The State University of New York (SUNY) wants its resident assistants (RAs) to be prepared to engage students in difficult conversations about race and privilege. But in an ironic twist, the New York state college's Binghamton campus used a pretty blunt name for a training session on sensitivity.
SUNY Binghamton, a state funded school as part of the State University of New York system, offered a training event to this year's batch of RAs called "#StopWhitePeople2K16." While there may have been good intentions behind the event, it is coming under fire from critics who argue that the curious title of the class undermines the positive effort.
"The premise of this session is to help others take the next step in understanding diversity, privilege and the society we function within," read the seminar's description in material distributed to the RAs. "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 session was scheduled to be moderated by RAs Ciaran Slattery, Nicholas Pulakos and Urenna Nwogwugwu, who presumably named the event. RAs live among undergrad students in dormitories where each is responsible for overseeing a certain number of resident-students in providing counsel and enforcing community and university standards.
It cannot be argued that RAs having a better level of preparedness to engage with students in discussions about race and privilege is a good thing. But critics say the university's class does not go about it the right way and can even be interpreted as racist itself, positioning all white people as an enemy to equality.
"The terrifying implication here is not that students on campus think it is appropriate to call an event by that name, but that the university seems to endorse it as a proper part of a RA training," wrote Howard Hecht in the Binghamton Review. "If Binghamton University is going to endorse 'stopping' someone due to his or her skin color, without any explanation for why he or she must be 'stopped,' would that not be a real example of racism on campus?"
The training session obviously did not invent the phrase "stop white people." The line is a popular one among social media users and is used to critique alleged ignorance of white privilege, ranging from jabs at overtly offensive behavior to jokes about petty subjects like white people dancing — the class' name was probably a reference to this cultural meme.
Thanks to the SUNY Binghamton class, the hashtag #StopWhitePeople was trending on Twitter Wednesday. Although, while many posted about SUNY Binghamton, many users ignored the news story in favor of unrelated posts with the hashtag. The trending topic also led to an angry backlash from people upset about the potentially divisive interpretations of the hashtag.