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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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SU Labor Studies Working Group Statement of Solidarity

As an interdisciplinary group of faculty and students, the Labor Studies Working Group supports, and stands in solidarity with the students sitting in at Crouse-Hinds Hall. The Labor Studies Working Group has aspired to raise consciousness about the conditions and concerns of all workers within the Syracuse University community. We are impressed with the students of THE General Body in their efforts to fight for a more inclusive and democratic university. We are amazed by their organizing skills and tenacity to stick to a core set of demands that represent their many diverse struggles.

Like THE General Body, we are concerned with the lack of transparency when it comes to decisions that affect workers on campus.  This lack of transparency has intensified with the new administration. For example, for the first time in nearly 50 years the American Association of University Professors at Syracuse were not provided with critical salary data to write the Z report so important to faculty in understanding the salary structures at the university. The administration also has not been cooperative in meeting with the University Senate Budget Committee.

Like THE General Body, we believe democratic inclusion and shared governance requires that the Administration actually responds to feedback from faculty and student-run institutions. The decision of the Board of Trustees to reject the Senate’s recommendations on tenure and promotion policy is a disturbing and anti-democratic action. We hope the administration takes seriously the recent Senate motions calling on the Board of Trustees to reconsider this decision, and more fully explain their actions.

Like THE General Body, we are concerned about marginalized identities on campus. In particular, we are concerned with the many precarious working populations on campus. This includes contingent part time and adjunct faculty who despite doing the most important thing on campus – teaching – are poorly compensated and lack benefits. This includes the grad students who also teach and lack even a basic living wage. This includes staff and other service workers who deserve value and respect as they are the real foundation of how this university functions.

We respect what the students are doing in Crouse-Hinds. Any scholar of labor knows that sometimes resistance must take the form of direct action and bodily occupation to force systems of power to respond to demands from below. We also respect THE General Body’s unity and solidarity across different concerns and identities that have also been critical to labor struggles throughout history.  We call on the Syracuse University Administration to address THE General Body’s articulation of “needs and solutions” with not only future promises and reviews, but concrete actions and explanations issued in writing.
Signed (In alphabetical order)

Parvathy Binoy, Graduate Student, Geography

John Burdick, Professor of Anthropology
Linda Carty, Associate Professor, African American Studies

Collin Chambers, Undergraduate Student, Geography

Patrick Cihon, Associate Professor of Law & Public Policy, Emeritus

Leyla Fallhan, Graduate Student, Political Science

Brian Hennigan, Graduate Student, Geography, Graduate Students United

Matt Huber, Assistant Professor of Geography

Natasha Koshy, Graduate Student, Social Science

Vincent Lloyd, Assistant Professor of Religion

Laura-Anne Minkoff-Zern, Assistant Professor, Food Studies

Don Mitchell, Distinguished Professor of Geography

Chandra Mohanty, Distinguished Professor of Woman’s and Gender Studies

Laurel Morton, President, Adjuncts United

Jason Newton, PhD candidate, History Department

William Oliver, Graduate Student, Sociology

Tracy Peterchak, Graduate Student, Sociology

Jessica Posner, Part-Time Instructor in Transmedia Core, Department of Transmedia

Gretchen Purser, Assistant Professor of Sociology

Tod Rutherford, Professor of Geography

Eileen Schell, Associate Professor of Writing and Rhetoric

Jessie Speer, Graduate Student, Geography

Fabiola Ortiz, Graduate Student, Anthropology

Matthew Victor, Undergraduate Student, Newhouse

Evan Weissman, Assistant Professor, Food Studies

James Williams, Adjunct Professor, College of Law

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An Open Letter to Chancellor Syverud from THE General Body

THE General Body at Thursday's press conference.

THE General Body & supporters at Thursday’s press conference.

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.

Sincerely,

THE General Body

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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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THE General Body: We are inclusive and advocate for all students across race, gender identity, sexuality, age, ability, class

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This school year started with a star athlete’s videotaped racial and homophobic rant that circulated widely across campus.

While Hannah Strong’s outbreak surprised many here at Syracuse, for others her use of racist and homophobic language was merely the most explicit, and most noticed, incident of the kind of macro and microaggressions that occur regularly on campus.

Syracuse University’s hollow responses to such incidents helped spark the birth of THE General Body and this inclusive movement for a justice, equality and safety on this campus. THE General Body recognizes the intersections of race, class, gender, sexual identity, ability, religion, nationality, age and other identities and how they are marginalized on this campus.

In this post, we think about some of the ways in which the activism of THE General Body reflects the intersectionality not only of identities but also of aggressions. As a coalition group concerned with accessibility, antiracism, sustainability, sexual violence, and transparency, we have quickly learned from one another how much our needs overlap and discriminatory policies affect all of us.

THE General Body’s work is about helping the administration understand the depth and urgency of the ways in which issues of inequality and prejudice affect students’ ability to be productive scholars and members of the campus community. Racial microgressions and macroaggressions that students experience are common and they come directly from faculty and staff. The racial microgressions that students of color experience on this campus daily both in and outside of the classroom create a stressful, emotional and oppressive environment that affects their mental health. Microaggressions also target people with all kinds of nonnormative identities, including students with disabilities, queer students, and survivors of sexual violence.

Oppressive language is commonly used on this campus and creates an unsafe environment. THE General Body advocates that the university add hate speech, that attacks a person or group on based on their identity, to the student code of conduct as words that are prohibited on this campus.

Sexual assault survivors as a whole are marginalized on campus and many sexual assault survivors are members of marginalized communities. The closing of the Advocacy Center is an issue that affects all students, particularly women of color who are more likely to be sexually assaulted and less likely to have their perpetrators face prosecution.

Such prejudice that students experience make for an unsafe learning environment where students feel devalued and unsupported, yet faculty and staff are not required to attend or participate in diversity trainings. Moreover, senior administrative staff have not undergone adequate diversity trainings which is also imperative. THE General Body proposes training for administrators so they can be equipped to address issues and create a environment of inclusion across all levels of power across this campus.Closing the gap in mental health services on campus can help students address the prejudice they face that ultimately affects their ability to be productive scholars and members of this campus community.

Bringing attention to these issues and holding the administration accountable for having concrete plans to address these issues is a top priority for THE General Body.Many of THE General Body’s demands address the experiences of diverse populations on this campus and advocate for their needs.

We are also advocating for the school to more adequately support the academic needs of its diverse student body. THE General Body advocates for comprehensive Asian studies. The administration must complete the search for an Asian/Asian American Studies Minor Director. The director should hold a tenure-track faculty position within the university and the administration should involve interested students, faculty, and staff in the search.

Cooperative, collaborative research between the administration and departments that specialize in marginalized identities can help to address funding and other needs. THE General Body proposes to update the facilities for the African American Studies’ MLK Library and increase funding for the department as a whole to enable that research. More staff for the LGBT, Disability Cultural Center, SCIS, and OMA centers are also needed.

Syracuse University occupies Native American land. THE General Body advocates that the university recognizes and respects the history of Native Americans by changing of Columbus Day on the SU Calendar to Indigenous Peoples’ Day.

Labor and class are also a strong concerns of THE General Body. Many graduate students come to Syracuse University with impressive educational and professional credentials and they add to the academic enrichment of undergraduate students. Yet 59% of TAs are paid below the living wage level for the Syracuse area. The current minimum of $13,000 per year falls well below this living wage. THE General Body proposes a living wage for graduate students.

There is a lack of accessible services and facilities for students with disabilities. THE General Body urges the university to hire a full-time Americans with Disabilities Act coordinator. The group also advocates for the university to make buildings accessible to students with mobility impairments and improve academic conditions for students with learning disabilities.

The lack of accessible gender-neutral bathrooms on campus contributes to anxiety for gender nonconforming students and a social gender binary. Such facilities would also benefit parents with children and people with disabilities.

The activist work done by students on campus across identities and issues has helped students not only learn more about the issues that affect one another but also incorporate an intersectional lens for their activism.

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