THE General Body is a coalition of students, faculty, and staff at Syracuse University. THE is an acronym: Transparency, Heterogeneity, Equality.
Our goals are to educate and inform other students and the administration about the grievances and problems that students of various socio-economic class, disability, ethnicity, nationality, gender, sexuality, and race experience on a day to day basis.
We recognize that issues of privilege and discrimination are pervasive on campus, yet unrecognized by the SU administration. Ultimately, students with marginalized identities feel unsafe and unsupported at SU. THE General Body recognizes that these are not personal problems to be borne by the individual, but structural problems which the administration has a responsibility to address in order to ensure the safest campus possible.
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A brief timeline:
THE General Body rose out of a period of activism, student engagement, and administrative malfeasance in the Fall 2014 semester.
In response to the undemocratic closure of the Advocacy Center over the summer, there were thousands of signatures gathered to a petition. This developed into the Campaign for an Advocacy Center at SU, including the “Rally for Consent” on September 17. Two days later, the Student African American Society and Student NAACP chapter led the “Rally For a Difference” to address the cancellation of three years of the POSSE program, a student leadership scholarship which overwhelmingly supports undergraduate students of color. Additionally, students supporting the divestment of SU’s endowment from fossil fuels, and the empowerment and livelihood of queer, transgender, and disabled community members had been organizing campaigns.
In early October, a general call-out was made for the first THE General Body meeting. Over 100 students showed up, representing over 50 student groups, as well as themselves. Through a “leader-less,” collaborative, committee structure, various strategies were designed and executed to bring attention to the multitude of issues which, though diverse, were understood to be connected. The major problems identified were the lack of transparency in administrative decision-making, and the lack of value of and support for marginalized students. A document of grievances and demands/needs with a thorough appendix was written collaboratively, and a rally and sit-in, called DAT (Diversity and Transparency) Movement were planned for November 3.
Over 300 students, faculty and staff rallied on November 3. Much of the crowd then walked to Crouse-Hinds, an SU administrative building which houses the Admissions Office, the newly-appointed chancellor’s office, as well as classrooms. Though they were met by top SU administrators and legal counsel who were physically blocking the doors to this open academic building, as well as having locked wheelchair-accessible doors, they were able to enter through side doors when people left the building. Over 40 students planned to spend the night.
The sit-in lasted through 2 weekends until November 20. During that time, students were harassed, intimidated, confined, surveilled, ignored, explicitly and implicitly threatened, and controlled by administrators and the Department of Public Safety. However, through immeasurable support from faculty, staff, alumni, Syracuse community members, and each other, the student activists of THE General Body remained resolute until they could leave on their own terms. During the 18 days, teach-ins and teach-outs were conducted in order to bring the conversation into classrooms and to challenge the very notion of the classroom by creating opportunities for liberatory education in a public space.
THE General Body remained fluid and flexible throughout the sit-in in order to remediate the erasure of particular groups or individuals. Though often wonderful, it was also difficult. There were numerous internal challenges due to the high-pressure fishbowl situation of the sit-in, as well as the nature of attempts at intersectional solidarity. This resulted in times where some people or groups felt less safe, or less welcomed in the space than others, some felt (or perhaps, for all intensive purposes, were) actively pushed out, less visible and/or less represented. And of course, age-old issues of privilege and power occurred, as they often do even in groups whose intention is to operate from a fully participatory, social-justice approach. While it was the desire of all involved to earnestly work on and dismantle these issues, there were many ways in which things could have been improved. The university administration also worked to undermine solidarity, attempting to ‘befriend’ or isolate certain members, as well as agreeing to address certain issues, while ignoring others just as crucial. Overall, though, THE General Body helped form connections, helped all participants learn, and had, and continues to have, powerful impacts.
The activism of THE General Body kickstarted larger conversations on campus about transparency, privilege, oppression, intersectionality, mental health, disability, heterosexism, transphobia, racism, the ‘ivory tower’ disconnected from the larger community, and sexism on campus. This was a part of a larger national conversation regarding university rape culture, white supremacy, and corporatization. Additionally, the actions of THE General Body put pressure on Chancellor Syverud and the senior executive administration to address the closure of the Advocacy Center fully and to give more power to the Chancellor’s Workgroup on Sexual Violence Prevention, Advocacy, and Awareness. As of April 2015, because of pressure from THE General Body and the persistent activism of disability rights activists the university will soon be hiring its first full-time Americans with Disabilities Act Coordinator in 10 years, and the hiring of a new psychiatric nurse has made mental health services more readily available to students. Teaching and graduate assistants saw a significant raise in substandard pay while THE General Body and groups such as the Graduate Student Organization and Graduate Students United advocated for these labor rights. Opportunities for students to participate in the “Fast Forward” campus restructuring and mission/vision statement modification processes were expanded. THE General Body was able to secure the ability of the Student Association president to email the entire undergraduate student body, in keeping with a right already afforded to the Graduate Student Organization president for years. Recently, THE General Body has taken a stance of strong support for activists behind #WakeUpSULaw, a campaign to address and counteract a series of druggings of law students at the Syracuse University College of Law. In particular, THE General Body pointed out the College administration’s victim-blaming and negligence that characterize a nationwide trend in violence against women and other marginalized people on college campuses. THE General Body remains committed to a solidarity framework.
On December 1st, activists of THE General Body and other campus communities organized a #BlackLivesMatter solidarity march for Mike Brown, the city of Ferguson, Missouri, and those affected by police brutality, particularly Black men, Black women, and trans* people of color. The 4.5 minute die-in in Bird Library, during which the names of Black people killed by police violence in the United States were read, continued to downtown Syracuse, where community leaders spoke about police brutality in Syracuse. This event marked a shift in the relationship between the campus and city, which are traditionally not only siloed, but also pitted against each other. The partnerships fostered here will be a focus of growth for future actions of THE General Body.
In late January 2015, THE General Body planned and hosted a regional conference on campus activism; topics from the corporate university, to activism and art, to intersectional organizing, to historical movements were covered in a variety of panels, workshops, and performances. Again, THE General Body sought to connect with the larger city community by having this event off-campus at the Community Folk Art Center. Student activists from other institutions such as Cazenovia College, Rochester University, and Hamilton College participated and built meaningful and lasting relationships with members of THE General Body. The sponsorship of many academic departments at SU spoke to the interdisciplinary nature of the event and its underlying principle of democratic, justice-oriented education.
In March 2015, THE General Body reached out to Chancellor Syverud to arrange a meeting with he and his executive team to follow up on the commitments the administration had made, for a timeline, as well as to press for more of the important issues which were ignored by the administration in the fall. In particular, issues the administration has refused to address include: maintaining need-based scholarships, issues relating to students of color, LGBTQQI students, hiring more therapists and fixing the inconsistent procedures for mental health care at SU/ESF. The administration was slow to reply. When they did, several days later, they offered a meeting with liasons who have no decision-making capabilities. THE General Body wrote again to request a meeting with those who can be accountable to its previous commitments. It was also announced that the SU Study Abroad Program, Paris Noir, would be cancelled, per an inconsistent policy of enrollment, and fewer scholarships available. Students rallied, particularly students in the Student African American Society, and due to this student activism, the program re-opened for applicants.
Following this, it was leaked that the university had planned to force all undergrads to carry health insurance, and to put graduate student employees on a subpar, more expensive student insurance plan. Not only that, but the administration’s plan had not consulted with any democratic governing bodies at the university, and had planned to announce this drastic change in the same manner as it announced the closure of the Advocacy Center, quietly, at the very end of the school year, though they had been discussing it behind closed doors for up to eighteen months.
THE General Body collaborated with the Graduate Student Organization (GSO) and Graduate Students United (GSU) to discuss the possibility of unionizing grad student employees (GAs, TAs, and RAs) who perform 1/3 of the instructional labor at Syracuse University. The administration, having already signed the contract with the health insurance company, did a quick about-face, and issued a mild delay on their plan. THE General Body held a press conference on April 7 to once again address the fact of the chancellor refusing a meeting about all these issues, and to connect the dots between the initial issues they had raised in Fall 2014, along with the issues which have continued to occur as the new administration claims its foothold at SU. As we understand, the new administration has a directive from the Board of Trustees to enact policies of austerity, all along with skyrocketing tuition costs. The GSO, GSU, and THE General Body held a joint rally on April 9 to focus on the issue of health insurance, and again connect the dots between all the outstanding issues which need to be addressed. On April 30, we collaborated to host a solidarity rally with the uprising in Baltimore focused on the murder by police of Freddie Gray, and to bring attention to racism and structural and police brutality in Syracuse. More plans are in the works. This movement will continue!