ITHACA, NEW YORK — Following the successful ousting of University of Missouri leadership this week, another student body is protesting racism on campus. Hundreds of Ithaca College students, faculty, and staff flooded the campus quad Wednesday afternoon to protest racial inequality on the college campus and the leadership of college president Tom Rochon.
The “walkout” demonstration was led by student activist group POC at IC, which stands for People of Color at Ithaca College. The group formed in October in response to recent events viewed as racist by members of the campus community.
Wednesday’s walkout follows multiple acts of student protest on the Ithaca College campus in response to a slew of racial controversies and insufficient action from college president Tom Rochon and the administration.
The tensions mounted during an alumni panel at the college’s Blue Skies Reimagining Kick-Off event on October 8, which was intended to showcase a new initiative of president Tom Rochon to “reimagine” the college’s mission.
During the panel, two white male panelists repeatedly referred to alumna Tatiana Sy, a woman of color, as “the savage” after Sy described herself as having a “savage hunger” for success while attending Ithaca College.
A few days prior to that event, students also expressed outrage over a party with the theme “Preps and Crooks,” hosted by un-affiliated fraternity Alpha Epsilon Pi, which is made up of Ithaca College students. The “Crooks” were instructed to wear “a more ’90’s thuggish style. Come wearing a bandana, baggy sweats and a t-shirt, snapback, and any ‘bling’ you can find!”
CREDIT: Emma Rizzo
The administration’s response was to distance the college from the party and “discourage our students from participating in any event designed around principles antithetical to our community’s commitment to respect and inclusivity.”
In a message from president Tom Rochon and provost and vice president of academic affairs Benjamin Rifkin to students following the Blues Skies Reimagining Kick-Off event, the administrators said: “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.”
According to the POC at IC Facebook event “Solidarity Walk Out,” over 750 people responded as “going” to the event and over 380 people responded as “interested,” although the exact number of attendees is unknown at this time.
The Walkout encouraged members of the campus community to vacate their regular campus responsibilities and join members of POC at IC in protest of the leadership of the college and in solidarity with people of color on the Ithaca college campus. The event was also intended to support other campus movements around the country at institutions including University of Missouri and Yale University.
“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,” read the description of the event created by POC at IC.
The demonstration started at 1:30 PM outside of the college’s Campus Center at an area known to the campus community as Free Speech Rock. POC at IC lead attendees in the chant “Tom Rochon, No Confidence.”
The group of student activists then called for a symbolic “die in,” encouraging students to lie down across the academic quad. Students spread from the college’s Campus Center to the Ithaca College fountains located on the opposite side of the academic quad, continuing the chant, “Tom Rochon, No Confidence.”
CREDIT: Emma Rizzo
At 2 pm, representatives of POC at IC called for 20 minutes of silence.
“Every single person that came out today came to make a difference and it is so appreciated by the voices of those who have not yet been heard today. So thank you for standing in solidarity,” said a member of POC at IC. “Please continue on about your day, but do not continue on business as usual.”
“POC at 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 every individual who has been marginalized, oppressed, and made to believe their voices do not matter,” said a member of a group of three representatives from POC at IC. “We are here today to make one statement loud and clear, we are here and we demand change.”
The students declined to provide their names, stating that they represented “the entire group of POC at IC.”
“The removal of a college president is possible and the reason why this should be considered for Ithaca College is very clear,” said representatives of POC at IC. “The grassroots removal of an administrator brings influence back into the hands of the people.”
POC at IC is currently in the process of hosting open demand sessions to build a comprehensive list of demands and grievances.
POC at IC said current goals include the resignation or removal of Tom Rochon as president, ”radical, transformative change in governance structure at Ithaca College,” and an increased sense of “safety, emotional stability, and dignity to the experiences of POC at IC, other marginalized groups, and the intersections between us as well as the entire Ithaca College community.”
The Student Government Association passed a bill to initiate a student-wide vote of no confidence in president Tom Rochon on October 26. The Ithaca College Faculty Council also voted Tuesday to hold a referendum of no confidence.
At the time of questioning, Tom Rochon refused to comment on today’s demonstration.
Katelyn Harrop is a former intern at ThinkProgress.