By Tommy Gagliano
A fundraising event titled “Cluck-Cluck 3000” was scheduled to take place on the afternoon of Wednesday, October 16th, in the Main Lounge of Roosevelt Hall. The event was coordinated by the E-Board of Roosevelt Hall, a building in the Hinman community, as part of the larger “Penny Wars” fundraising competition. According to a statement released by the Roosevelt E-Board, the premise of the event was for residents of Roosevelt to be permitted to throw “honey, syrup, glitter, eggs, and feathers” on the RAs and E-Board members of the building in exchange for a Penny Wars donation. Residents could also pay to see them do certain actions, such as “racing, hula hooping, or duck duck goose.” However, shortly before the event was scheduled to take place, it was cancelled.
At 4:09 PM on October 16th, a resident of Hughes Hall, another building in the Hinman community, expressed concern about the event in a GroupMe chat of over 120 people that live in Hughes. She claimed that calling an event “tar and feathers” (which was not the name of the event, although it was advertised that way in at least one official communication from the Roosevelt E-Board) is “very offensive to black culture,” and that it “systemically connects to racism and oppression” and “should not be replicated on this campus.” A few confused residents politely stated that they didn’t understand how “tar and feather” has anything to do with race, and that it was mostly associated with tax collectors and the American Revolution. To this, she responded “Which if you study history is offensive to people of color and as a person who is actually apart [sic] of a huge group chat that has many people of color on this campus and they have expressed the distasteful action if [sic] this event it should be a concern.” She followed that up with “And honestly I’m done having this conversation. Not seeing a problem with it makes you all satisfied with your privilege.” She then left the group chat. We reached out to the resident, but she declined to comment.
The conversation continued following her departure. It was civil, with those skeptical of the racism claims saying things such as “I’m trying to understand another point of view,” “Thanks for enlightening me I apologize for my ignorance,” and “I apologize if I appeared combative but I think healthy discourse about these things is important.” The RAs then jumped in, offering support for anyone that wanted to talk about their feelings. Another resident suggested that people reach out and spread some love to the student that started the conversation because she was “the person who felt most attacked.” Finally, Marios Zervos, an RA in the building, chimed in. He started by stating that Binghamton is a “predominantly white institution,” and because of this we have to recognize how this “privilege” affects us. He said that students need to be empathetic, and “if someone is not feeling safe, it should not be invalidated.” He concluded by condemning civil discussion, saying “The ‘healthy discourse’ was threatening and weaponizing and we have to come at an approach of listening when something is offensive and racist.” This message received more likes than any other message throughout the discussion. He then followed it up by saying that the event has been cancelled, and “there’s discussion about further action being taken.”
This drastic response by the Hinman residential staff comes just one day after a similar reaction by aforementioned Hughes RA Marios Zervos. A resident on Marios’ floor shared a link in a GroupMe chat with other people on the floor to a comedy video titled “Not saying the N word for an ENTIRE minute – challenge,” in which the “N word” the subject of the video is referring to is later revealed to be the word “nuts.” Mr. Zervos responded by deleting the entire group chat, and going door to door to make sure that everyone knows that sending slightly edgy memes is insensitive and unacceptable. It is also rumored that the RA reported the student to a higher authority, but as the student did not respond to our request for comment, we cannot confirm this rumor to be true at this time.
The following day, a series of emails were sent out about the situation. The Student Association sent a statement to all Binghamton students. It was vague, referring to the event as “a hall government event where e-board members would be ‘tarred and feathered’ in order to raise funds,” and labelling it “completely unacceptable and inappropriate.” The emails sent out only to Hinman residents went into much more detail. One was sent by Hinman College Council, and contained a statement from the Roosevelt E-Board. In the statement, the Roosevelt E-Board apologized for the “terms used to describe the event,” which they called “offensive” and “insensitive.” We reached out to Roosevelt Hall President Amanda Joglar for comment, but she did not respond. Hinman College Council concluded the email by stating that this will not be “swept under the rug,” and that all hall E-Boards in Hinman will be required to attend a “mandatory cultural competency training in an attempt to better educate E-Boards about the diverse background of many of the students.” Another email was sent to Hinman residents from Residential Life the following day, acknowledging that the event caused many students to experience “pain,” and that there will “inevitably be continued processing and healing” from the event.
To better understand how the community feels about this, we reached out to two Hughes residents that are in the “Hughes 2019-2020” GroupMe chat, and they agreed to share their thoughts on the matter. “[Initially,] I was pretty impartial on the situation,” The first student said. “I didn’t think tarring and feathering was considered racist, but I felt as if it was inappropriate to name an event after a form of torture.” The second student mostly agreed, saying it was an “odd” name, but not something he thought was offensive. Both students said they did not change their opinion about the name and description of the event as the controversy spread. “Almost, if not every RA was a bit baffled by the situation,” explained the first student, “They all commented in the group chat offering their help.” “The RAs were quick to apologize,” said the second student. “The event was cancelled shortly after.” The first student somewhat agreed with the way the situation was handled, but said that it was blown out of proportion, stating “Torture should not be glorified, but I think they made it a bigger problem than it really was.” The second student was a bit more blunt in his response. “I don’t think the event should have been cancelled over this,” he said. “I also feel as though some of the RAs responses, which talk about how having a disagreement and calmly talking it out is bad, were kind of absurd.” He concluded by saying “My biggest takeaway from this whole thing is that if even one person complains about something being offensive, everyone will rush to defend them, regardless of whether or not they have a valid reason for being offended.”