In a continuation of the change that's been sweeping college campuses this week, students are calling for the Ithaca College president to step down. Just days after the University of Missouri System president Tim Wolfe stepped down, members of the Ithaca community staged a campuswide walk-out to protest the leadership of Ithaca College president Tom Rochon.
Wednesday's walk-out, sponsored by an organization called POC at IC, was a response to a series of racially tinged incidents that students have reported this past semester. According to the college paper The Ithacan, during a school-sponsored panel in October, two white alumni panelists repeatedly referred to fellow alumna Tatiana Sy as "the savage." Sy, a woman of color, had previously described herself as having a "savage hunger" for success.
Several weeks later, an unaffiliated fraternity composed of Ithaca College students advertised a "Preps and Crooks" party, encouraging individuals coming as a crook to "come wearing a bandana, baggy sweats and a t-shirt, snapback, and any ‘bling’ you can find!" Following student backlash against racial stereotyping, the event's Facebook page was deleted.
While neither incident was caused by Rochon, students and members of POC at IC have criticized the administration's response to these incidents.
According to Think Progress, following the panelist event, Rochon sent a letter to the student body in response. “In general, the college cannot prevent the use of hurtful language on campus," the letter read. "Such language, intentional or unintentional, exists in the world and will seep into our community. We can’t promise that the college will never host a speaker who could say something racist, homophobic, misogynistic, or otherwise disrespectful.” In response to the party theme, Provost Benjamin Rifkin posted a notice to the college website, discouraging students from "participating in any event designed around principles antithetical to our community’s commitment to respect and inclusivity."
Following these incidents, several organizations, including the Student Government Association and the Faculty Council took voted to conduct a vote of no-confidence in Rochon's leadership. The student body vote is expected to conclude on November 30, and members from POC at IC have been encouraging community members to vote against Rochon.
On October 27, POC at IC members took the stage during an event called Addressing Community Action on Racism and Cultural Bias. The students referenced the previous incidents, as well as reportedly discriminatory remarks made to students by Public Safety officers, to explain why they encouraged a vote of no confidence in Rochon, claiming he is "disconnected from the campus community." To address the accusation that he has taken insufficient action to combat racial inequality, Rochon took the stage during that same event to unveil a series of proposed changes to the campus, as well as answer student questions.
On Tuesday, Rochon also announced the creation of a Chief Diversity Officer position — one that was only created on the University of Missouri campus after Wolfe stepped down. However, the calls for Rochon's resignation have not died down.
Wolfe's resignation on Monday came as a loud victory for student activists across the country, who sometimes struggle to enact change within a college administration. Luckily for Rochon, tensions on the Ithaca campus have yet to reach MU levels. Before announcing his resignation, Wolfe faced several no-confidence votes, letters from the administration, potential protests from the football team, and a student hunger strike. But Wolfe — and possibly Rochon — now serve as the cautionary tale for college administrators across the nation: listen to your student body, or you might lose your job.
Image: paul_houle/ Flickr