ITHACA, NY – Ithaca College was brought to a relative standstill on Wednesday as hundreds of students, as well as some faculty and staff, walked out of their classes and covered walkways.

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The immediate aftermath of the Ithaca College protest was almost imperceptible. Most students and faculty returned to their regularly scheduled days without missing a beat. Here and there, pockets of people could be seen discussing or debating about the day’s event. One lone student, holding an “I Support Tom Rochon” sign found himself surrounded, the focus of a number of students trying to create a dialogue with him – to little avail.

A pair of spokespeople from POC @ IC granted us a brief interview to further explain their goals for the protest and potential future actions. They said that they were there as representatives of the organization, and in that capacity would not disclose their names.

They said they were thrilled with the turnout of the event and show of solidarity, but said “this is only a step.” They would not specify what the next step might entail. They also did not disclose the reason for holding the event on the day they did.

“The point of today’s protest was to stand in solidarity, [the people who participated] felt the weight of their presence, the weight of the power. That’s what was important, regardless of the administration and regardless of President Tom Rochon,” said one spokesperson.

Asked what would happen should Rochon not step down, one spokesperson answered flatly: “We will continue to protest until he steps down.” The other added: “As a collective we feel there is no other option than for Tom Rochon to step down.”

“Our three goals are that we want Tom Rochon to resign or be removed from his position, we want radical transformative change in governments and structure at Ithaca College,  and we want to bring a sense of safety, emotional stability and dignity to people of color at IC and other marginalized groups and the intersections between us as well as the entire Ithaca College community,” explained one of the spokespeople.

PoC @ IC plans to play a big role in the future of the campus, regardless of whether or not Rochon steps down. Said one spokesperson, “We definitely want the power to come back into the people’s hands. We all have a voice on this campus and we deserve to use it.”

POC @ IC made the following statement to the press:

“POC @ IC today stands in solidarity with students of color on this campus and other campuses in the United States, faculty and staff of color and any other individual who has been oppressed or made to feel that their voices do not matter.

We are here today to make one statement loud and clear: we are here, and we demand change. In the past couple weeks the racial tension that has existed on this campus has heightened. Despite numerous protests, rally and stories that have been shared with the president and administration, they have fallen on deaf ears. We no longer consent to empty dialogue. We will no longer be ignored.

Our purpose here is not to demonstrate violently. And we’ve collectively committed ourselves to furthering this movement in non-violent ways. We ask that all participants also commit themselves to non-violent action.

The removal of a college president is possible and the reason why they should be considered by IC is very clear. The removal of an administrator brings influence back into the hands of the people.

This push is not reactionary but strategic because now it brings the campus community directly into administrative affairs. It also opens the doors for the complete restructuring of top-down administration on college campuses.

Is the president just a figurehead? Of course, but the point is that the campus body has removed that figurehead and has in turn opened the door for retrieving real sources of power.

We realize that it is Veteran’s Day, a day to celebrate the people who fought to make this country free, but as we stand here today we are not free. The fight that veterans, including veterans of color, have fought many years ago and this fight – for solidarity, for liberation, for freedom – are not mutually exclusive.

Today, the college added a chief diversity officer. This was something that the SGA suggested last year and instead an associate provost position was created. A chief diversity officer is needed at this institution, but the fact that it comes today, it shows that in turmoil, President Rochon is first to pass responsibility and accountability off to someone else. President Rochon is supposed to the be the person who understands this community, yet he is the person who, in fact, understands it the least.”

Administration’s Response

IC’s administration released the following statement in response to today’s events:
Statement from Tom Grape, Chair, Ithaca College Board of Trustees
It is not easy to see the IC community that I love going through such a difficult time—to see so many of our students recounting experiences that leave them feeling fear, pain, and alienation at a time in their lives when they should instead be feeling welcomed, supported, and inspired.
I respect that many of our students and faculty are choosing to express their concerns about Ithaca College’s climate and direction though their public discussions and their votes. The board members and I remain committed, as always, to making decisions that take into consideration the input we receive from the college’s executive leadership, as well as the voices of faculty, students, staff, parents, and alumni.
Tough times bring out the true character of a community. I hope that we will continue to see these conversations maintain the standard of mutual respect, a commitment to truth, and an assumption that human beings must seek connection and common ground in order to make a difference.
The most vital role of the Board of Trustees is to ensure that Ithaca College has the best possible leadership and the strongest possible resources to ensure its short-term and long-term health. Board members and I are in contact on a daily basis with the president and other campus leaders about the issues that are taking place, and I am committed to helping the institution address its problems so that we may become the Ithaca College that we all know we can be.
We understand that the issues are serious and significant, and we are listening. I am certain that Ithaca College will emerge from this chapter stronger and more resolute in its direction forward, and the board and I are actively partnering with Tom Rochon and other campus leaders to make sure that happens.

EARLIER: By 1:10 p.m, a crowd starting to form. By 1:30, the area outside the Campus Center was buzzing with people, and more continued to crowd in.

The event began in earnest with a series of speakers from POC @ IC and addressing the crowd via bullhorn. The short talks focused on the disenfranchisement faced by students of color at IC and expressed solidarity with other student bodies facing similar issues.

One speaker referred to IC’s current administration as a “broken structure that has oppressed marginalized people.” “We have no desire to work within this broken structure,” he concluded, to raucous applause.

Protesters were then encouraged to sit or lie down in the walkways between campus buildings.

As they found places to lay and sit, they did a call and response: “Tom Rochon!” “No confidence!”

This was followed by an extended moment of silence before the protesters returned to Freedom Rock to hear more statements from the protest organizers. One organizer led a call and response chant of “Amandla Awethu,” a Zulu rallying cry which means “power to the people” before dispersing peacefully and returning to their usual activities.

Faculty Voices

Jennifer Jolly, associate Professor and Chair of the Art History Department at Ithaca College, who attended the protest, had this to say: “This has been building. [The walkout] is not at all a surprise, but an appropriate response.”

“The walkout symbolizes that the campus is continuing to focus our attention on the students of color at Ithaca College and the very real issues they have been facing. It shows that we are at their side, that we hear what they’re saying and we’re doing our best to stand beside them and to look for solution.”

NOTE: This is a developing story. Please check back more updates as it develops.

This story features contributions from Alyssa Gilliam.

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Michael Smith

Michael Smith reports on politics and local news for the Ithaca Voice. He can be reached via email at msmith@ithacavoice.com, by cell at (607) 229-0885, or via Google Voice at (518) 650-3639.