Category Archives: Updates

Updates on recent events

Join THE General Body Tomorrow to Support Reverend Dexter

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Local community and religious leader Dr. Rev. Lemorris Dexter is currently in jail awaiting sentencing on bogus charges incurred after police attacked him and his wife, Alisha, in their front yard on Jan. 4, 2014. He is facing up to one year in jail for “obstructing governmental administration” and “disorderly conduct.”

Rev. Dexter leads the New Salem Missionary Baptist Church and is the President of the local chapter of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. He is a tireless advocate for poor and oppressed people from all walks of life.

Rev. Dexter was targeted because he is an outspoken leader who doesn’t back down in the face of intimidation. But this isn’t just an attack on one man, it’s an attack on an entire community.

Please join us as we gather to support Rev. Dexter on the Friday before his sentencing at 12 p.m. outside the  Onondaga County “Justice” Center at 555 S. State St. THE General Body will meet at Hendricks Chapel on the SU campus at 11:15 a.m. to walk there together. See the Facebook event here.

This event is being supported by: Southern Christian Leadership Conference, Syracuse Answer Coalition, THE General Body, and more.

For more information, or to endorse this action, please contact syracuse@answercoalition.org.

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Message to SU Graduate Program Directors Regarding the Changes to Health Care

In light of the recent changes to graduate students’ health care, we, THE General Body, feel it is important to be transparent with current, potential, and incoming students about these changes. As it stands, the administration has, without consulting students, changed graduate teaching, research, and other assistants’ employee health coverage from the employee plans to the student plans. The administration has sent a message to incoming graduate students suggesting that the plan is an improvement. This is false; the new plan’s benefits are currently unknown and we cannot say whether they will be better than the employee plans. For those of us who were recruited on different terms, we are now seeing an unexpected increase in our expenses, an increase that will hit people with chronic health conditions, people who have children, and lower-income graduate students particularly hard. It also devalues the work of graduate employees.

We have seen the Associate Dean of the Graduate School’s April 3 letter to prospective students alerting them of these changes, but we are concerned that the letter is not transparent about the additional cost and hardship that will be incurred by students. The available information is vague and sometimes contradictory; we have attempted to get a sense of some of the costs that students will incur from this new plan:

  • Under this plan, graduate employees will be forced off of the employee plan and onto the student plan
  • International students report that the student plan will cost $700/year more per person and there will be benefit reductions
  • There is no vision or dental coverage in the new plan
  • The new plan costs $1890 a year for a current single student with no children. According to GSO members, the cost increase (including tax implications) is about $856 more per year
  • A TA with a spouse and two children on their insurance would pay up to $4,615 more for this plan
  • If we understand the university’s FAQ correctly, for new domestic students entering in Fall 2015 and voluntarily purchasing the Aetna plan, their sum will be $2,742.
  • The plan necessitates both co-pay and co-insurance  (a percentage of the procedure, test, etc. paid out of pocket). At the GSO meeting, one student said he needed 4 MRIs this year. This cost him $40 each in co-pay. With the new plan, he said it would cost him between $500-600 per MRI.

According to an e-mail from GSO President Patrick Neary sent April 3, 2015, the agreement has already been signed with AETNA. The GSO has publicly censured the administration for this unilateral decision, and this Wednesday, graduate students and faculty allies will be meeting to discuss unionizing in response. THE General Body is also organizing meetings and actions in response.

As graduate director, you could potentially make a public impact by voicing your opposition to this undemocratic, nontransparent change, which clearly does not have student interests in mind. It’s clear that the administration wants to make it more difficult for students who do not have a significant financial safety net to attend graduate school. As you know, this seriously compromises the diversity and strength of our programs, and potential to recruit students. Along with graduate students in other departments, we urge you to speak out against this blatant injustice by making a public statement, urging the department to make a public statement, and supporting the GSO’s censure of the administration.

In addition to taking a public stand on this issue by writing a statement of support, we ask that you alert your department’s current and prospective students to these changes immediately. You can assure the prospective students that we will be working to support graduate students’ rights to quality healthcare and sustainable financial security.

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GSO Censures the Administration for Changes to Health Care Plan

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April 2, 2015
Graduate Student Organization
216 Bowne Hall

Dear Chancellor Syverud:
On April 1st, 2015 the Senate of the Graduate Student Organization voted unanimously to censure the university leadership for its actions surrounding the recently announced changes to student health insurance. The Senate is appalled at the lack of transparency leading up to this decision, particularly the lack of announcements to those it would impact as the requirements and plans were being constructed.

Additionally, the Senate is outraged that this decision process, one that materially affects students in a substantial manner, did not involve students prior to when a final decision was reached. The GSO insists the University include students in university policymaking, particularly when it impacts students to a large degree.

The Senate calls for all graduate teaching, research, and other assistants employed by the University to remain eligible for the employee health insurance plans, as they have been in this and past years. We censure the university leadership for moving to take this benefit away from all graduate assistants. The GSO is committed to maintaining employee insurance plan eligibility for all these students, regardless of degree type or other categorization. Graduate teaching, research, and other assistants are core to the
instructional and research mission at Syracuse University, comprising up to one-third of the full-time equivalent instructional personnel. The university devalues and demeans the work these students perform by not recognizing them as eligible for employee health benefits. The current plan also presents severe cost increases and an unacceptably unclear benefits picture if it were to go forward, including questions about dental coverage and a total lack of vision coverage. The university needs to send a clear message that it will not diminish the insurance benefits to these students.

The Senate is alarmed at the substantial confusion and cost increases for international students that the new health insurance requirement has created and censures the university leadership for its role in creating this confusion and cost increase. Students across the university are still awaiting a complete plan description, full justifications for the move away from the HTH insurance plans, and a full explanation of the necessity to raise costs for most international students by approximately $700 annually. International students require further information concerning how the new Aetna Student Health Plan will interface with their requirements as international students studying in the US. The GSO insists this information be made public and no further actions are to be taken to implement this plan without GSO Senate input.
Graduate Student Organization Senate

PDF of letter available here.

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Good News, But More Work to Do: A TGB Update

We have exciting news and a lot more work to do. First, our next meeting is this Thursday April 2 at 8:30 p.m. in Hall of Languages 500. Please join us as we continue to gather momentum and take action as we near the end of this semester. Your thoughts will be helpful! We need to continue to work to apply pressure in many ways so that we can continue to work in solidarity to get real, collaborative change at SU.

Things to celebrate:

1. Thanks to dedicated student activism, especially with a combination of Divest-SU/ESF and THE General Body, SU officially announced it is divesting from direct investments in fossil fuel. The New York Times and Democracy Now! picked the story up. Obviously, a lot more needs to happen to stop/slow climate change, and the university is still invested in mutual funds which invest in fossil fuel, and still maintains a fairly environmentally unsustainable infrastructure, but it still shows that activism works.
2. We have also noticed that the Chancellor seems to be making tiny steps towards at least talking a good talk about ending sexual assault, relationship violence, and gender-based violence at SU. This is directly related to our hard work, though we need to see A LOT more REAL change, and REAL MONEY going into this. Take Back the Night was incredible this year, as always, but a reminder of how widespread rape and sexual assault are, at SU/ESF, and elsewhere.
3. The ADA Coordinator Hiring Committee is making progress and interviewing final candidates, however, there is some dissent and problems about how this committee has proceeded.
4. The GSO has asked Chancellor Syverud to do an actual, not just a pretend, investigation of how his administration and DPS treated TGB during the sit-in.

And yet…

Think of all the things the Chancellor is NOT addressing. We have noted again and again, for instance, that he continues to ignore anything to do specifically with students, faculty and staff of color, and/or GLBTQI students.

Next Steps/ACTION:

Yesterday, we contacted the Chancellor to request he meet in a public, open manner, with THE General Body, to continue the dialog and work the administration has claimed to want to work on (see our letter here). We have yet to hear a reply of any kind. 

When (if) we do secure a meeting time with the Chancellor and his administration, we will send a call-out email and post on the blog so we can have as many people there as possible. There will likely be other actions this semester, too!

In TGB structural news:

We have begun a “steering committee” to try to keep things as democratic as possible, while keeping a clearer sense of ‘power’ and communication. This steering committee will rotate out who wants to be on it. There’s definitely more room for those who might want to be part of it! Come to a meeting, or email THEgeneralbody@gmail.com, if you want to be on this more nuts and bolts sort of planning work.

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An Update on the Unjust Arrest of Reverend Dexter

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Right now, Reverend L. Micah Dexter is sitting behind bars at the Onondaga County “Justice” Center. Last week he was convicted of “obstructing governmental administration” by an all-white jury after the police and district attorney’s office railroaded him in court. Rev. Dexter and his wife Alisha were beaten by police officers at their home Jan. 4, 2014 (you can read more background here). His wife, Alisha, was convicted of “resisting arrest,” and she was released on her own recognizance, and is currently caring for their children.

All inmates at the jail have to receive a tuberculosis test. Rev. Dexter was not offered this test and, as a result, he was denied visitation rights for several days. Finally, on Wednesday, he was able to receive the test.

Over the last week he has been able to make phone calls. He wants everyone to know that he is in good health and spirits. He continues to remain defiant in the face of injustice.

As it stands, we are still unsure when exactly his sentencing hearing will be, but it will take place either April 13 or 14. Rev. Dexter and his supporters are asking for a public presence at the sentencing.

We are also in the process of organizing a demonstration in support of Alisha and Rev. Dexter. This will take place prior to his sentencing.

A member of THE General Body will be visiting Rev. Dexter on Monday, and will have another update at that time.

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Stay Tuned for January 2015 Open General Body Meeting

THE General Body has rescheduled its open meeting until early in the Spring semester.
Students are busy this week, and we want to make sure that the meeting is accessible to as much of the student body as possible. Stay tuned for details.
In the meantime, if you want to get involved, e-mail TheGeneralBody@gmail.com — there is a lot of work to be done!

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THE General Body Stands in Solidarity With National Protests Proclaiming that #BlackLivesMatter

a student's sign protesting campus police discrimination, from the sit-in in Crouse-Hinds Hall

a student’s sign protesting campus police discrimination, from the sit-in in Crouse-Hinds Hall

THE General Body stands in solidarity with the thousands of outraged individuals who have taken to the streets in the last 24 hours to peacefully protest the lack of a grand jury indictment for Darren Wilson, the St. Louis police officer who murdered teenager Michael Brown.

We anticipate two criticisms to this stance: first, that we should stay focused on the struggle at Syracuse University, a position articulated to us this morning; second, perhaps that it is an insult to Michael Brown and the other murdered victims of police violence to compare a campus struggle with the struggle for life itself in the face of police brutality and state violence.

To both these claims we can only say that the fights for justice on city streets and on campus walkways is not only symbolically but actually the same fight.

Our fight at SU and the nationwide fight of last night’s protesters are fights against racist profiling, institutional and structural racism, surveillance, and overpolicing; the insidious narratives of biased media; the refusal to see systemic crimes of poverty, gun violence, sexual violence, and mental illness as public health issues deserving of serious medical response; and the deferral by power brokers to broken legal channels. Active protest for social justice displays the will of community members to risk their personal well-being for collective health, safety, and change.

Universities are microcosms of the world, and student activist movements respond to the same systemic inequalities, manifested on campuses, that appear the world over. As a coalition of students, faculty, staff, and community members committed to social justice and policy change, it is consistent within our mission as THE General Body to raise our voices and join in physical protests for the life of Michael Brown.

Ultimately, our fight is the fight of protesters across the country because, here at Syracuse, we also are raising our voices to proclaim that Black Lives Matter. Students of color arrive at Syracuse having already experienced police discrimination and violence in their home communities, violence that is replicated in the city of Syracuse and implicated on our campus. We see that police violence is sexual violence; that police and war violence create disability; and that obfuscated financial transactions underlie the systemic inequalities that make such unequal power relations possible.

Today, we stand in mourning with the family of Michael Brown and in solidarity with those acting on the occasion of his unjust death for a better world. As the Brown family says, “Let’s not just make noise, let’s make a difference.”

* * *

Members of THE General Body will be present at multiple events in the Syracuse area and on the Syracuse campus to protest and process these recent events.

This afternoon, SU’s Hendricks Chapel will host an interfaith prayer service from 12:30 – 12:45 PM. The Chapel will remain open for silent prayer and reflection from 12:30 – 4:00 PM, at which time the Diversity and Inclusion Workgroup will sponsor a structured conversation on the events in Ferguson, moderated by Kim Williams. The dialogue will end at 5:00 PM.

And the Syracuse community will hold a peaceful protest at noon Tuesday (today) outside the Syracuse Federal Building, 100 S. Clinton St. The National Action Network will hold a town hall meeting at 10 AM Saturday at Fountain of Life Church, 700 South Ave., to discuss the Ferguson announcement and police policy issues on topics including tasers and chokeholds. See the Post-Standard for more on community events.

Please join us at these events, and visit our Facebook page and group to coordinate with other members who will be in attendance.

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THE GENERAL BODY ENDS 18 DAY SIT-IN WITH A GROWING BASE OF FACULTY, ALUMNI, STUDENT, AND COMMUNITY SUPPORT

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Today at 1:30 pm in Crouse-Hinds Hall, THE General Body met with Dean Bea Gonzalez to discuss six urgent student needs that Chancellor Syverud had refused to acknowledge in his “final response” last week. Chancellor Syverud had been personally invited to attend by a delegation of faculty supporters, who delivered an invitation to his home two days ago. He appointed Dean Bea Gonzalez–the former “liaison” between the administration and THE General Body–to go in his place.

During the 1:30pm meeting, it quickly became clear that Chancellor Syverud did not enable his representative to make any decisions on his behalf. “I am not here to speak for the Chancellor,” she said in response to THE General Body’s  six needs. Before the meeting, the Chancellor had received the six synthesized university community needs as a Good Faith Commitment Contract. “From day one this sit-in has asked for commitments from Chancellor Syverud on crucial student needs. I find it unreasonable and irresponsible that the Chancellor would send someone without the power to make any commitments on day 18,” said Ben Kuebrich.

Dean Gonzalez expressed a desire to return to negotiations, but when pressed, was unable to clarify what that would entail in light of Chancellor Syverud’s  “final response.”

After the meeting, THE General Body held a press conference, where senior Colton Jones announced that the sit-in would be ending that afternoon. The decision to end the sit-in follows a growth in campus pressure on the Chancellor to commit to addressing urgent student needs. Over the past week, faculty, alumni, staff, community groups, and campus organizations have written letters to the Chancellor urging him to sign a written commitment to address student needs. These letters also urge the Chancellor to sign a non-retaliation agreement, which would protect students, faculty, staff, and others involved in the sit-in from facing punitive action.

THE General Body ended the sit-in on a strong note, with a clear sense of support from the campus.  “We decided to end the sit-in on our own terms,” said undergraduate student Angelina Vargas. In addition to statements of support from alumni, students, and faculty, THE General Body has received solidarity statements from 1199SEIU, a coalition of Syracuse community groups, Adjuncts United, and Cold Case Justice Initiative and Democratizing Knowledge, among others.

At the press conference, available as audio here, PhD student Tessa Brown reviewed the sit-in’s achievements and how far THE General Body has come. Vani Kannan, PhD Student, discussed the future of the movement. Law school professor Paula Johnson also spoke, expressing her respect and admiration for the students of THE General Body, her belief that they have changed campus for the better, and her commitment on behalf of the faculty to stand with them as the movement continues into next semester.

Following the press conference, students clapped, hugged, gathered their belongings, and exited the building. Carrying signs that read ‘Coming Back Stronger,” they marched with a delegation of faculty and staff up to Hendricks Chapel, where DAT Rally was held nearly three weeks ago. After saying final goodbyes, many students returned to Crouse-Hinds to clean the building.

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We Are Leaving This Building, But We Are Not Going Anywhere

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credit: Sherri Williams

 

My name is Vani Kannan, and I’m going to talk about where THE General Body is going next.

Last night we gathered to discuss our future. The conversation went late into the night, and reinforced for me the strength, passion, clarity, and commitment to each other and to this campus that I have observed throughout this movement.

Being in this room has been one of the greatest educations of my life. The deep commitment of the people in this room to each other, to the university and to the Syracuse community, should not be underestimated.

The faculty, staff, and community support we’ve received this week speaks more loudly than any one person can.

The messages of solidarity from universities across the country, where students are struggling with the same corporate imperatives speak more loudly than any one person can.

The letters from students, alumni, faculty, staff, and community members about their individual, collective, and institutional struggles speak more loudly than any one person can.

And the messages of solidarity pressed against those glass windows, which speak to the crackdown on dissent nationally and globally–scream much louder than any one person can.

This movement is growing.

This is our 18th day in Crouse-Hinds. After this press conference, we will be leaving.

We are leaving with the knowledge that what we are asking the Chancellor to commit to works towards equity, justice, and safety for every person here today and every person not here.

We are moving into phase two of the General Body, starting now. This new phase represents a growing body of students, faculty, staff, and community members who refuse to submit to undemocratic administrative policies that hurt this campus and this community.

We will continue to fight alongside each other despite the forces that are trying to divide us.

When we look back, and look around, we know we are in good company.

Now, today, we are leaving this building, but we are not going anywhere.

Vani Kannan
PhD Student, Composition and Cultural Rhetoric

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What We’ve Achieved

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I’m here to tell you what we’ve achieved.

Let’s start with the small victories, the met demands: Because we were here, the Student Association president can now e-mail the entire student body. We’ve secured a 7% increase in TA pay for 2016, and a commitment to an immediate search for an Americans with Disabilities Act Coordinator. Because we were here, Chancellor Syverud added 11 more student positions to 7 Fast Forward workgroups.

We’ve raised awareness on this campus. We’ve drawn student, faculty, and staff attention to the fact that the Chancellor changed the language of the mission statement in critical ways, removing language on diversity, democracy, and inclusiveness. We’ve highlighted that this is the first time in fifty years that the university hasn’t released the financial and salary data necessary for the AAUP to write its annual Z report. And by living through it ourselves, we’ve exposed the kind of policing and legal intimidating that is possible in the corporate unviersity. Chancellor Syverud, we are still waiting for you to explain what you meant by these envelopes, provided, as Provost Spina wrote, “to afford those students who continued to remain in the building maximum due process.”

These cryptic, highlighted forms suggest we obstructed teaching. But in this space we held teach-ins every day–our tenured and untenured faculty as well as graduate students brought their students here to learn from us, because, in this building lobby, we opened up space for honest and critical dialogue–something so neccessary to this campus that they had to leave their buildings to come here and learn. And for every class that came here, three more invited us to visit and speak with them.

In this space, we created the community we need to live in. But–as one member reminds us–it wasn’t all tea and roses. We created a space that is anti-racist. That didn’t mean racist ideologies disappeared– but it meant we respect and love each other so much in here that we can speak out when aggressions manifest themselves. We created a space that is anti-ablist. That doesn’t mean this space is accessible–look around, this built environment is inaccessible–but our anti-ablism means another member can speak out, reminding us to stay on the ground floor, and we will listen. We created a space that is sustainable, where we clean and cook and donate extra food and reuse our waste where we can. It doesn’t mean we have zero emissions, but it’s a start. And we created a space that is anti-rape, where forty strangers can come sleep on the floor together and be safe, respecting each other’s boundaries–

Except.

Except for the armed DPS guards who sit in groups of two and three at the doors.
Who videotape and scan our IDs for our own safety so that the Assistant General Counsel of this university can threaten us.
DPS guards, as personally kind as they may be, who took pictures of us in our sleep–the most egregious unconsentual action that took place in here.

To those of you who never got to visit, I wish we could have shared this space with you, but I’m glad we can promise there will be so many more opportunities for us to come together in the future. And we will bring into that future our new knowledge from this experience. Every day we learned the limits and the possibilities of this university. We wrote together, studied together, protested together, enacted our shared values together. We were also policed together, marginalized together, visibly obstructed from view together, legally threatened together. All of that is Syracuse. This complex and contradictory Syracuse existed before Chancellor Syverud arrived and it will exist after he is gone. But we are here to fight and to bear witness to his efforts to unilaterally shift our culture and to deny our voices in the processes through which this university evolves.

We stand before you as the bodies who get forgotten in statistics: the twenty percent of women who will be raped on this campus; the thirty percent of enrolled students who are graduate students teaching for an unliveable wage; the thirty percent of students who are of color being devalued and explicitly written out of the constitutional documents of this university; the eighty percent of students who need some kind of financial assistance to attend this school.

And lest you think that climate change doesn’t affect us here in Syracuse, we have only to look west and acknowledge the eight people who died around Buffalo in the cataclysmic snowstorm they are suffering through, to recognize that climate change touches all of us on this planet, including here in central New York.

We believe in the right of every college student in this country to go to a college that values them, that is accessible, that provides adequate health services, that is invested in the health of this planet, that values its students’ health and safety enough to take an active stand against the cultures of rape, racism, ablism, and homophobia that are endemic on campuses across America. This is not acceptable for any school and it is not acceptable for Syracuse. And we will keep fighting until Chancellor Syverud makes a written commitment to honor these critical demands.

Tessa Brown
PhD Student, Composition and Cultural Rhetoric

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