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November 11, 2015

Hundreds Walk Out in Protest of Ithaca College President

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Updated at 8:40 p.m.

Shouts of “Tom Rochon! No confidence!” echoed across Ithaca College’s academic quad Wednesday afternoon as hundreds of students, faculty and staff members formed a walkout hosted by student organization POC@IC.

The crowd, protesting I.C. President Tom Rochon and his handling of racial tensions on campus, stood in solidarity with other campuses including the University of Missouri and Yale University, which have received national attention following student claims of racism.

Following a month of racial tensions at I.C. sparked by a number of alleged racist incidents, students gathered Wednesday to urge a vote of no confidence against Rochon. Those incidents include an Oct. 8 event where two I.C. alumni made racially insensitive remarks about a black alumna at a college event, a “Preps & Crooks” themed party planned by unaffiliated fraternity Alpha Epsilon Pi and Rochon’s delayed handling of such incidents.

Students began gathering at approximately 1 p.m. at the Freedom Rock near one end of the academic quad. WIthin 30 minutes, hundreds had crowded in front of I.C.’s bookstore and campus center.

Addressing the crowd with microphones, students made brief and rallying speeches. One student named Rochon the leader and perpetuator of “a broken system” that pretends that I.C. is diverse while perpetuating racism.

“We have no desire to work with this broken system,” the student shouted.

Following the speeches, several students shouted at the crowd to walk off the grassy areas and “cover the pavement” as part of a die-in. The demonstrators moved across the quad and laid down on the wet concrete, all while chanting. At 2 p.m., every person fell silent.

The eerie silence was broken at 2:20 p.m. as hundreds streamed back towards Freedom Rock.

“We have power,” students chanted, in a roar that filled the quad.

The demonstration concluded with a chant “Amandla Awethu,” which, according to The Ithacan, was also chanted during previous protests on campus.

Throughout the walkout, students also circulated documents titled “The Case Against Tom Rochon,” which list seven grievances against him, ranging from “his disregard for minority community members” to “his questionable ethics.”

“When asked to propose solutions, Rochon fails as a former scholar to conduct even the most basic research by drawing on eight years of reports and recommendations that involved countless hours of work by students, faculty and staff, or by accessing the many demands that have been addressed to him and gone unanswered,” the document reads.

In a statement to the media following the conclusion of public demonstrations, POC@IC, the student group leading the protests, laid out its mission.

“We are aware that this times on tension bring to light the same culture of fear that people of color face every day,” the statement reads. “With this in mind, our purpose here is not to demonstrate violently, and we have collectively committed ourselves to furthering this movement in non-violent ways. We ask that all participants also commit themselves to this struggle non-violently as well.”

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(Joon Lee / Sun Assistant Sports Editor)

In an interview following the walkout, a student organizer and member of POC@IC said the organization wants “radical, transformative change in governance and structure at I.C.”

“We want to bring a sense of safety, emotional stability and dignity to the experience of POC@IC, other marginalized groups and the intersections between us as well as the entire I.C. community,” said the student, who did not identify herself.

In response to a question of how long POC@IC had been preparing the walkout for, the student replied, “Some people would probably say their whole lives, to be honest.”

On the morning prior to the walkout, I.C. Board of Trustees chair Tom Grape issued a statement stating he is “actively partnering” with Rochon to ensure that I.C. “emerges from this chapter stronger and more resolute in its direction forward.”

“It is not easy to see the IC community that I love going through such a difficult time — to see so many of our students recounting experiences that leave them feeling fear, pain, and alienation at a time in their lives when they should instead be feeling welcomed, supported, and inspired,” Grape said. “I respect that many of our students and faculty are choosing to express their concerns about Ithaca College’s climate and direction though their public discussions and their votes.

The student vote of Rochon’s confidence began Nov. 4 and will last 26 days, with the final results to be announced Nov. 30. Additionally, the I.C. Faculty Council decided Tuesday to hold a referendum on confidence in Rochon for all faculty members.

Tyler Alicea and Joon Lee contributed reporting to this piece.