November 8, 2015

Racial Tensions Build Among Ithaca College Students, Administration

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Ithaca College students and faculty have grown increasingly frustrated with the administration’s response to racial issues on campus, with tension reaching a new high in the past few weeks as students and faculty call for a vote of no confidence for President Tom Rochon.

“You can’t even walk through campus right now without hearing about [these issues] or go to class without hearing it part of class discussion,” said Dominick Recckio ’16, president of Ithaca College’s Student Government Association.

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Tom Rochon

According to Recckio, problems first surfaced during Residential Advisor training at the start of this year when RAs reported racial aggression by Public Safety officers.

At the training session, Officer Terry O’Pray reportedly stated that racial profiling does not occur at Ithaca College. Officer Jon Elmore showed RAs various weapons, and when he showed a black BB gun, he said he would shoot anyone he saw with one on campus, according to The Ithacan, Ithaca College’s student newspaper.

RAs and other students who became aware of the incident found parallels with other incidents of police violence towards African Americans, specifically with the shooting of 12-year-old Tamir Rice who was shot while carrying a black BB gun, according to The Ithacan.

Following the training session, President Rochon issued a statement saying that racial discrimination is a “college-wide issue that needs ongoing attention.” According to Recckio, however, President Rochon never publicly apologized and students expressed their frustration through demonstrations.

The second event involved two alumni who made racially insensitive remarks about another black alumna at a college event, Blue Sky Kickoff on Oct. 8, according to The Ithacan.

In an open letter to The Ithacan, Ithaca College Faculty wrote, “we were distressed and offended by the fact that one of the guest speakers, Tatiana Sy ’09, was repeatedly called ‘the savage’ by another guest speaker, Chris Burch ’76.”

Burch referred to Sy as “the savage” after she made a comment about her “savage hunger,” referring to her ambition.

The faculty pointed out that this phrase, which they said they found offensive, was also used by the moderator, Bob Kur ’70.

“Although Burch and Kur seemed unaware of the racist and sexist implications of referring to Sy, who is African-American, in this way, others in the room were not,” the Ithaca College Faculty wrote.

The third and final event occurred on Oct. 9 when unaffiliated fraternity, Alpha Epsilon Pi, sent out Facebook invitations to their themed party, “Preps & Crooks.” According to The Ithacan, the event said the“Crooks” theme suggests “a more ’90’s thuggish style” and “bling” and “Preps” theme refers to one’s “favorite Polo shirt, button down … or boat shoes.”

Daniella Resto ’18 said in article in The Ithacan she felt that this theme and its suggested dress code represented an attack on the minority community.

While an apology from the fraternity came within hours of the invite, students and faculty had to wait four days for an apology from President Rochon about the remarks made at the Blue Sky event, according to The Ithacan.

The People of Color group at Ithaca College has led multiple rallies and demonstrations in response to these incidents over the past few weeks. In one rally on Oct. 20, over 200 students and faculty demonstrated on campus chanting “Tom Rochon! No confidence!” and “no more dialogue, we want action.”

At another demonstration on Oct. 27, about 40 #POCatIC student leaders stormed the stage during a town hall meeting at which President Rochon was speaking. The initial group encouraged about 1500 other students to leave the meeting as well.

This past weekend, the group circulated the document, “The Case Against Tom Rochon,” which details, among other things, Rochon’s “disregard for minority community members” and “poor leadership” since coming to office in 2008. Many of these demonstrations occurred during trustee weekend in order to garner more support and reach a larger audience, according to Recckio.

According to The Ithacan, Elijah Breton ’16, who led the People of Color rally, directed his remarks to the administration and trustees present, “[I] hope that it made you feel uncomfortable standing here because if you feel uncomfortable, imagine how uncomfortable we feel living.”

In early September, the administration hired an external consultant for improve campus-wide relations as well planned to established a Council on Diversity and Inclusion. In late October, administration proposed a massive diversity plan in order to help create a “safe space” for multicultural students. Mandatory sensitivity training is of these initiatives. However, Recckio said poor communication has hindered the administration’s efforts to respond to racial problems.

Recckio said there is “a complete lack of communication” between activists and administration.  When the President Rochon did invite student leaders to a meeting, he proposed what Recckio called “two fairly weak action plans.”  According to Recckio, student leaders walked out of the meeting because they are “tired of empty dialogue.”

“It seems a lot less meaningful than it should be,” Recckio said.  “It feels like too little too late. I have almost no follow-up from the administration for anything.”

In the midst of recent protests, Recckio said he knew if students were chanting for votes of no confidence, it was his job to take action. He said he wrote a resolution and made the call for a vote of no confidence in the university’s president campuswide. The Student Government Association unanimously voted in favor of a no-confidence vote.

“As a representative and someone who serves [the student body], it was my duty to initiate the vote,” Recckio said.

As of Nov. 4, faculty in two of the five schools — the School of Humanities and Sciences and the Roy H. Park School of Communications — have decided to hold a vote of no confidence.  Of the other three schools, faculty in the School of Business voted against holding a vote, and faculty in the School of Health and Sciences and Human Performance have yet to decide.

The open vote — which was emailed to all students — began on Nov. 4 and will continue until Nov. 30. The day the vote closes the Student Government Association will hold a public meeting announcing the results, and based upon the results will determine whether to pursue any further action, according to Recckio.