They’re demanding the resignation of President Tom Rochon.
Image via Twitter user Malaika Apparel Co. (@Malaika_Apparel)
Days after protests at the University of Missouri successfully forced the resignation of University President Tim Wolfe and campus Chancellor R. Bowen Loftin, students on another campus across the country hope they can achieve similar results at their university. Citing his inability to address persistent issues of racism, sexism, and classism—among other failures— at their university, students at Ithaca College are calling for the removal of college president Tom Rochon. Led by a group called POC at IC (People of Color at Ithaca College), students staged a walkout on Wednesday afternoon, chanting "Tom Rochon, no confidence" as they marched out of their classrooms and convened at the “Free Speech Rock”.
“With University of Missouri's president stepping down, we demand Rochon to do the same as it is vital to fight against both covert and overt racism in all places of education and empowerment,” organizers wrote on the Facebook page for the walkout.
A double-paged document titled “The Case Against Tom Rochon” detailing a long list of grievances against the embattled president was reportedly circulated at the protest. It lists institutional failures to increase campus diversity (in fact, the anonymous letter authors write, faculty diversity has decreased since his tenure) as well as his “questionable ethics”, a charge that is evidenced by the member composition of the Board of Trustees, which they say is “81 percent corporate”.
On the accusations that the president has made incompetent attempts to racism and aggression against people of color on campus, the students cite a number of incidents. In one episode, a black female panelist named Tatiana Sy was repeatedly referred to as “savage” by her fellow panelists, all of whom were white men, at a college event (a video compilation of the discussion can be seen here). Rochon issued a statement, writing that while he reaffirmed his administration’s “commitment to making our campus an inclusive and respectful community”, he still could not “prevent the use of hurtful language on campus”.
In another episode, students objected to a frat party themed “Preps and Crooks”, in which “preps” were instructed to arrive wearing polo shirts, button-down shirts, backwards baseball caps, khakis or boat shoes, and “crooks” were told to “come wearing a bandana, baggy sweats and a t-shirt, snapback, and any ‘bling’ you can find!” The description uses symbols of black culture to signify criminality and symbols of whiteness to signify wealth and affluence. The party was cancelled following outrage by students of color.
The students have also complained about racial profiling by public safety officers, a charge the officers deny.
In response to their grievances, President Rochon announced on Tuesday he would be creating a new position for a “chief diversity officer” on campus.
“It has become clear to me that, although we have taken some steps in the right direction, I will need the counsel and full-time focus of a strong and experienced leader with deep knowledge in this area in order to make progress with appropriate speed, inclusivity, accountability, and transparency,” he wrote.
This gesture, however, may come too little, too late, as POC at IC have said they will continue to push for the president’s resignation.