Just days after University of Missouri students’ successful ouster of their school president, students at Ithaca College are hoping to follow in their footsteps.
On Wednesday, an estimated 1000 students, faculty and staff staged a “Solidarity Walk Out” and gathered on the campus quad chanting, “Tom Rochon. No confidence.” They were rallying against racial inequality on the Ithaca, New York, campus and a lack of leadership on the issue from their president, Rochon.
“We stand here in solidarity,” a member of People of Color at IC (PIC at IC) said to the crowd, according to the Ithaca Journal. “Our hearts are heavy with the pain of Mizzou and Yale and Smith and every person of color on a college campus simply because of the color of their skin, the texture of their hair or their ancestry. This a problem of the nation. However, how can a campus dedicated to preparing us for the real world not actively foster growth to our consciousness of oppression and privilege?”
While protestors cite a generally negative campus environment when it comes to issues of race, there have been a few major events that led to the current organizing. In August, The Ithacan reports that two public safety officers, Sergeant Terry O’Pray and Master Patrol Officer Jon Elmore, made what resident assistants called “aggressive” and “racially insensitive” comments during training sessions in August. O’Pray is said to have dismissed student concerns about racial profiling by denying its existence on campus. And Elmore joked about shooting students who toted BB guns. They complained to the administration, but said that the response was lackluster and part of a pattern of dismissing the concerns of students of color.
Then in October, two alumni at a campus event repeatedly called the only panelist of color a “savage” after she said she had a “savage hunger” to succeed (see video below). Later that month, Jewish fraternity Alpha Epsilon Pi attempted to host a “Preps & Crooks” party where “Preps” were told to wear a “Polo shirt, button-down, backwards baseball cap, khakis or boat shoes” and the “Crooks” were described as people who should don a “bandanna, baggy sweats and a t-shirt, snapback and any ‘bling.’” It was canceled after students expressed outrage over the invitation’s language.
POC at IC emerged in the aftermath of these incidents. The goals of the campaign, as outlined on POC at IC’s Facebook page, are:
- We want Tom Rochon to resign or be removed from his position.
- We want a radical/transformative change in governance and structure at Ithaca College.
- We want to bring a sense of safety, emotional stability and dignity to the experiences of POC at IC, other marginalized groups and the intersections between us as well as the entire Ithaca College community.
USA Today reports that the Student Government Association has asked students to cast a vote of “confidence” or “no confidence” in the school’s president, with votes due on November 30. The Faculty Council has also scheduled a confidence vote. The outcome could force Rochon to resign.
The chair of Ithaca College's board of trustees, Tom Grape, issued a statement Wednesday, which read in part:
The most vital role of the Board of Trustees is to ensure that Ithaca College has the best possible leadership and the strongest possible resources to ensure its short-term and long-term health. Board members and I are in contact on a daily basis with the president and other campus leaders about the issues that are taking place, and I am committed to helping the institution address its problems so that we may become the Ithaca College that we all know we can be.
We understand that the issues are serious and significant, and we are listening. I am certain that Ithaca College will emerge from this chapter stronger and more resolute in its direction forward, and the board and I are actively partnering with Tom Rochon and other campus leaders to make sure that happens.
The action at Ithaca College comes as students of color around the country are calling out their administrations for inadequately handling the racial injustice that they battle on campus. Students at Smith College had their own walkout the same day. Claremont McKenna College students also held a demonstration, and one person, Taylor Lemmons, began a hunger strike Wednesday afternoon—she won’t eat until the dean of students resigns for insensitive comments regarding the school’s marginalized populations. And hundreds of Yale University students held a “March of Resilience” on Monday after two full weeks of protest.