For the past four days, students have studied, slept and protested inside the lobby of the Couper Administration Building. They have pledged to remain there until the University agrees to meet their demands regarding the use of the money earmarked for the installation of blue lights on the West Side of Binghamton.
The University has no legal obligation to consider student input on how it spends its money — the administration is free to spend its money however it sees fit. However, student voices should matter. If the University is actually interested in promoting student safety — more so than making symbolic, ineffective gestures — then it should make a genuine effort to figure out what safety actually means to its students. The only way to do so is to give students a seat at the table and actively listen to their concerns. A safety initiative that does not represent the concerns of a segment of the student body does not do that.
The Frances Beal Society has issued a list of demands, the first of which has three requests: it wants the administration to release a written statement that pledges that it will not, now or at any point in the future 1) devote resources to the blue-light initiative 2) put any funds toward policing and surveillance in the city of Binghamton and 3) support policing and surveillance infrastructure through any source of income.
The second and third aspects of the above list may pose legitimate challenges to the administration: There may be legal, practical or even ideological reasons why the University cannot or does not wish to make this indefinite commitment, as it has thus far refused to issue any such statement. Yet, even if the administration cannot commit to issuing such a statement, it should at least have the decency to publicly provide their reasons for not doing so.
If our advice seems simple, that’s because it is: Don’t ignore your students. Treat them with decency and respect as you engage them in conversation and legitimize their concerns. That’s what they want.
The second half of the Frances Beal Society’s demands are that the University administration attends at least four town hall meetings that open to the public to discuss the allocation of funds. They also specify that the body — we assume meaning those who attend the meeting — have the authority to approve allocation of funds.
We support transparency within this decision process and the University, if it has students’ and the greater community’s best interest in mind, should have no qualms in doing the same. We do not know how the Frances Beal Society wants this body to approve funds — whether by a majority vote of all individuals, allocating specific votes to different community groups, etc. — but we do agree that students should have at least some veto power. Otherwise, it would be too easy for the University to quickly renege on its commitment to consider students’ voice. At a time when the administration has lost trust with students, this measure is necessary to regain it.
In a statement sent over B-Line News on April 27, Binghamton University President Harvey Stenger said that the safety of students is his highest concern. If we are to believe that Stenger and the rest of the administration truly feel this way, we must see them take much more of an effort to engage and listen to the students whom they pledge to support.