Binghamton University students work to confront racism

By Erika Mahoney

March 7, 2013 Updated Mar 7, 2013 at 10:45 AM EDT

Vestal, NY (WBNG Binghamton) Toivo Asheeke was verbally attacked because he's black. But instead of playing the part of the victim, the Binghamton University graduate student is using the experience to guide the community in another direction.

More than 100 students and faculty members at Binghamton University turned out for a forum on confronting racism after some say a series of events has spurred fear.

In the most recent incident, Asheeke says he was walking on Main Street to get food just after 9:30 p.m. on Feb. 21 when a car pulled over and its occupants yelled racial slurs at him.

"A car rolled by and started yelling racial threats at me," Asheeke said. "They put a threat on my life and then started to use a derogatory term toward me a couple times. And then they started yelling 'white power, white power, 'white power.'"

Asheeke said he was shocked and angry, but immediately thought of his fellow students, and the greater potential for change.

"I got comforted. And I had my friends who I knew would hold me closer."

.He says he experienced an outpouring of support. and that people even gave him their cell phone numbers so he didn't have to walk around alone.

But the biggest showing of support happened Wednesday, when more than 100 people came out to hear him speak and discuss ways to confront racism.

"When we heard the story about what happened, we were very outraged," Nouha Saeed, vice president of the African Student Organization, said. "As students, especially being a part of cultural organizations, we feel we should unite and do something about it rather than ignore it."

Although the incident happened off campus, some students say they have been victims at the university.

"My second week here actually, my roommate and I were the only minorities on our floor," Black Student Union President Madjeen Garcon said. "We actually saw residents in the hall draw swastikas on my door and my (resident assistant's) door."

She says the issue was brushed under the rug and won't let the same thing happen again, whether it's in the community or on-campus.

She and her peers agree that as students they play an important role in bridging the gap.

"The only way we can actually make changes in this community is if we get everyone involved," Saeed said.

Organizers say Wednesday's forum is the first of many steps to confront the issue, including possibly protesting and more public outreach.

Binghamton University President Dr. Harvey Stenger, attended Wednesday's forum. He said he was there to listen and learn.