Binghamton students demand mandatory 'cultural competency training'

Students for Change, an anti-discrimination group on Binghamton University’s campus, met with university President Harvey Stenger to address a list of 25 demands the group presented to Provost Donald Nieman in late December.

The group organized in response to the non-indictments of police officers who killed Eric Garner and Michael Brown. Its goals are to fight racism and promote a diverse campus community.

In the meeting, attendees argued that there was no urgency to consider Students for Change’s demands, which included: mandatory cultural competency training for students, faculty, and staff; a zero-tolerance policy with penalties such as suspension and expulsion for anyone who uses offensive language to discriminate against others on campus; police officers disclosing what weapons they have access to; and more minority representation in both the student body and in hired faculty and staff.

“The demands are mostly invalid,” a senior political science major named Joshua, who requested his last name not be revealed, told Campus Reform. “Some are actually very illegal and borderline fascist (censoring social media); some are redundant (demanding yet another diversity gen ed requirement, which they call "cultural competency" when we already have "pluralism" and "global interdepencies"); and others are just bizarre (requiring more Native American professors, specifically).

“Finally, some are just dangerous and can hinder university police officers in the performance of their duty—requiring the publication of "militarization" details, (whatever that means) and requiring cops to include in arrest reports the race of the suspect (which could frighten cops into arresting minority lawbreakers for fear of reprisals).”

“This is the hardest day of my time in Binghamton,” President Stenger said in the meeting. “I feel personally responsible for these things. I want what you want. I want equality, I want diversity, I want inclusion, I want civility. You ask me to help you. And I’m going to help as much as I can.”

Binghamton’s Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (ODEI) recently came under fire from Students for Change. Students and faculty both questioned the qualifications and roles of administrators in the ODEI, claiming that office members were unhelpful and at times condescending and hostile.

“Do you feel the tension here? Do you feel like it’s a bunch of people here to just jump on you?” Jibri Easter, a senior majoring in English, asked Stenger.

Stenger said he did not.

“I think you should feel that way, in all honesty,” Easter replied. “Here’s the thing, we’re doing a lot of bashing of you, but we need to be hand-in-hand with you.”

For more than an hour, audience members questioned the progress Binghamton’s administration had made in addressing the list of demands. Students continually criticized Stenger for not having concrete dates for finishing an assessment of the demands.

When asked if he would send a representative to similar meetings to report on the administration’s progress, Stenger told the audience he would not and walked out of the meeting.

“I’m going to even consider whether I want to stay here,” he said.

Stenger released a statement on Thursday, March 26 saying that he felt it would be best to address the issues at a later date.

Joshua told Campus Reform that Binghamton’s president, provost, and other administration members have been helpful and explicitly sympathetic to Students for Change’s stated purpose. The student organization, however, handled their meeting inappropriately, he explained. “Making demands and expecting a fruitful dialogue to result from this is immature and arrogant.”

“This university goes out of its way to support diversity and pro-minority policies, and it seems to be an aggressive minority of minorities that are agitating for ever more radical reforms,” he said.

In late March, more than 20 students and faculty crowded into President Stenger’s waiting room demanding an apology for his abrupt exit from the meeting.

According to Pipe Dream, the school’s student newspaper, their goal was to deliver a letter to Stenger asking for a “proclamation of a zero-tolerance policy for racism and a promise to send a representative to a meeting in three weeks to report on the progress of the demands for varying degrees of cultural competency.”

Pamela Zwierlein, Stenger’s assistant, accepted the letter from Students for Change but refused to contact the president or tell the group where he was. In retaliation, students argued her salary is dependent upon their tuition and that she was therefore obligated to do what they wanted.

When Stenger arrived at his office on the evening of Friday, March 27, he apologized to the crowd.

“First let me say that Wednesday night I left in a hurry. I’m sorry for doing that. That was not very professional of me. I was tired, I had been sitting there for a while. My heart was racing so I just left. What I said on the way out was not very good. I’m sorry for that.”

No further meetings between administration and Students for Change have been scheduled.

Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @BethanySalgado