Rochon and the Board of Trustees failing to create conducive campus climate
Editor’s Note: The group POC at IC, which stands for People of Color at Ithaca College and advocates for action to be taken to address problems with the college’s racial climate, has begun a series of protests advocating for President Tom Rochon to take action to remedy the campus climate. Their activism was sparked by racially charged occurrences on campus including: interactions between Public Safety and people of color on campus, controversial comments made by Public Safety officers during training of resident assistants, an offensive “preps and crooks” themed party held by unaffiliated fraternity Alpha Epsilon Pi, responses made by the campus community and administration to that party and comments made at the Blue Sky Reimagining Kick-Off Event during which two white panelists referred to another panelist, a woman of color, as “the savage” after she said she had a savage hunger to succeed in her professional career. POC at IC has expressed no confidence in Rochon to solve the college’s racial climate issues and the Student Government Association has initiated a student vote of no confidence in Rochon. Elijah Breton is a member of the group POC at IC. This commentary is his individual take on the college’s racial climate and the administration’s response to these issues.
Hypothetically, let’s say you had a serious illness and you thought the best way to feel better was to visit the doctor. The doctor’s job is to evaluate you and provide you with solutions to fix your health issues. You have trust that your doctor will provide you with the best possible solution. You believe that your doctor has your body’s best interest in mind.
You become skeptical from the beginning when the doctor tells you to keep an eye on your symptoms, even though there is a clear problem. You make multiple trips back to your doctor, but receive the same message. Finally, your doctor tells you that he or she does not believe you are sick because they have never experienced or seen the illness firsthand. At this point, you’re ready to change your doctor.
The same concept applies to Ithaca College with President Tom Rochon being the doctor.
Over the past few months, Ithaca College has faced a high level of adversity regarding racism, ignorance and apathy. The events, such as the tension-filled meetings between resident assistants and the Office of Public Safety and Emergency Management, the Blue Sky Reimagining event and the AEPi party have all highlighted the many cultural issues that occur on Ithaca’s campus.
While these events are significant in many ways, it needs to be made clear that issues like these have been occurring for years, for decades on this campus. Countless times, students who have preceded others and myself on this campus have tried tirelessly to change the culture of this campus.
Those efforts have fallen on deaf ears, especially under the tenure of President Thomas Rochon. Town hall meetings, protests and other measures of active movements have occurred previously with little to no change resulting from them. In other words, history clearly shows that efforts put forth by many students, faculty and staff to create a more diverse and inclusive campus climate have been met by the administration with apathy and disregard.
There seems to be a misconception that the “urgency” to create change on campus expressed by the administration has only occurred because of these three isolated incidents. The reality is that people of color at Ithaca College have long struggled for inclusivity on this campus.
The current issues pertaining to racism on campus have reached a peak in the overall struggle. This has been demonstrated particularly through students. This is the exact reason why students, with the support of faculty and staff have not, and will not, stop at protests and walkouts.
The sheer reality is this: it is clear that the administration cannot relate to the daily tribulations of the subtle and overt racism that remains present on this campus.
The administration has said multiple times that the racism that occurs on campus is institutionalized, which means that it is ingrained within the culture. While this may be true, the structure and systems that are set in place should never be used as a scapegoat to avoid blame. Furthermore, a major solution President Rochon has proposed is to increase diversity education within the classroom. This inherently puts all of the pressure on the faculty to carry out this resolution.
This is a perfect example of Rochon and his willingness to create solutions that require little effort or accountability on his end. While it is the responsibility of every citizen within the Ithaca College community to build an environment that excludes racism, it is the role of the president and vice presidents to ensure that there are structures in place to fight racism and that accountability is provided. While no one can prevent racism and ignorance, it is the duty of the administration as leaders to stand up to it.
After the Oct. 27 town hall meeting concluded, I asked one of the vice presidents why the IC community should believe that change would occur now, when it hasn’t in the past. The response was appalling. He responded by saying there has been an increase in minority students attending college and we need to cater to that. He also mentioned that eventually the minorities in this country would become the majority.
This response only cemented the fact that this administration looks at people strictly as numbers. The response completely disregarded the fact that solving the issues on campus is simply common sense. These are people’s lives we are dealing with and they are being looked at as merely numbers. This is also the same vice president who made the fallacy that because he as a man of color is a friend of President Rochon’s, Rochon completely understands the issues on campus and thus could not possibly be racist or ignorant. Ironic, huh?
Hypothetically, let’s say the administration truly did understand the issues pertaining to the campus climate right now. What about the issues 10 years from now? How long will it take for them to understand the issues then? We as a campus need to think long term with the issues at hand.
Our focus should not be solely aimed at the administration, but at the Board of Trustees as well. Most of the trustees were present on campus to see the frustration among the campus community. Yet, they created no public response. Furthermore, students like myself received a thank you email for taking part in one of their meetings. In the second sentence, the trustees said they, “promise that we will continue to listen, learn, and help.”
The community doesn’t need anyone to continue to listen and take down notes. The damaged culture has been presented in a way that is impossible to ignore. The trustees are comprised of nearly all individuals with a business background who are running this institution as such. This is a far cry from 10 years ago when nearly the entire board was comprised of individuals with higher education experience.
If this is the best the board has to offer its community in terms of effort, the preservation of this institution is in serious jeopardy. By allowing the racism, ignorance and apathy to occur from the highest levels of the college’s leadership, we as an institution are poisoning the community by not properly educating individuals and creating levels of accountability.
A critique the current movement of people of color at Ithaca College has received is that they are not willing to engage in dialogue with the administration. While that may be the illusion of what is happening, that is not the reality.
As previously documented, the administration has widely failed to act on any previous recommendations to improve the culture of this campus. Even when they do act, the community is only given a special committee that investigates and researches the issue with no resolution stemming from the findings. Eventually, the committee disbands and the results are disregarded.
Meanwhile, the administration is committing explicit acts of racism by cutting programs pertaining to diversity and inclusion such as the Pre-Doctoral Diversity Fellows program, the Inside Look program and the sport studies major, which has historically fostered a high percentage of minority students.
The question becomes, why should anyone engage in dialogue with the administration when they have historically proved that all dialogue with them is empty? Furthermore, why should we engage when one of the vice presidents clearly stated that fixing these issues are more about the numbers than an individual’s well being?
Until there is sincerity from the administration, there is no reason for anyone to take part in dialogue with the administration. There is no precedence or results to look back on to give this administration a chance to right the ship.
If the issues that are being presented to you are not evident enough, let’s make one thing clear: the legacy of this institution has already been tarnished. Any alternative to the current state of affairs relating to the administration would be far better than the status quo.
While the administration is still clearly mired back in the 1960s, where racism was accepted, the time for everyone else in the community to act and make change is now. To the Board of Trustees, I have no confidence in you. To President Tom Rochon, I never had any to begin with. If Ithaca College is going to be run like a business led by President Rochon and the Board of Trustees, then what ever happened to the old adage that the customer is always right?
Elijah Breton is a senior communication studies, sports studies double major. You can email him at [email protected].