Town Hall meeting with president, Students for Change
March 26, 2015Tweet
A town hall meeting with President Harvey Stenger coordinated with Students for Change brought a crowd to the Mandela Room Wednesday night to discuss issues of racism and discrimination that are being addressed on campuses across the country.
Students for Change opened the meeting, providing history on its origins and calling for structural change for “long-term issues that solve long-standing issues” and to “step outside the broken system to rebuild it.”
Calling the day the hardest one of his time at Binghamton, Stenger said he wants equality, diversity, inclusion and civility at Binghamton. “You’ve asked me to help you and I’m going to help as much as I can,” he said. “We have a microcosm here of the whole world, and this is probably the most diverse place you will be in your life. It’s a time for you to learn and live with others and be friends.”
Over a two-hour period, students and some faculty asked questions of Stenger, most focused on a set of demands Students for Change had presented to University administrators in December. Stenger stressed that he does not tolerate racism and discrimination, but reminded the audience that there are governance systems in place to address them. “We have processes that we have to follow,” he said. “The student conduct process is one we’ve worked hard on and we need to use that process on these cases of harassment and discrimination. I want to see those cases go to the Student Conduct Board. I want students to make those decisions. It’s their University.”
Training in cultural competency was a concern for students. Members of the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion have completed the week-long, intensive program at the University of Michigan that Stenger called the best in the country. “They’ve had proper training and we’ll continue to improve with more training, consultants and workshops,” Stenger said. “It’s not something you learn by reading a book, attending a seminar or webinar or taking an exam. You have to constantly think, read and go through experiences that we’re just starting to do here. We’re headed in the right direction.”
Ensuring a diverse faculty is a priority, Stenger said, and the University works hard to recruit faculty of color. “It’s a goal and we have to be proactive when we are searching,” he said. “But it will take time because our existing faculty will be here awhile and the percentage of PhDs granted to minorities nationwide is only 12 percent so the pool is small.”
Stenger said he has designated the demands as short- or long-term and assigned each to a member of his senior officers group. “They are being worked on but they’re not simple,” he said. “Some we cannot do and some will be impossible, but we’re trying to find the ones that make sense and that we can do.”
Stenger asked that students work with him and his staff to resolve as many of them as possible, but said not all demands can be met. “But sit down with us, use your passion and talk with us,” he said. “I think you’re approaching them in the right way, but sometimes it requires those small group meetings and negotiations, not to slow you down, but because we think that’s the way to make change.”
Before the session ended, Stenger made it clear that those who feel they have been discriminated against – students, faculty or staff – should use the structures that are already in place: the University Ombudsman, the Dean of Students, Human Resources, Office of Student Conduct. “Before we had an Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, students would have gone to these offices. Those paths haven’t changed and are still there.
Students for Change said there would be a universal general body meeting at 4 p.m. Friday, March 27, in LH-9, where they would welcome feedback from students on the town hall meeting. No future meeting with administrators was agreed upon.