Saturday Night Live (SNL) cast members Alex Moffat and Mikey Day and Brian Baumgartner, the actor for “Kevin” from “The Office.” As they did last semester, the SAPB abided by COVID-19 guidelines this semester as the University began to lift crowd and mask restrictions.
The SAPB put notable effort into concerts this semester. In March, they had the Battle of the Bands to see who would open for Spring Fling. They hosted two BUMP shows that showcased a variety of different artists to students, like Pom Pom Squad, Pool Kids and food house. These BUMP shows also gave a spotlight to student bands as openers, which this semester were Mote and BUG.
The Editorial Board is pleased with the SAPB for their variety of large-scale entertainment during this semester. Like the previous editorial, we recognize Lucas Bianculli, SA vice president for programming (VPP), Olivia Le, SAPB concerts chair, Sean McManus, SAPB BUMP chair, Katrina Chan, SAPB festivals chair and Jocelyn Phipps, SA comedy chair, for planning such successful events for students.
In spite of a rocky fall semester for BU Athletics, this spring has been more positive. The most notable event was the completion of the brand-new Bearcats Baseball Complex, which was built thanks to a $60 million donation from an anonymous donor. Despite plans for the stadium to be finished by the baseball team’s home-opening game, construction has just recently been completed. As for the baseball team’s performance this season, it has been a bit of a rollercoaster. The beginning of the season was rough as the Bearcats won only three of their opening 13 games, followed by an embarrassing sweep by Maine, their America East (AE) opponents. Lately, however, they’ve been on the rise in conference play, winning their last four AE series. Unlike last year, they’re projected to head to the conference playoffs.
Softball has had a similar season, lacking early success in conference play. However, the team is approaching the end of its season, and it seems to be heading in the right direction as it completed its first sweep of the year last weekend. The program faces some inconsistencies across the board, but things appear to be getting better.
Impressively, both lacrosse programs have qualified for the postseason, with the women’s team qualifying for the first time since 2018. Senior attack Kevin Winkoff has been a standout performer for the men’s lacrosse program this season, currently sitting second in the conference in average goals per game with 2.69. The resilience of the men’s lacrosse team to make a lasting impression on the AE this season despite the adversity it has faced since early 2021 is commendable, to say the least.
However, where BU Athletics has garnered the most “hype” is the men’s basketball program. Under new head coach Levell Sanders, the men’s basketball team recorded its best conference record in over a decade and made it to the AE semifinals, where they lost to the eventual champions, Vermont. In spite of the roster problems the team faces going forward, it looks as though it will retain junior guard Jacob Falko and sophomore guard John McGriff, both of whom have been excellent additions to the program. The women’s team, however, had a disappointing season, as they lost in the quarterfinals of the conference tournament after playing a lackluster fourth quarter that sunk any chance of success. The Bearcats’ nine-win year started out promising, but losing 14 of 15 games in the middle of the season derailed any progress.
All of the aforementioned success is somewhat novel to BU. What isn’t new is the success of both the track and field and wrestling programs. It is athletes like redshirt seniors Dan Schaffer and Emily Mackay on the track and field teams and Lou DePrez and Joe Doyle on the wrestling team that trailblaze for future generations of BU athletes to perpetuate further success at this University. While neither program necessarily replicated their national achievements from last year, seeing them represent BU at such a level is nonetheless an extremely impressive feat, of which distance head coach Annette Acuff and wrestling head coach Kyle Borshoff should be unbelievably proud.
It is important to note that the grade of “B” for BU Athletics is somewhat preliminary considering that many programs still have major competitions left on their respective slates. However, if the last few weeks are a sign of things to come, expect to see some of Binghamton’s best performances coming up as June starts to roll in.
Dining services have had some wins and losses this semester. To start, BUDS has hosted a plethora of fun events and themed food nights at campus dining halls this spring, including a “Mardi Gras” themed night, featuring New Orleans-centered food, and a “By Land or Sea” seafood night.
In February, BUDS had pulled food from dining halls in an abundance of caution following reports of stomach illnesses from students, eventually determining, in collaboration with the Broome County Department of Health, that symptoms reported were not consistent with food poisoning. While it is important to see BUDS taking such thorough precautions regardless of the cause, BUDS needs to also ensure that their methods of allowing students to report such complaints are easily accessible and properly advertised. As a BUDS spokesperson had said, the organization had difficulty reaching out to students who had made complaints, with many not providing contact information. Instead, many students had turned toward a survey created by a Hinman College SA representative.
Regarding the quality of food, although students have enjoyed the return of choices like salad and sandwich bars, some students with allergies or dietary restrictions still feel as if they do not have enough options in the dining halls, especially those that are vegan, gluten-free, halal or kosher. It is important to see the BUDS expand such options, rather than wait for SA committees and legislation to request such.
Additionally, the College-in-the-Woods Dining Hall reopened in February after being closed to cater to students in quarantine housing. However, the dining hall remains closed on weekends, which is an inconvenience to those living in the College-in-the-Woods community.
In February, the SA created the Dining Services and Campus Food Committee, which aims to give BUDS suggestions regarding dining hall hours and food options, but it is unclear whether these recommendations will be considered, with a BUDS spokesperson quoted in a recent article stating she had not yet read the proposals.
Lastly, BUDS has taken a step backward in sustainability. The year started off on a great foot, with students utilizing the OZZI system that was put in place in 2020 and dining halls offering reusable plates and utensils. However, some dining halls have since begun to only offer paper plates and plastic utensils with no justification, which is disappointing. According to a survey distributed by the recently created SA committee, only a minority of students, or 11 percent, said they currently use OZZI containers — a number which BUDS needs to make an effort to increase.
Hopefully, moving forward, BUDS can work in conjunction with the student-led Dining Services and Campus Food Committee to cater to the dietary needs of students and increase efforts in sustainability.
Transportation and Parking Services: D-
Last semester, the Editorial Board gave the Transportation and Parking Services (TAPS) a D, citing overfilled parking lots and traffic on campus. Since then, not much has changed for the better. During peak hours, it is difficult to find parking in any lot, and traffic on the way to campus makes it impossible to figure out the right time to leave for class.
According to the TAPS website, there are always spots available in the far lots, such as ZZ, E1, and G1. Whether or not that is true, expecting students to park as much as 20 minutes away from their classes is not always feasible. Construction on Vestal Parkway continues to increase congestion and cause longer commute times. Bad traffic coupled with long travel times between parking lots and campus buildings means students have a good chance of being late even if they leave early for class. The TAPS website contains a parking availability table, which they claim is up-to-date. However, it continues to encourage people to park in these faraway lots and does not reflect the availability of the central parking lots. The website makes no mention of traffic patterns near campus.
Recent increases in fines and the addition of a $10 ticket appeal fee also played a role in TAPS’ low grade. Appealing is already a hassle for students who feel that they were wrongfully ticketed — adding a fee is another unnecessary inconvenience. These new policies do little to combat the parking issues faced by the campus community. The extra revenue will supposedly help pay for the maintenance of the lots. Many parking lots on campus are in need of repairs, however taking more money from students and faculty is not a good solution.
Although the “Stress-Free Bing” initiative allows commuter and residential students to remain parked in commuter spots overnight while studying for finals, this ignores the fact that many students have valid reasons to be parked past midnight throughout the whole semester. Glenn G. Bartle Library is open until 2 a.m. most weekdays, but commuter students must park far from the library to take advantage.
Since the University has no plans to increase parking, TAPS needs to find another way to combat these issues. It is their responsibility to make sure parking is available for people who need it. Disincentivizing appeals by adding a fee does not help anyone.
Mental health resources: F
In the wake of the recent passing of a student, and the topics discussed at his vigil, we have had to reanalyze the resources, or lack thereof, that the University provides for mental health. It is clear that BU does not provide anywhere close to enough resources for mentally struggling students.
The University Counseling Center (UCC), BU’s primary care option for mental health, employs only 16 counselors on its staff. Meanwhile, BU’s total student population entering last semester, fall 2021, was 18,055. What this means is that for every 1,128 students on campus there is exactly one UCC counselor to meet their needs.
The other major University-backed option for student mental health is Residential Life’s Masters of Social Work (MSW) interns, with each major residential community having their own, for a total of nine interns. According to the Urban Center, 36 percent of full-time college students at public institutions lived on campus from 2015 to 2016. Applying this to our student population means that for every 722 on-campus residents, there is 1 MSW Intern.
Aside from the understaffing in these departments, the services provided themselves leave a lot to be desired. With UCC, we have no doubts about the quality of the counselors themselves, but we feel their model of “brief therapy” fails to meet the real needs of students, with a maximum of 10 sessions offered to students seeking help. By only focusing on short-term problems, the University forces students to either pay for expensive professional therapy or not get help for their problems at all.
It is a real failure of the University that the students themselves have to create their own services and resources, such as the SEEK helpline. Looking beyond that, the MSW interns that the University relies on are also merely students.
As BU announced its EXCELERATE initiative, in all of the plans for the millions of dollars the University will no doubt raise, not a single cent is planned to be allocated toward mental health. Despite every indication that this is a need, BU has made it clear that its interests lie in recruiting future students instead of supporting the ones they have. As current students, we have no choice but to fail the University for not meeting these crucial needs.
On Campus: C-
Housing at the University has proved disappointing this semester. To start off, dorm pricing has increased again for the seventh consecutive time, bringing things to the point where, for many students, it is increasingly cheaper to seek housing off campus. This then continues the process by which BU students are forced into competition with Binghamton residents over what is ultimately a limited real estate market. As a prestigious public university, BU is understood as providing its students with a quality of education on par with a private university, but as the price of our cheapest dorm surpasses that of the cheapest dorm Syracuse University, a private university, by over $1,400, our failings in this regard this semester become clear.
Meanwhile, it is worth noting that many COVID-19 restrictions have been lifted, as a larger portion of the student body has been vaccinated against the virus. This occurrence means that things do seem to be returning to some sort of normalcy — despite the flaws in how the pandemic was previously handled, it does seem that students do generally feel more safe. Hopefully, things will continue in a similar vein, as new booster vaccinations become increasingly available.
This semester has also seen the expansion of quarantine housing to 320 beds, up from just 150 last year. This definitely marks an improvement from previous years, as the quality of isolation housing has been something the University has frequently struggled with. This is marred, however, by its underutilization. The time period during which students are now expected to be quarantined has been decreased from 10 days to five, which, despite WHO recommendations most likely given in the name of restoring normality, is, according to a Yale study, still not enough to sufficiently curb the spread of the virus. Students on campus are often asked to simply to quarantine in their dorms, a practice that puts their suitemates at risk of catching the virus. The University has been criticized before for its handling of the virus, and it seems that in terms of isolation housing, it still has work to do.
The situation off-campus has been disappointing as well, with some major off-campus student housing options significantly worsening
The Printing House, a student-centered apartment inhabited by many BU students, saw the periodic loss of elevator function and WiFi access this semester. It needs not be remarked how crucial WiFi access is to one’s success as a student.
We have also seen the exacerbation of Binghamton’s housing crisis, as landlords aim to profit off of the student population that has been gradually forced off campus by rising prices. Landlords have begun renting out single rooms to maximize their profit rates, making what were already poor housing conditions much worse. And as apartment complexes like U Club Binghamton continue to emerge, the housing market for low-income residents continues to shrink. Like residents of The Printing House, student residents of U Club Binghamton have faced a troublesome semester. Residents experienced multiple WiFi outages over the course of the semester, often receiving vague and late emails from management regarding the issue. Residents of U Club Binghamton also lost keycard access for days, with an email sent by management on Thanksgiving asking them to reprogram their keys on set dates or face charges. Ironically, this was also the semester that U Club is charging for the utilities that they had failed to provide.
BU does provide students with a legal clinic that reviews leases, but the lawyer, Nicholas Scarantino of Levene Gouldin & Thompson, LLP, has a conflict of interest in that he represents U Club Binghamton as well. As a large portion of off-campus students live in U Club Binghamton, it becomes clear that this conflict renders the University’s legal clinic useless to much of its intended clientele. Overall, residential life both on and off campus has been marred by rising prices and a lack of concern for safety and has contributed to the gentrification of the town of Binghamton.