Following the uprising at The University of Missouri at Columbia, over 1,000 students at New York’s Ithaca College staged a walkout Wednesday afternoon demanding the resignation of President Tom Rochon, who students believe has inadequately responded to incidents of racism on campus.
As reported by CNN, students gathered in the quad on Wednesday afternoon chanting “Tom Rochon, No Confidence.” Protesters gave testimonials and speeches before laying on the ground in silence for a 25 “die-in”. The college newspaper, The Ithacan posted a copy of the document passed out by protesters titled “The Case Against Tom Rochon.” In it, students outline several major complaints against Rochon including his “disregard for minority community members” and his “questionable” ethics. The document also sites grievances that span the duration of President Rochon’s seven year tenure and allege that the racial climate at Ithaca has led to “exceptionally low campus morale” and overall student dissatisfaction.
The student run, People of Color at Ithaca College group is urging a student vote of “confidence” or “no confidence” in Rochon by November 30. The college’s faculty council also is seeking a referendum on Rochon. According to The Ithacan, racial tensions on the campus have been bubbling over the last several weeks with many faculty members walking out of the Oct. 27 “Addressing Community Action on Racism and Cultural Bias” event with students, also led by People of Color at Ithaca College.
Several of the inciting incidents at Ithaca include a “Preps” or “Crooks” party that encouraged students who wanted to participate at “Crooks” to dress in a “thuggish” style with “bling.” The party was canceled following student complaints. This followed an earlier panel event where a Black female was student was referred to as a “savage” by alumni panelist. That followed a protest in September against racial profiling by campus police officers.
“In general, the college cannot prevent the use of hurtful language on campus. Such language, intentional or unintentional, exists in the world and will seep into our community. We can’t promise that the college will never host a speaker who could say something racist, homophobic, misogynistic or otherwise disrespectful.” Rochon said in a statement to the posted on the Ithaca College website in October. He adds, “Even so, we reaffirm our commitment to making our campus an inclusive and respectful community,”
A vote of no confidence would not force Rochon to step down, although students and faculty are hoping it will force the Board of Trustees to take action.
Chair of the Ithaca College Board of Trustees, Tom Grape, issued a statement on Wednesday. In it, he validates student concerns but does not indicate any intention of removing Rochon. Full statement below:
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 happen. – Tom Grape, Chair of Ithaca College, Board of Trustees
President Tom Rochon announced the new chief diversity officer position on Nov. 10. Wednesday, Roger Richardson, associate provost for diversity, inclusion and engagement was appointed as interim while a national search is conducted to fill the position.