Tyler Phillips is a senior majoring in business management with a concentration in marketing. Phillips was born in the country of Trinidad and Tobago and grew up in Brooklyn, NY.
On June 2, Stony Brook University (SBU) released a statement about the wrongful death of George Floyd, a black man killed by a white police officer who planted his knee on Floyd’s neck for over eight minutes. The statement was nothing more than a case of performative activism by the administration.
Before the Stony Brook administration starts speaking out about Floyd, police brutality, systematic racism alongside their acceptance and celebration of diversity, it is important to address the business opportunities students of color are denied on campus. It is disturbing that leaders of the university are making empty promises to resolve and stand against systemic racism.
On January 26, 2020, The Statesman published an article describing my experience starting a business at Stony Brook, and more specifically, in partnership with the Faculty Student Association (FSA). The article detailed my treatment by the FSA, including the deception, manipulation and neglect I received as black student with my business, The Smoothie Spot.
The racist treatment from FSA’s Executive Director of Operations, Van Sullivan, as well as other silent and complicit parties was overlooked and forgotten. My intention to begin The Smoothie Spot, a necessary healthy meal option, was initially welcomed by the FSA. After partnering with FSA, I had several meetings with them and CulinArt, the campus’ dining provider, in regards to subcontracting. I began waiting on FSA for further steps regarding what facility will be utilized for my venture.
What I was unprepared for was when I learned that Sullivan allowed CulinArt to use my business concept without my consent. In the summer of 2019, Sullivan made a variety of statements regarding contract agreements. Though The Smoothie Spot had continued to be delayed with lackluster excuses, other vendors like Healthy by Nature had contracts and plans to move forward quickly. The lack of attention and effort in creating my venture was all the more noticeable in contrast.
In a private conversation, Sullivan told me that The Smoothie Spot concept would happen with or without me, and further stated that he would not allow me to run my own business. Though he said these words to me, he continued to put on a facade with the other parties involved, making it appear as though he was diligently working for the opening of The Smoothie Spot.
It was clear to me through these and various other remarks that Sullivan and FSA had no intentions of allowing my business venture to prosper. In January of 2020, I read the FSA’s press release, which described CulinArt’s “new” healthy food and smoothie location. While Sullivan was delaying The Smoothie Spot and not treating this black student-run business as a priority, he was working on launching a similar concept with CulinArt. This happened without my knowledge, and spurred me to speak with FSA’s Board of Directors.
After two years of working on this project, FSA changed the grand opening date at least three times but finally set The Smoothie Spot’s opening for February 2020. I walked into a planning meeting, excited to see this long-awaited project come into fruition. I was led to believe this meeting would discuss the final details before a successful grand opening. Instead, just weeks after sharing my concerns, Sullivan handed me a letter of termination. After a year and a half of constant approval, paperwork, financial planning and endless reassurance, Sullivan told me that The Smoothie Spot was now “outside of the scope of FSA resources.”
In response to this, I created a petition to fight for FSA’s approval and resolution of the covert injustice that occurred. This petition was signed and supported by more than a thousand students, faculty, staff and various other Stony Brook community members.
I scheduled a meeting with the Vice President of Student Affairs and FSA Board Member, Rick Gatteau, to discuss my experience and concerns. After requesting to bring a representative with me to ensure there was another witness and third party, I was informed via email that the meeting would be canceled if my representative attended the meeting.
During the meeting, I presented the evidence of my petition and my experience with FSA and Sullivan. Despite the evidence of my unfair treatment, Sullivan escaped from his unethical actions under the guise that this was all due to a “new leadership.” My concerns and experience with systematic racism was brushed under the rug. Another black voice was silenced.
It is disturbing for the black and brown communities at SBU to read a statement about diversity and intolerance for racism, when our realities are starkly different. SBU should not make statements on current events involving racism and brutality, when the university fails to hold their leaders and staff accountable for their unethical actions. If the university wants to embrace diversity, school organizations need to support black-led businesses.
Stony Brook’s community is a reflection of what is happening in the United States, and what has occurred for too long — people with the ability to create positive change are allowing their constituents to get away with racism, unethical behavior and poor treatment of students of color. SBU has enabled leaders who do not promote diversity and inclusion to gain power and refuse to acknowledge their role in disenfranchising the black community.