This school year started with a star athlete’s videotaped racial and homophobic rant that circulated widely across campus.
While Hannah Strong’s outbreak surprised many here at Syracuse, for others her use of racist and homophobic language was merely the most explicit, and most noticed, incident of the kind of macro and microaggressions that occur regularly on campus.
Syracuse University’s hollow responses to such incidents helped spark the birth of THE General Body and this inclusive movement for a justice, equality and safety on this campus. THE General Body recognizes the intersections of race, class, gender, sexual identity, ability, religion, nationality, age and other identities and how they are marginalized on this campus.
In this post, we think about some of the ways in which the activism of THE General Body reflects the intersectionality not only of identities but also of aggressions. As a coalition group concerned with accessibility, antiracism, sustainability, sexual violence, and transparency, we have quickly learned from one another how much our needs overlap and discriminatory policies affect all of us.
THE General Body’s work is about helping the administration understand the depth and urgency of the ways in which issues of inequality and prejudice affect students’ ability to be productive scholars and members of the campus community. Racial microgressions and macroaggressions that students experience are common and they come directly from faculty and staff. The racial microgressions that students of color experience on this campus daily both in and outside of the classroom create a stressful, emotional and oppressive environment that affects their mental health. Microaggressions also target people with all kinds of nonnormative identities, including students with disabilities, queer students, and survivors of sexual violence.
Oppressive language is commonly used on this campus and creates an unsafe environment. THE General Body advocates that the university add hate speech, that attacks a person or group on based on their identity, to the student code of conduct as words that are prohibited on this campus.
Sexual assault survivors as a whole are marginalized on campus and many sexual assault survivors are members of marginalized communities. The closing of the Advocacy Center is an issue that affects all students, particularly women of color who are more likely to be sexually assaulted and less likely to have their perpetrators face prosecution.
Such prejudice that students experience make for an unsafe learning environment where students feel devalued and unsupported, yet faculty and staff are not required to attend or participate in diversity trainings. Moreover, senior administrative staff have not undergone adequate diversity trainings which is also imperative. THE General Body proposes training for administrators so they can be equipped to address issues and create a environment of inclusion across all levels of power across this campus.Closing the gap in mental health services on campus can help students address the prejudice they face that ultimately affects their ability to be productive scholars and members of this campus community.
Bringing attention to these issues and holding the administration accountable for having concrete plans to address these issues is a top priority for THE General Body.Many of THE General Body’s demands address the experiences of diverse populations on this campus and advocate for their needs.
We are also advocating for the school to more adequately support the academic needs of its diverse student body. THE General Body advocates for comprehensive Asian studies. The administration must complete the search for an Asian/Asian American Studies Minor Director. The director should hold a tenure-track faculty position within the university and the administration should involve interested students, faculty, and staff in the search.
Cooperative, collaborative research between the administration and departments that specialize in marginalized identities can help to address funding and other needs. THE General Body proposes to update the facilities for the African American Studies’ MLK Library and increase funding for the department as a whole to enable that research. More staff for the LGBT, Disability Cultural Center, SCIS, and OMA centers are also needed.
Syracuse University occupies Native American land. THE General Body advocates that the university recognizes and respects the history of Native Americans by changing of Columbus Day on the SU Calendar to Indigenous Peoples’ Day.
Labor and class are also a strong concerns of THE General Body. Many graduate students come to Syracuse University with impressive educational and professional credentials and they add to the academic enrichment of undergraduate students. Yet 59% of TAs are paid below the living wage level for the Syracuse area. The current minimum of $13,000 per year falls well below this living wage. THE General Body proposes a living wage for graduate students.
There is a lack of accessible services and facilities for students with disabilities. THE General Body urges the university to hire a full-time Americans with Disabilities Act coordinator. The group also advocates for the university to make buildings accessible to students with mobility impairments and improve academic conditions for students with learning disabilities.
The lack of accessible gender-neutral bathrooms on campus contributes to anxiety for gender nonconforming students and a social gender binary. Such facilities would also benefit parents with children and people with disabilities.
The activist work done by students on campus across identities and issues has helped students not only learn more about the issues that affect one another but also incorporate an intersectional lens for their activism.