This past week, the eyes of the nation have turned to watch the world of higher education. On Monday, the president of the University of Missouri system stepped down due to student outrage over issues of racial injustice. However, the protests at Missouri are not isolated. Students at Yale, the University of California at Los Angeles, Colgate University, Hamilton College and, my own school, Ithaca College, are all taking action to end racial injustice within their campus communities.
However, mainstream media has gotten it wrong. The racial tension being experienced on college campuses is not new. And how could it be? The higher education system was made for, and created by, white upper-class men. According to the American Council on Education, this demographic continues to dominate the position of college president. Higher education was systematically created to exclude marginalized groups and the structure has not adapted to support a changing student body.
Though diversity has statistically increased on Ithaca College's campus, the college has not provided students of color with the support they need to succeed and stay on our campus. Nationally, colleges pride themselves on their campuses' "diversity and inclusion." However, on my campus we are neither sufficiently racially diverse nor do we have the infrastructure to support the "inclusion" we so often advertise.
Over the past semester, a number of disturbing events have taken place on and off campus. In September, a number of resident assistants voiced concerns after their mandatory training with Public Safety. An officer said that he would shoot someone if they were holding a BB gun and made racially insensitive comments. Student narratives of their own horror stories with Public Safety shortly followed.
Later in the semester, Ithaca College's off-campus and unaffiliated chapter of Alpha Epsilon Pi sent out invites to a "Preps and Crooks" themed party. The outfit for "preps" was described as stereotypical upper-class, white family attire, while "crooks" were asked to wear, "'90's thuggish style. Come wearing a bandana, baggy sweats and a t-shirt, snapback, and any 'bling' you can find!" At the Blue Sky Reimagining Kick-off Event, which was intended to platform President Tom Rochon's new initiatives, two white alumni referred repeatedly to alumna Tatiana Sy, a woman of color, as "the savage" after she described her "savage hunger" for success.
Rochon's inadequate response to these events, as well as a history of autocratic leadership, questionable ethics, disregard for minority community members, and corporate ties, has led to the rallying cry of "Tom Rochon: No Confidence," that echoes throughout each protest.
On Oct. 26, the Student Government Association voted unanimously to pass Bill 1516-0005, which initiated a student vote of no confidence in Rochon. This call to action is an unprecedented move. No other student body has ever called a student vote of no confidence for their college's president before a faculty vote of no confidence has been held.
However, this bill and the vote of no confidence that is currently taking place, is only one part of a multi-faceted movement to create radical change on Ithaca College's campus. A group of students, known as POC at IC (People of Color at Ithaca College), has put in an extraordinary amount of work to organize and mobilize our community. Student journalists have dedicated their time and efforts to covering student protests. Campus clubs, including our comedy clubs, have publically stated their support of POC at IC. Faculty and staff have dedicated class time and personal hours. Faculty recently announced that they will also be holding a vote of no confidence. Over the past month, we have truly come together as a community to demand a better campus climate.
Students nationally are looking for radical reform throughout the educational system. In Ithaca College's case, this radical reformation manifests itself in the removal of Rochon from his position as president and in recreating our current leadership structure.
Some call the problems we are facing on our campuses exaggerated and our efforts naïve. We are not overreacting and we are not irrational. We are demanding what students deserved generations earlier. Racial justice is not a luxury; it is a human right. I reject the statement that we are asking for change too quickly. The systematic inequality we are fighting against today is deeply rooted in higher education's foundation, a history that spans centuries. If change does not happen now, then when will it?
We are not afraid to demand better: better from our administration, better from our professors, and better from each other.