Last week Syracuse University Chancellor Kent Syverud ordered physical plant workers to construct a wall around students protesting his decisions to get rid of vital services for students who have been victims of sexual assault and to neglect students with mental health needs, disabilities or who have been the subject of hate speech and racism. These are only some of the pervasive, life-threatening issues faced by students, faculty and staff of the University, and that the Chancellor refuses to make concrete decisions to address. Instead, he has espoused a rhetoric of “caring” while his actions to move toward “efficiency” tell a different story. His latest act was to order physical plant to remove a memorial students erected at the wall to remind the campus that they are here fighting for their needs and to honor those who have lost their lives or had their lives disregarded due to lack of adequate services and support.
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Chancellor Kent Syverud Orders Physical Plant Workers to do His Dirty Work and tear down THE General Body’s Memorial
Below is a statement said by Laura Cohen at our press conference today:
My name is Laura Cohen and I am a senior majoring in magazine and women’s and gender studies. I’m going to speak on THE General Body’s position regarding the administration’s “final response” to the Advocacy Center and sexual assault services.
Syracuse University, as well as most other universities, has a culture of rape. Rape culture means that in certain spaces, rape and sexual assault is pervasive and normalized due to our attitudes about gender and sexuality. This culture includes sexual objectification, victim-blaming, and the denial of rape and sexual assault as a real issue. When one in four college women report surviving rape or attempted rape at some point in their lifetime, there can no longer be a refusal to acknowledge the harm of sexual violence on this campus, and we need better systems in place to combat this.
We acknowledge the chancellor’s apology for the way in which the Advocacy Center was closed, but it should not have taken so much effort on our part to hear this. Further, it was an apology about “process,” not about the culture the decision has made and continues to uphold.
The fact of the matter is, we still do not have a safe space on this campus for survivors of sexual assault, or a place where a caring community of individuals can convene to work together towards prevention methods.
We have asked for the administration’s commitment to being a worldwide leader in addressing and ending sexual assault. At a time where universities across the nation are opening centers like the Advocacy Center, SU has closed ours. We have asked for the creation of a new standalone center for sexual assault and relationship violence services, advocacy, education, and outreach that combines the advantages of both old and new structures. This has not been met.
There has been no commitment to enact the recommendations of the Chancellor’s Workgroup on Sexual Violence Prevention, Education and Advocacy, which will be necessary going forward. If the administration doesn’t treat that workgroup with as much honor and give it as much power as they give to some other workgroups, we will have a problem.
The administration has shown that it cannot be trusted to do the right thing for survivors of sexual assault. If the administration does not take the workgroup’s recommendations, we will be stuck with the current system.
The workgroup has heard from recent victims of sexual assault that the stated resources available are actually not available. We’ve heard students have not been able to meet with counselor elsewhere than the Counseling Center on Walnut Ave., or frat row. We’ve also heard accounts of there being a six-week wait to see a therapist.
In addition, there has also been no public announcement of a Yes Means Yes policy.
We are not done when it comes to bettering sexual assault services on this campus, and THE General Body will not end the sit in until we see a real commitment from the administration to do so.
Dear Chancellor Syverud,
In my last letter, I criticized you for the lack of substance in your “Orange Friends” emails. I want to applaud you for breaking that pattern in your message to the university community last night. But I also made another request: that you take THE General Body seriously and talk to us. And in this sense your email, with the mixed messages it offers, falls flat.
You have asked us to “work collaboratively with the duly elected representatives and governing bodies that are currently in place,” suggesting that you have an interest in the democratic processes of shared governance. It’s nice to hear this, since we are also invested in these processes. But it’s hard to take this claim seriously when in the very same email, you unilaterally shut down negotiations with THE General Body. It’s not hard to read between the lines. You are only invested in democratic processes to the extent that they occur within an institutional framework that you control. If you wish to set the record straight, you should recognize that a protest movement like ours represents democracy in its purest form.
In apologizing for the “process and communications” related to decisions about the Advocacy Center and Posse Program, you have again broken somewhat from your past attitudes and taken a step in the right direction. But why the excessive limitations in the scope of your apology? Your unwillingness to express regret for the content of the decisions rather than merely the processes by which they were made and communicated makes this apology seem half-hearted. This sense is bolstered by the fact that your apology contains defensive language about your “sincere” efforts to take everyone’s feelings into account. If you wish to be seen as sincere, honor the university community members whose marginality was aggravated by your decisions with an apology that does not defend your actions or include such limitations in scope.
I urge you to caution as we move forward. The role DPS has been playing in the protest thus far has been troubling enough. By sending security forces – some of them armed – to subject your own students to surveillance and harassment for exercising their right to free speech, exhibiting independent, creative, and critical thinking, and working to actualize their own social visions you have already done grievous harm to the capacity of this university to educate. If you truly desire to improve SU’s academic reputation, it will be helpful to deescalate the role DPS is playing in these protests. I hope you will work toward creating an environment in which students’ development as leaders and intellectuals is not hampered by a heavy-handed use of authority.
PhD Candidate, Religion Department
Humanities Center Dissertation Fellow
Dear Chancellor Syverud and Upper-Level Administration,
At the end of Monday night’s meeting, Dean Gonzalez and Dean Kantrowitz committed to having a meeting time scheduled with THE General Body by noon on Tuesday. It has been 52 hours since the administration made that commitment, which remains unfulfilled.
On Tuesday afternoon we received an email from Dean Gonzalez, saying that she would get back to us regarding a meeting time. That commitment remains unfulfilled.
We are glad the administration has made some minor concessions, but we see these concessions as a starting point. For example, the partial apology on the Advocacy Center’s irresponsible closure is important, but it should not have taken over 8,000 petition signatures, 3 listening meetings, 2 rallies, and 10 days of a sit-in to achieve this simple and reasonable request. That it took this long speaks to the ongoing reluctance of the administration to meet the basic needs of the entire student body, including services for victims of sexual assault, basic mental health needs, basic accessibility needs, and the commitment in action (not just in words) to supporting students and faculty of color and other historically marginalized identities on campus.
We should not need to sit-in to meet the recommended ratio of counselors to students, determined by the International Association of Counseling Services. We should not need a sit-in to add hate speech to the student code of conduct, ensuring that we have structures in place to address racist and homophobic actions on campus. We should not need to sit-in out of fear, based on the Chancellor’s statements to Inside Higher Ed, that Syracuse University will continue to move away from programs (like POSSE) that serve inner city leaders and students of color.
The administration applauds our commitment and leadership while it erects a “construction fence” to block the sit-in from view and deploys ten armed DPS officers at a time to guard a group of students and TAs that have not committed a single offense. We remain committed to the issues that brought such a diverse group of student leaders together. We are not alone on these issues, as the recent support of the GSO to many of our core needs attests, and as strong ongoing support from student organizations and faculty demonstrate.
Clearly, we have not solved issues of transparency, diversity, or democracy on campus, which THE General Body continues to fight for. THE General Body remains committed to moving forward on this process and needs cooperation from administration. We realize the list of grievances and needs is long – this only reflects the magnitude of ongoing problems that have yet to be adequately addressed. THE General Body commits to making Syracuse University a more diverse, inclusive, just, and transparent community. Instead of a “final” response to unfinished and ongoing problems, we ask for a commitment to meet on our reasonable list of student needs.
THE General Body
On 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.
Dear Syracuse University Administration:
Students are not inconveniences, they are your livelihood: start acting like it and respond accordingly. Take down the walls, both the literal one assembled this morning and the more figurative ones you believe exist between upper-level administration roles and students’ roles on campus. We are meant to be a community that listens, absorbs concerns, and responds in a manner that strives toward justice, access, equity, and support: there is no place for ego in such a process.
Unilateral changes without stakeholders’ input and incorporation of their values is never a good organizational management move. Syracuse University is better than the behavior of its leadership in the past several months. I strongly encourage Syracuse University, its Board of Trustees, and the Administration doing its bidding to try again.
Crista C Gray, ’99
Cc: Kent Syverud, Chancellor; Bea González, Dean of University College; Office of Alumni Engagement
See the original post here.
We undersigned faculty of the Syracuse University Department of English appreciate and applaud the efforts of THE General Body to establish a university for which “community” is not simply an empty platitude covering over an actual situation of corporate— patronizing, top down, covert— governance structures. We also affirm that, in the process of community building, the critical questioning and advocacy for marginalized groups and voices in which the students are engaged is vital. For this reason, we hope that the current student movement results in more than limited concessions and short-term monetary allotments from the administration, easily “forgotten” when the current students have graduated.
To the end of producing the inclusive and engaged community to which THE General Body aspires for the longterm and structurally, then, we particularly affirm, in solidarity with the students, that informed debate requires the timely and transparent access of all university members to information and knowledge—including complete financial records– and that the free exchange of knowledge should be a fundamental principle of all aspects of university life, not just in teaching and in faculty research and creative work, the core missions of the university.
We further affirm, in solidarity with the students, that the participation of all university members in genuine decision-making processes is what creates a community worthy of the name, and that to mistake rhetoric about “community” with its actual practice is a devaluation–indeed a positive perversion— of community.
We lament that the administrative response to the “grievances and demands” document issued by THE General Body conspicuously avoids mentioning any administrative concern about (or even acknowledgement of) student recognition that erosion of shared governance and academic freedom creates an adverse learning environment for them, and that erosion of faculty governance structures, as well as administration and Board of Trustees disregard for University Senate, GSO and SA decisions, harm the university community as a whole.
We do not call attention to this silence on the part of the administration in order to choose among the student demands, but in order to underscore the distinction between longterm structural change and short term concessions. Changes in governance structures and transparency practices in the university, materially implemented, so that students, faculty, staff and administration all have meaningful, informed, participatory roles in actual decision making (not simply “recommending”) is the sole mechanism through which the goals of inclusion and advocacy for which the students are fighting can be guaranteed for the longterm and in balance with the needs and desires of other community stakeholders, who may not yet have had a chance to voice their own views.
We hope that the administration might learn from the students about how to engage in intellectually serious, rigorous and respectful debate toward participatory decision-making. We also urge the administration to eschew—on the model of the students– obfuscating empty corporate and PR discourse in communications with faculty, students and staff and speak directly, frankly, and substantively.
Above all, we urge the administration to work with students, faculty and staff in implementing genuine shared governance at this university, based on transparent and timely circulation of all relevant information. We realize that the resources of the university are not infinite, and that hard choices must be made with regard to continuing or expanding programs and services and the like. At the same time, however, we insist that when such hard decisions are implemented in a fully informed and genuinely participatory manner, they are not only more likely to be just, but more likely to be accepted, even when we do not all get exactly what we hoped for.
We are proud that our students are engaging in direct critical praxis of the type that we analyze and encourage in the critical classroom, and that they are bringing this praxis to bear in university processes and practices where it is so manifestly needed— a move that we wholeheartedly encourage and affirm.
We urge THE General Body to stand firm for the longterm structural changes advocated by their document as well as their more immediate and particular concerns, and we pledge to do the same in solidarity with them.