By Patrick McAuliffe
Since Thursday, April 27th, members of the Frances Beal Society coalition have occupied the Couper Administration building with a sit-in protest regarding the blue-light initiative proposed to increase safety downtown. Binghamton Review staff spoke to the protestors about the proposal on May 1st.
The Frances Beal Society, named for a Binghamton native and black feminist activist, is a coalition of students, groups, and community members with the goal of, as member Mary Lister explained, seeing “change on campus.” Lister is a senior sociology major with a Spanish minor.
“It started as a coalition with lots of different people coming in from different org[anization]s, both officially as the representative of that org and also unofficially,” she said.
The issue in contention is whether this is the proper action to take if student safety is the end goal. Another protestor, Nick Terepka, a sophomore sociology major, clarified, “We [the protestors] don’t have an issue with student safety, obviously, but we believe the blue lights won’t really do anything for safety.” They claimed that there is little empirical evidence to support the idea that blue lights are effective in reducing crime on college campuses. In addition, the Frances Beal Society proposed many other possible areas to which the money could go, such as mental health services on campus or working with the city to fight the opioid crisis.
The blue-light initiative is an example of legally-mandated “impact funding” from the University. In exchange for a reduced tax rate, Binghamton University is required to give back to and improve the community that it is a part of through monetary contributions every few years. This initiative is part of a $1 million contribution to the city of Binghamton spread out over five years.
One of the largest and most egregious aspects of the blue light initiative for the protestors is how the decision was reached. “Historically, the University has never asked the community what it actually needs,” said Terepka, “and they have decided to do the blue light initiative without actually asking members of the community, without actually asking community organizations that do promote safety, for instance, like the mental health centers and the opioid crisis centers and the rape shelters as well.” As an alternative to the blue light initiative, Terepka proposed developing a phone app because “they’re much cheaper, almost everybody has a phone nowadays, and it will be less surveillance overall.”
The University administration has released an official statement regarding the future of the proposed blue light initiative. From FOX 40 WICZ:
“Binghamton University has a deep connection to the surrounding community through its students, faculty and staff, its facilities, programs, research and other contributions. Those connections create many contexts for University, community interaction. Most recently, discussions the University has had with the City of Binghamton about possible university support for City improvements aimed at public safety have stirred some controversy on campus. The University’s goals have been and remain simple and clear: We aim to be a good community partner and to provide support to our students who live off-campus as well as on-campus.
Given concerns with what is now referred to as the “blue light project”, the University will not now provide funding specifically directed at this project. We did agree in principle to provide some support this year to the City of Binghamton and want to honor in some way that commitment. Separately from the recent controversy, we have begun discussing establishing a Town/Gown Advisory Board with the following broad goals:
• Foster improved communication and collaboration between university students, the city and the university surrounding issues of mutual interest
• Identify mutual concerns and recommend thoughtful responses to those concerns• Identify opportunities for improving the community through shared initiatives
• Improve utilization of resources available within the city and the university
• Retain Binghamton University graduates in the greater Binghamton area post-graduation
We anticipate launching the Advisory Board in the Fall 2017 semester. To respond to the recent concerns about the Blue Light Project and to also honor our intent to provide some support to the City of Binghamton this year, the University will work with the City to entertain requests for one time funds for projects endorsed by a new Town-Gown Advisory Board that respond to the broad goals noted above. To what extent the University can provide support in future years and at what amounts will be in part a function of the overall university budget. For this year, the projects and amounts funded will be determined by the recommendations of the Town Gown Advisory Board and review by the City and University.
Brian T. Rose
Vice President for Student Affairs”
The Frances Beal Society posted their list of demands, as well as their Community Determination Process detailing an outline for their proposed timetable going forward, on their Facebook page on May 1st. From the Facebook post:
“We, the Frances Beal society, demand that BU administration release a written statement stating the following:
I) That they will not, now or in the future, devote resources to the Blue-Light initiative.
II) That no funds originating within the University, now or in the future, will go toward policing and surveillance in the city of Binghamton.
III) That they will not, now or in the future, support the construction of policing and surveillance infrastructure using funds originating within the City of Binghamton, Broome County, New York State, the Binghamton Foundation, or any other source of income, including from auxiliary services.
We reject the university’s proposed Town/Gown Advisory Board. Under the University’s proposal, a select group, behind closed doors, would make the decision on where these funds should go. We reject this board because it does not provide a transparent and democratic forum for students, community members, and community organizations to have meaningful impact on the allocation of these funds, totalling $1,000,000. We demand the full participation of the public, not just select representatives, in making these decisions.
Instead of the Town/Gown Advisory Board we insist on a community and student collaboration. We demand that as many public Town Hall meetings as necessary are held to discern the appropriate allocation of these funds (totalling $1,000,000) and future funds earmarked for community growth and/or development. The meetings will occur over four phases, the details of these phases are outlined in the documents sent to Brian Rose and other administrators. The documents sent by the Frances Beal Society can be found on our facebook page and in our listserv emails. The body will be composed of BCUP, Frances Beal Society, student organizations, individual students, community organizations, individual community members, and Milton Chester as the administration’s representative. This body must have the authority to approve and determine the allocation of the funds in question. We intend to stay in the Couper Administration Building until these demands are met, and invite you to join us.”
The Couper administration building has been nearly vacant since the student protestors arrived and began their sit-in. Offices normally found in the building have conducted their business in other parts of campus since Tuesday, and the building was closed on Monday. “I just think it’s really telling that the BU administration would literally go out of their way to move every other point of business in this building out of the building rather than meet with their students,” Lister said, “on something that does affect us and does affect the community, and that has pretty widespread support from both the student body and the community.”