Category Archives: Updates

Updates on recent events

THURSDAY: 1:30PM MEETING WITH BEA GONZALEZ & PRESS CONFERENCE

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At 1:30pm on Thursday, November 20, Dean Bea Gonzalez will meet with THE General Body in Crouse-Hinds Hall. This meeting is in response to THE General Body’s call for Chancellor Syverud and his administration to sign this Good Faith Commitment Contract which addresses 6 crucial student needs that were not addressed by the Chancellor in his “final response.” Once the crucial student needs are discussed, THE General Body will hold a press conference to deliver a statement about the future of THE General Body.

While the Chancellor stated he needed to move on from THE General Body’s concerns in order to address the needs of the 21,000 other students on campus, his statement largely ignores the issues that THE General Body advocates for, which are relevant to the entire campus and surrounding community. The six crucial needs identified by THE General Body reflect students’ widespread concerns about mental health services, sexual assault, and racial and economic justice. They concern scholarships and programs for students of color and students from lower socioeconomic backgrounds; hiring 7 counselors in order to meet SU’s accrediting agency’s recommendations;  hiring one additional psychiatrist to serve the nearly 24,000 students on SU and SUNY-ESF campuses; improving sexual assault services as one in four women are victims of sexual assault; and making budgets and salary data transparent.

Over the past week, THE General Body has experienced new threats from the administration. On Friday night, students in Crouse-Hinds were issued individually-addressed envelopes containing the student code of conduct and campus disruption policies. The next morning, when students attempted to meet with a tenured professor of law serving as their legal counsel, DPS blocked her from entering Crouse-Hinds.

This administrative behavior has garnered increased support from faculty, alumni and parents who have been writing the Chancellor daily requesting he open up dialog and re-initiate negotiations. Yesterday, faculty marched to the chancellor’s house to deliver an invitation to Crouse-Hinds Hall to discuss the six urgent needs. Over the course of the past 24 hours, faculty and alumni have written dozens of letters to the chancellor urging him to meet with students. In response, he wrote to THE General Body to say that Dean Gonzalez–who had previously been appointed as the administration’s “liason” to THE General Body–would meet with students.

While THE General Body has called consistently for a meeting with the Chancellor, they have only met with him once. A committed and growing group of faculty, students, parents, and alumni await the Chancellor’s commitment to addressing these crucial campus needs.

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CALLING ON CHANCELLOR SYVERUD: SIGN A GOOD FAITH COMMITMENT CONTRACT

THE General Body calls on Chancellor Syverud to sign the following Good Faith Commitment Contract to demonstrate his commitment to the needs of the campus community. These six crucial student needs were not addressed in the Chancellor’s “final response” to students’ needs, grievances, and solutions. We also ask that the Chancellor fulfill his commitment to sign a nonretaliation agreement, thus ensuring that students, faculty, and staff participating in the sit-in will not face punitive measures for their work to address these pressing problems.

A committed and growing group of faculty, students, parents, and alumni await the Chancellor’s commitment to addressing these crucial campus needs.

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“They’re all important,” and to choose among them “feels like asking somebody to choose between their children.”

— Chancellor Syverud, November 5, 2014 official transcript, on describing the issues raised in THE General Body’s Grievances, Needs, and Solutions document.

Demonstrating my good faith commitment to the university community, I, Chancellor Syverud, commit to the following critical needs:

  1. I, Chancellor Syverud, commit to not cutting any more programs or scholarships that recruit and admit US students of color and students from lower socioeconomic backgrounds.
  2. I, Chancellor Syverud, commit to the original contract made to the POSSE program, three years of which were prematurely cut without consulting a single student.
  3. I, Chancellor Syverud, commit to hiring seven more counselors for Syracuse University’s Counseling Center, as the International Association of Counseling Services, SU’s accrediting agency for counseling, recommends. The agency recommends one counselor for every 1,000 students.
  4. I, Chancellor Syverud, commit to hiring an additional psychiatrist to the one that serves nearly 24,000 students on both SUNY ESF and SU’s campus. This is in addition to the psychiatric nurse that the university is currently searching for.
  5.  I, Chancellor Syverud, commit to honoring and implementing the recommendations of the Workgroup on Sexual Violence Prevention, Education, and Advocacy, which was created after community outcry in response to the irresponsible closure of the Advocacy Center.
  6. I, Chancellor Syverud, commit to financial transparency on campus, including providing the necessary salary data to the American Association of University Professors (AAUP). Last year’s failure to provide this data led to the Syracuse University’s AAUP’s inability to write the Z report (a critical data source on faculty salaries) for the first time in nearly 50 years. I further commit to making a comprehensive budget breakdown public, including student tuition, the $1.044 billion raised in The Campaign for SU, the amount of money spent on student services, community projects, scholarships, and the amount of money given to the university from both the Department of Defense and the Department of Homeland Security.

After addressing these critical university community needs, I, Chancellor Syverud, look forward to a more inclusive governance process that includes the entire university as we work toward our common goals of safety, diversity, accessibility, equality, social justice, and democracy.

Signed,

_____________

Chancellor Syverud

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FACULTY AND STUDENTS MARCH TO CHANCELLOR SYVERUD’S HOUSE

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On Tuesday, November 18, more than 25 faculty, staff and students of THE General Body marched from the administration building to Chancellor Kent Syverud’s house to hand-deliver the following invitation:

 

Dear Chancellor Syverud,

The Students, staff and faculty of THE General Body request your presence on Thursday, November Twentieth, Two Thousand Fourteen, between ten o’clock am and three o’clock pm, at your convenience, in Crouse Hinds Hall.

We wish to meet on critical university needs left inadequately addressed in your final response. These include: maintaining all scholarships and recruitment for students of color, students of lower socioeconomic status, and other diverse student populations; expanding mental health providers, advocacy against sexual assault and rape culture; expanded counseling staff; and financial transparency.

“We are sending the Chancellor our own ‘final’ response,” said General Body member Benjamin Kuebrich. “While this doesn’t represent the end of our work, the list includes student needs that must be acted on immediately.”

Faculty were blocked by DPS officers from walking up to the Chancellor’s house to give him the invitation. Only one faculty member, who had been invited to an event the Chancellor was hosting, was allowed entrance.

“Thank you for the letter,” said Chancellor Syverud. “I will be sure to read it.”

During the first negotiation meeting with THE General Body, Chancellor Syverud remarked: “They’re all important [the demands],” and to choose among them “feels like asking somebody to choose between their children.”

“This is a chance for the Chancellor to prove his commitment to the students and not just the financial pockets of the university,” said General Body member Kim Powell.

This action at Chancellor Syverud’s house follows yesterday’s rally on SU campus, where 150 faculty, students, and community members gathered under the rain to protest the administration’s treatment of THE General Body. Over the weekend, students in Crouse-Hinds Hall were issued individually-addressed envelopes containing the Student Code of Conduct and Disruption policies. The next day their legal counsel Janis McDonald, a tenured professor of law at SU, was turned away when she tried to meet with them.

The administration’s denial of students’ basic right to meet with an attorney galvanized faculty across campus in support of the students. They responded  by writing numerous letters to the Chancellor and standing outside Crouse-Hinds Hall all throughout Sunday holding signs of support.

“We applaud the tenacity and the thoroughness of the student action. They are dedicated, prepared and very organized. They are truly concerned about these issues, this institution and this community,” wrote McDonald in an open letter to the campus community. “Many of us on the faculty support and respect their peaceful efforts to procure a commitment from the administration to move forward in an integral and concrete manner with specific terms and deadlines”

THE General Body has also received a letter of support signed by the 1199SEIU, Adjuncts United, and a broad coalition of local community organizations.

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A Line-By-Line Reading of Provost Spina’s Email to University Community Members

L-R: Dean Kantorwitz, Provost Spina, and Chancellor Syverud

[Edits bolded in brackets below. -TGB]

November 16, 2014

Dear Faculty and University Community Members:

Over the past 24 hours there have been significant and unfortunate misunderstandings regarding the current situation in Crouse-Hinds Hall.

[We don’t think anything has been misunderstood. Rather, your administration’s intimidation tactics have become public knowledge and tenured faculty are outraged.] 

I want to take this opportunity to reach out to you directly and provide the following facts and perspectives:

[Thanks for your direct contact, Provost Spina – but if Chancellor Syverud has demonstrated such easy and regular e-mail contact with the entire university community, why isn’t he the one e-mailing us right now? Also, we know you can contact the whole campus community but no one else can, something we are striving to change. This translates into a very controlled message. The question is, what do you usually contact us for? Certainly not to communicate really important things like changing the mission/vision statement of this university] 

    1. Tomorrow, Monday, Nov. 17, will mark the 14th day of essentially unfettered access to Crouse-Hinds Hall for the students protesting their concerns. [not unfettered. DPS officers come in every night to cordon off the students to the lobby on the first floor, with no access to other rooms or floors. By contrast, most university buildings lock at night but students have access with ID cards and could easily permit another student to enter, could leave and re-enter, and cound enter classrooms in the buildings.] The only restrictions that apply are [arbitrary and never delivered in writing] fire code rules, expectations that have been set to allow mission-critical University functions such as teaching and learning to continue, and access restrictions to the building when it is closed. During the hours the building is closed, students have been advised that they may remain, but if they depart they cannot return until the building opens. No other individuals, unless they have prior approved access to the building, are able to enter the building during the time it is closed. The same policy applies for many other buildings on campus.
    2. During the hours the building is open, students, faculty, staff and community members have been allowed to gather, hold teach-ins, invite outside speakers, and conduct other activities not normally held in this space; they also have been allowed to come and go freely.
    3. Senior administrators including Chancellor Syverud, Dean Bea González, Senior Vice President and Dean of Student Affairs Rebecca Reed Kantrowitz and I, along with our staffs, have committed hundreds of hours of our time and energy responding to the students. This has included no less than four exchanges of a “Demands and Solutions” document that began at 43 pages and now totals 54 pages following our extensive discussions. During the course of these negotiations the administration has been respectful of the students’ concerns, responsive to giving them answers, and we made ourselves available night and day to respond. [Yes, thank you. Granted this amount of manhours would not be necessary if unilateral actions had  not been taken without seriously considered student input in the first place. Also, this makes more than clear that you were available this weekend to make a different decision about whether to allow us legal representation and instead once again made a poor choice which you are once again calling a “misunderstanding.” How many more misunderstandings from Chancellor Syverud and this administration can this University afford?]
    4. On Wednesday, Nov. 12, a full nine days into the sit-in, it became apparent that only complete adherence to the group’s demands would lead to vacation of the building, and that the significant movement by the administration on the demands and the identification of inclusive processes for further dialog by all members of the University were not compelling to the students. [the whole rhetoric of this paragraph frames the group as fundamentalists and uncooperative. It does not acknowledge the holistic nature of the demands list, for example serious demands that the university reconsider its attitude and stance towards diversity, hate speech, and sexual assault, which it repeatedly has refused to do. It also masks the fact that we need action not empty promises or verbal displays of concern.]
    5. The final document that was provided to the students on Wednesday, Nov. 12, made clear that going forward the Code of Student Conduct would be in consideration and that any previous violations would not be pursued by any means. [Did not make clear. Rather, the document stated in coded, unstressed language that students would not be punished for anything they had not done so far.]
    6. On Friday, Nov. 14, the Office of General Counsel, in an effort to afford those students who continued to remain in the building maximum due process, provided them copies of the Code of Student Conduct. Highlighted were the provisions in the Code that might apply under the current situation. [This is a hilarious joke. SU’s assistant general counsel Gabe Nugent dropped the envelopes on the floor in the midst a group of students with a smirk on his face, refused to answer any questions as to what was inside, said “see for yourself,” and left. There was no educative “effort to inform students” here. This defense of the drop-off is absurd.]
    7. To date no students have been specifically requested to leave the building. In keeping with our commitment to provide appropriate due process, the University commits to giving the students advance notice should plans be made to initiate Code of Student Conduct charges. No such plans are currently in place. [Not reassuring. Does not address our claim that these are tacit legal threats.]
    8. On Saturday Nov. 15, a faculty member from the College of Law arrived at Crouse-Hinds Hall unannounced and requested entry to the building to advise students. In keeping with the rules regarding the closing of the building, anyone was free to exit the building to seek her guidance subject to the building rules. I would note that since day one, these students have had full access to their phones, to University Wi-Fi, and their own internet connections. They have been in communication with anyone of their choosing, including legal advisors, faculty, parents or administrators. [Recourse to arbitrary rules. What actually prohibits someone from entering a building? Nothing mechanical – it was human beings, DPS officers, who did not allow Prof McDonald inside because presumably they had direct orders not to do so. This also does not address how DPS and administrators alike have full range of the space and are constantly/deliberately listening in on our conversations. We have hours of video footage supporting this fact. Including a video of Chief Legal Counsel Dan French berating students during one of THE General Body meetings]
    9. Today and going forward, a process will be developed so that legal advisement can be provided in the building even when it is closed. As of this writing, 14 students remain at their choosing in Crouse-Hinds Hall. [An idea: why don’t you call off all DPS officers immediately except for 1 officer who will regularly patrol the space to make sure no one is being harmed inside the space. To say we are here of our choosing is to ignore the reasons we had to resort to a sit-in due to the egregious actions committed by Chancellor Syverud, yourself and the rest of this administration and your inaction in resolving the very issues you have created.]

I recognize that many faculty members have personal connections to the issues and students [demeaning and insulting; reduces professor support to emotions and relationships w/students rather than thanking them for their thoughtful and ideological agreement with protestors’ legitimate demands]  currently involved in this protest. Chancellor Syverud [where is he again?], his leadership team, and I are working diligently to balance the concerns of the student protestors, the security of the building in which they have chosen to remain and the business functions therein, and the needs of the 21,000 other students who attend our University [this rhetoric again. 30% of college students suffer from depression, 1 in 5 college women are raped, students of color constitute 31% of the student body, graduate students are 30% of total student enrollment, so this is easily more than 50% of campus that is affected by these issues. Stats via CollegeData.]

I hope you will recognize that during the past two weeks this process and dialogue has resulted in change, progress, [yes change and progress arising due to THE General Body and their efforts which the Chancellor and administration attempt to co-opt to hide their inaction and decorate their intent. But certainly we have different definitions of dialogue. We do not call a “final” response a dialogue] and a significant commitment [prove it! Sign a commitment to address student needs] by the University administration to meet many of the demands brought forth by students.

This said, it is clear that the current equilibrium is not sustainable and that all of us should be focused on finding and supporting a more permanent process for engagement [again trying to deflect into preexisting and ineffective channels whose inefficacy are part of the cause of protest in the first place].

Sincerely,

Eric F. Spina
Vice Chancellor and Provost

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Four Pressing Problems Not Addressed in Chancellor Syverud’s “Final” Response to Student Needs & Grievances

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At Thursday’s press conference

 

We write this update 132 hours after Chancellor Syverud’s negotiation team committed to another meeting with THE General Body, a commitment that has not been honored. Instead, the Chancellor wrote a “final response” that does not adequately address many important, and in some cases life-and-death, needs of the university community.

We have now been sitting in for two full weeks, and it is important to challenge any claims that the activities arising from the sit-in have been supported by the Chancellor and his administration. The teach-ins, the knowledge exchange, and the support networks we have built have grown organically out of a collective recognition of students’ unaddressed needs.

Unfortunately, because we do not have access to the campus community listserv, we have been constrained in how we are able to share our story. The public representation of the negotiation process and the policing of Crouse-Hinds Hall has thus been tightly controlled by the Chancellor and his administration.

The outpouring of support from the faculty comes from their direct experiences with some of the administration’s tactics to discourage THE General Body. The reports from this weekend–specifically concerning the administration’s refusal to allow students in Crouse-Hinds to meet with their legal counsel–are a microcosm of what students have been experiencing throughout the sit-in:

–During the weekends, and during evening lockdown between 10PM and 7AM on weekdays, we are exposed to arbitrary DPS and fire safety check-ins and rules, denied access to study rooms, and in general kept in a heightened state of tension and surveillance.

–One morning, a student woke up to DPS taking pictures of sleeping students, without telling us how the pictures would be used.

–When we received individually addressed envelopes containing the Code of Student Conduct and Disruption Policies, it became apparent that our IDs had been scanned to catalog our comings and goings, rather than for our own safety (as the administration had assured us).

In one moment, Chancellor Syverud praises students for their leadership and historical precedent on campus, and in the next, his legal council threatens suspension and treats students as criminals.

The conditions in Crouse Hinds reflect the lack of good will Chancellor Syverud has taken in response to student grievance, needs, and solutions. After reviewing the list of student needs on November 5th, Chancellor Syverud said “They’re all important” and to choose among them “feels like asking somebody to choose between their children” (Nov. 5 official transcript). Despite this public statement to the importance of these issues, the majority of them remain unresolved in Chancellor Syverud’s “final response.”

Below you will find our outline of critical student needs that have not been met by the administration thus far and that require commitment and action.

Sincerely,

THE General Body

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  1. The Chancellor Has Not Committed to Addressing a Culture of Racism, Homophobia, and Hate Speech on Campus, and Must Support Diversity and Student Safety

Chancellor Syverud’s proposed changes to SU’s mission and vision statements take away references that describe “access to opportunity” and students from “diverse backgrounds.”  The unilateral decision to prematurely cut three years of the POSSE program, a merit based scholarship program located in cities, hints at the vision of Chancellor Syverud when it comes to decisions concerning students from diverse backgrounds. An Inside Higher Ed article on January 6, 2014 describes how Syverud, “plans to make changes to the recruitment and admissions practices at Syracuse after he takes office,” shifting to concerns over rankings instead of supporting a diverse and inclusive campus. Hannah Strong’s racist and homophobic comments only made more visible the persistent culture of racism and homophobia. While it is not just the university but an entire society that promotes this hateful thinking, SU can support a diverse campus of thoughtful students, faculty, and administration that works proactively to make the campus a safer space.

During negotiations, the Chancellor and upper-level administration committed to diversity trainings for senior leadership and to making web trainings available to the campus community by the end of the Spring 2015 semester. They have also told us, with no commitment to action, that they would consider many of our requests, often through Express Yourself workgroups. Some of these groups have not yet met, and not one has been specifically empowered to make such decisions. Our requests for the administration to make clear the specific decision making power of these workgroups in relation to many student needs remain unanswered.

THE General Body needs a concrete commitment to maintaining recruitment of students, staff, and faculty of color, abiding by the original commitment to POSSE, recognizing Indigenous Peoples Day, taking steps to add an anti-hate speech clause to the student code of conduct, investing in scholarships for students from diverse backgrounds, adding gender-neutral bathrooms to every campus building, and improving channels for reporting DPS violations.

 

  1. The Chancellor Has Not Committed To Investing in Mental Health, Psychiatric, and Sexual Assault Services for Students

THE General Body is disappointed by Chancellor Syverud’s failure to commit to addressing urgent student health needs. Currently, there is only one psychiatrist serving both SU and SUNY-ESF student bodies. There are only 17 counselors serving the student body–6 fewer than the International Association of Counseling Services, SU’s own accreditation agency, recommends. Despite a national conversation about sexual assault, where many campuses have opened new advocacy centers, SU closed its center without any input from students or faculty governance processes. Studies show that 1 in 5 college women will be sexually assaulted, and that up to 20% of college students have been diagnosed and treated with a mental health or substance use condition.

The Chancellor and his administration have said that they are seeking out ways to increase mental health support and that they are committed to investing in these resources. To follow through on this commitment, the Chancellor must commit to hiring two additional psychiatrists, a minimum of 6 new counselors (including counselors specifically supporting students with marginalized identities), and a minimum of one case manager per 3 counselors by the beginning of the Fall 2015 semester. We ask that the Chancellor’s administration inform students of all available options for counseling, that counselors follow up with all students referred to outside services.

Non-emergency medical transport must be made available immediately for mental as well as physical health appointments and services. Additionally, we ask that the Chancellor commit to implement structural changes to the campus mental health system through existing governance processes. Finally, we ask that the Chancellor and his administration engage in-depth student input for their preliminary plans to open a comprehensive Health and Wellness center.

To adequately serve students who have survived sexual assault, and prevent future assaults, we ask that Chancellor Syverud and his administration commit to opening a stand-alone center for survivors. To educate the campus community on available services, we ask that they ensure that the Yes Means Yes affirmative consent policy is supported and implemented across campus. To better support survivors, we ask that they mandate that SU’s Title IX Coordinator take the Vera House advocacy training, and that they ensure that stickers with clear information on assault services are in place in every single bathroom stall and dorm on campus. Finally, the Chancellor and his administration must honor the recommendations of the Workgroup on Sexual Violence Prevention, Education, and Advocacy by meeting with them and communicating clearly with the campus about any changes to policies or programs.

 

  1. The Chancellor Has Not Committed to Budget Transparency

During negotiations, Chancellor Syverud and upper-level administration provided inadequate budgetary information that had already been made public, and did not take any concrete steps to address THE General Body’s specific demands for transparency. The Chancellor must commit to providing necessary salary data to AAUP, and meeting regularly with the Senate Budget Committee. The Chancellor must also commit to making a comprehensive budget breakdown public–including student tuition, the $1.044 billion raised in The Campaign for SU, the amount of money spent on student services, community projects, scholarships, and the amount of money given to the university from both the Department of Defense and the Department of Homeland Security.

  1. The Chancellor Needs to Take Immediate Steps to Improve Accessibility on Campus

Syracuse University prides itself on its disability studies program and its Center for Human Policy, Law, and Disability Studies. However, for over a decade the university has searched for but not successfully hired an Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) coordinator to oversee and enforce accessibility on campus violating the standards of the Association of Higher Education and Disability (AHEAD). During negotiations, Chancellor Syverud demonstrated willingness to improve accessibility on campus by supporting an expedited search for an ADA coordinator (who will oversee a committee for access) and increasing flexibility in pay negotiations for this position.

In our grievances and needs document, we asked that the Chancellor create a centralized fund dedicated to providing equipment and services that create equal and inclusive access for people with disabilities. The Chancellor responded saying that this would happen within three months of an ADA Coordinator being hired. Given the challenges the institution has had in filling this position, and the wait that people with disabilities have already been subjected to, we need the Chancellor to immediately form a committee to identify and consolidate funding sources for disability access and expand OnCampus transportation. He also must charge the future ADA coordinator with assessing and monitoring The Office of Disability Services.

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THE GENERAL BODY TO HOLD 3 P.M. PRESS CONFERENCE AS SU ADMINISTRATION ISSUES “FINAL WORD” ON STUDENT NEEDS & GRIEVANCES

Please note the location has been updated to outside the Hall of Languages, rather than Crouse-Hinds Hall.

November 13, 2014. At 3 p.m. on Thursday, THE General Body will hold a press conference in front of the Hall of Languages, where students will discuss Syracuse University Chancellor Kent Syverud’s “final offer” on student needs and grievances. Breaking with precedent, Syverud e-mailed this document to the entire university community, instead of using preexisting channels of communication between his administration and THE General Body.

Syverud’s e-mail is consistent with his administration’s unilateral approach to governance and communication. It was received after two days without promised communications to set up more meetings from the administration. On Wednesday night, more than 20 members of THE General Body sat down as a group and systematically moved through Syverud’s comments, noting places where the administration had addressed students’ concerns, and searching for concrete commitments to action.

The administration has made real promises on several of THE General Body’s proposed solutions. Most heartening are the administration’s commitment to the search for an ADA coordinator,  a commitment to a 7% raise for Grad Student TA pay for one more year and more student representation on the Fast Forward Working Groups and Steering Committee, and the ability of the Student Association president to e-mail the entire student body.

However, there are still several important issues that are not being addressed or remain unclear. THE General Body is particularly concerned that many of students’ life and death needs have not been properly addressed. Many of the administration’s responses are vague and direct students to preexisting processes that are not transparent and disinclude student voices. Areas of concern include:

  • An inadequate commitment to details and action plan for improving mental health and rape prevention services and policies, and discrepancies in public statements from administration on the search for a university psychiatrist.
  • No agreement to do anything beyond “consider” the recommendations made by the Chancellor’s Workgroup on Sexual Violence Prevention, Education and Advocacy, created in the wake of the sudden closure of The Advocacy Center
  • A refusal to honor the original contract with the POSSE scholarship program
  • No commitment to maintaining and enlarging the numbers of faculty, staff, and students of color and students of lower socioeconomic backgrounds, nor a commitment to add hate crime language to the student code of conduct
  • No commitment to recognize Indigenous People’s Day
  • No disclosure of specific requested financial and enrollment information, nor a true re-commitment to shared governance structures, structures which we have seen continuously disregarded and overturned
  • A refusal to open comments on the new Mission and Vision statement for longer than one month, rather than our proposed full semester process of a community-wide collaboration to rewrite what will become the guiding principles for the future of SU

THE General Body maintains that the sit-in will not end without written commitment from the administration to taking concrete steps towards resolving the student body’s needs and grievances, and moving towards concrete steps for safety, justice, equity, and access on campus. The sit-in was a last resort for students, many of whom have tried to work through traditional channels for change for months, even years. Claims by the administration that they have been responsive to THE General Body and have engaged reasonably with students must be understood within the context of the administration’s unilateral decisions without student input. Further, the heavy policing of students at the sit-in, including a functional lock-in over the weekend, belies the administration’s insistence that student safety is their primary concern.

Find us on Twitter @TheGeneralBody and #DATMovement.

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SUNY-ESF Students: Why We’re Here

divest esfOn Monday night, a group of students from SUNY-ESF attended THE General Body meeting at Crouse-Hinds Hall. Students from ESF have been closely involved in THE General Body since the beginning, but want to work towards a more visible presence of ESF students at the sit-in.

SU and SUNY-ESF share many resources, such as courses, libraries, health and wellness services, and academic programs, and the outcome of the sit-in will significantly impact both student bodies. ESF and SU students share concerns about diversity, transparency, resource allocation, and the lack of venues for democratic decision-making involving students.

Students expressed a desire to facilitate a larger conversation between science and social justice both within the space of the sit-in and within their classrooms at ESF. They cited environmental racism–where environmental problems, including climate change and pollution from processes like fracking–predominantly affect low-income communities of color in the U.S. and abroad. This conversation would help to work against “white environmentalism,” which several students identified as a tendency within conversations about the environment to omit important discussions of environmental racism. Students of color reported experiencing other micro- and macroaggressive behavior as well.

Students identified the potential for productive crossover between ESF environmental concerns and THE General Body’s mobilization about a range of social justice issues.  “A really cool thing about ESF is that we’re getting the science behind problems like climate change and pollution,” said Katie Oran, a first-year at ESF studying environmental studies. “We know how they work, how they affect the environment and our bodies. However, we need to communicate and mobilize people to care about what’s happening,” said Oran.

ESF students also critiqued the increasing corporatization of their university. Makayla Comas, a first-year student studying environmental studies, situated this as a national problem: “once colleges start seeing that they can treat their students like commodities and products, then other colleges will think it’s okay, and our education is going to suffer.” Sophomore environmental studies major Amanda Tomasello echoed this concern: “We are are setting a precedent for other schools.”

SU and ESF students have already forged connections around fossil fuel divestment. “Divest isn’t just a local issue; it’s a national issue, a global issue. SU and ESF students support each other because we have the same goals, visions, and hopes, and want to see each other succeed. We’re not just in it for ourselves, we’re in it for each other,” said Max Sosa, a first-year studying chemistry at ESF.

These students encourage others from ESF to drop by the sit-in to learn more and work towards increased collaboration between the two student bodies on issues that affect both campuses.

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THE General Body Fights for 11 Needs Imperative to the Campus Community

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As THE General Body garners national media attention with articles in USA Today, The Nation, and Democracy Now!, a point of confusion has emerged: the size of the grievances and needs document. For example, when members of THE General Body described students’ grievances and needs at a Student Association (SA) meeting last night, one SA member asked, “how can students expect immediate change when the administration has to address 40+ pages of demands?”

To clarify, the bulk of the document comprises extensive research, anecdotes, and definitions (for example, for terms like “racial microaggression” or “hate speech”). The grievances and needs themselves can be summarized in the following 11 points:

  • Opening Fast Forward’s new mission and vision statements for widespread university participation. The new statements omit statements supporting diversity, citizenship, accessibility, democracy, and community engagement. This is imperative since mission and vision statements provide guidance on how the university prioritizes programs, curricula, and the campus environment.
  • Committing to invest in sexual assault services and a community space for survivors in light of the closure of the Advocacy Center.  This includes issuing an apology for closing the Advocacy Center with one business day’s notice covertly in an email attachment, without any student or faculty input, and for leaving gaps in crucial services such as advocacy for sexual assault survivors in the summer. It also includes concrete commitments to invest in sexual assault services and prevention.
  • Increased student participation in FastForward workgroups. THE General Body calls for ⅓ of each workgroup to be students (of which ⅔ would be undergraduate students). These groups are charged with determining how the University as a whole will be restructured.
  • Investing in academic programs, scholarships, and faculty/staff representing the diverse student body and academic interests. This includes honoring the original contract for the POSSE program, which is a merit-based scholarship for inner city leaders, maintaining needs-based scholarships and programs for diverse populations, and recruiting more faculty of color and LGBTQ faculty.
  • Committing to divest from fossil fuels. This includes transparency about the university’s current investments, and a commitment to divestment.
  • Accessibility on campus. This includes hiring an ADA coordinator to oversee large-scale changes serving students with disabilities, investing in services and trainings for all students, and improving the accessibility of buildings on campus.
  • Taking preventative measures to protect the safety of students with marginalized identities. This includes diversity training for upper-level administrators, integrating diversity training into curricula, and adding a prohibition on hate speech to the student code of conduct.
  • Working for the well-being of graduate students in GA, RA, and TA positions. This includes a living wage, commuter parking, and access to open enrollment in dental health care.
  • Improving mental health services on campus. This includes hiring additional psychiatrists to meet student needs, additional counselors, improving medical transport, and establishing a mental health workgroup. The significance of this cannot be diminished as one in four students are in need of mental health services and the national conversation on mental health after the Virginia Tech incidents had other universities scrambling on how to provide better services for its students.
  • Transparency about administrative budget decisions. This includes making available a breakdown of how tuition dollars are spent, providing salary data to AAUP, and releasing data on sports team financial transactions and the over $1 billion raised for the endowment.
  • Investing $7 million in the library budget. The university used to have a great library until a move toward technology became the justification for its slow dismantling and the relocation of books. The library now functions primarily as a study space.

This evening, THE General Body submitted a complete series of responses to the administration based on the negotiations over the past few days. Students await a meeting commitment from the administration for Wednesday, November 12.

THE General Body continues to receive wide support from SU faculty and has also received wide support from other university campuses struggling with similar issues.

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Entering the Second Week of Sitting In at Crouse-Hinds, THE General Body Promotes Education

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“We learn through what is tangible,” said SU undergraduate student Henry Nelson. “You learn about injustice by fighting it.”

Since the first evening students sat in the lobby of Crouse-Hinds Hall, they have been educating each other and the public. This has been at the core of THE General Body’s daily agendas. There have been teach-ins on subjects including the political value of stories and violence when institutions co-opt them, the history of activism at SU, the corporatization of the university, campus labor issues, and feminist pedagogy. More informal teach-ins include sessions led by students sitting-in, contextualizing the issues and also doing teach-outs, visiting classrooms, and trying to share information with other students.

Students have also learned from each other’s struggles at the sit-in. During a meeting among students of the general body over the weekend, one student cited his newfound language for talking about intersectional identities; another advocated for captioning photos in blog posts as an accessible writing practice; another cited the important lessons of critically reading media coverage of the sit-in. These creative, collaborative analytical skills enact the types of changes that students would like to see in the institution at large (for example, the need for trainings in diversity and inclusion among upper level administrators).

This morning, as the week began with construction fences blocking the protest from the public’s view, THE General Body held a read-in where students shared the work of writers including Audre Lorde, Toni Morrison, and June Jordan. When the read-in was opened up to the rest of those in attendance, the father of a Syracuse University student entered the circle to speak. Among other suggestions, he encouraged students to focus on their educations and not let the sit-in disrupt their push for “excellence and achievement.” Students responded to his comment by stressing that the sit-in represents a commitment not only to their individual educational experiences, but to the support, and safety, and dignity of all students.

“People underestimate the power of education through organizing,” said senior Kim Powell.

Later in the afternoon Dr. Horace Campbell from the Department of African American Studies at SU did a teach-in emphasizing the relationship between the University, the broader community, the shifts we are seeing in education, and the allocation of resources.

Through poetry, teach-ins, teach-outs, student led discussions, student writing, multimodal texts, and social media, the sit-in continues to facilitate public discourse and provide a space for witnessing, analyzing, and acting against injustice.

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What Transparency Looks Like at SU

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November 10, 2014 · 10:08 pm