The State University of New York at Binghamton, commonly referred to as Binghamton University, is touted by "The Fiske Guide to Colleges" (2013) as "one of the premier public universities in the northeast." On Aug. 12, 2016, the university offered a series of training workshops to resident advisers (RAs) that included a session titled "#StopWhitePeople2K16." The program's description stated:
"The premise of this session is to help others take the next step in understanding diversity, privilege and the society we function within. Learning about these topics is a good first step, but when encountered with 'good' arguments from uneducated people, how do you respond? This open discussion will give attendees the tools to do so, and hopefully expand upon what they may already know."
The workshop's title and content drew immediate criticism both on and off campus. Two on-campus perspectives that emerged from the controversy surrounding the workshop were those of Howard Hecht and Brian Rose.
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Hecht made the following points in an article published in the Binghamton Review, the university's conservative student paper: 1) Binghamton is a politically correct institution where "racism" is an issue that seems to weigh heavily upon faculty and students. 2) Rhetoric such as "understanding diversity, privilege, and the society we function within" falls under the broader banner of "social justice." 3) Some who espouse "social justice" believe that white people cannot experience racism because "reverse racism" does not exist. 4) The workshop title is politically motivated, divisive and implicitly or explicitly racist. Hecht challenged the notion of using skin color as the criterion for being "stopped."
Brian Rose, vice president of Student Affairs, offered two written responses on behalf of the university. On Aug. 24, his tone was unapologetic, declaring that the workshop was not "anti-white." He indicated that three RAs and a young professional staff member designed the workshop with the goal of improving the attendees' ability to handle conflicts among residents around issues of diversity. To accomplish their goal, they planned to explore the topics of "reverse racism, the relationship of communities of color with police, whiteness, crime and segregation in an open conversation format." Rose dismissed the racist nature of the title by claiming, "It is my understanding that the hashtag is commonly used ironically." This message was removed from the university website.
On Aug. 25, Rose stated that #StopWhitePeople2K16 should not have been used as the workshop title. He acknowledged that the title could be considered as offensive and alarming when taken "out of context." He added that those unfamiliar with the hashtag may have "conflated the issue of the title with the purpose of the program." He urged everyone to understand the good intent of the planners, which was to lead a productive discussion about race and diversity.
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The true irony is that the BU students and faculty who claimed to be working toward social harmony designed a platform of bigotry. Topics such as "whiteness," "privilege" and "reverse racism" are divisive and racially skewed. Attempting to describe the racial concepts of "whiteness" or "blackness" leads to over-generalization and stereotyping. No group holds exclusive claim to privilege, hardship, or racism. The truth is, there is tremendous variation within every racial group. Skin color tells us nothing about an individual's life experience or the content of his or her character.
Dormitories are microcosms of society where diversity of race, religion, ethnicity and socioeconomic background exists. RAs should be concerned with clarifying behavior expectations that foster a cohesive community within dormitories and throughout the campus in general. Behavior such as self-discipline, initiative, respect, responsibility and cooperation are concrete and observable. Common sense tells us that such behavior enables students to live well and live together well. Focusing on ways to develop and promote productive behavior makes infinitely more sense than ruminating over concocted socio-political concepts.