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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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