© 2024 WGLT
A public service of Illinois State University
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Amid Student Protests, Ithaca Faculty Will Hold Confidence Vote On President

Updated at 4:30 p.m. ET

Just days after the University of Missouri's chancellor and the system president resigned under pressure from students, another college leader is facing a crucial moment.

Students of color at Ithaca College in New York have been protesting a series of racially charged events. Taking on their fight, the faculty has decided to hold a vote on whether they still have confidence in President Tom Rochon.

The Ithacan student newspaper reports that the specifics of a referendum would be discussed by faculty during a meeting today.

NBC News reports:

"Students at Ithaca College in upstate New York held a solidarity walkout on Wednesday afternoon, demanding the resignation of ... Rochon, and saying on Facebook that it was 'vital to fight against both covert and overt racism in all places of education and empowerment.'

"Thousands of students filled the Ithaca quad and gathered around an area on campus known as 'Free Speech Rock.' Student leaders demonstrated, leading call-and-response chants of a South African rallying cry — 'Amandla! Awethu!' ('Power! Is ours!' in Zulu) — and even staging a 'die-in,' with hundreds of participants laying down on the damp pavement.

"The student organization People of Color at Ithaca (POC at IC), organized the walkout, saying on Facebook that they were taking a stand 'for all the injustices students of color face on this campus and other colleges nation.' "

Specifically, the students at Ithaca are protesting three recent incidents.

In the summer, resident assistants were offended by a meeting with public safety officers. The Ithacan reports:

"Two Public Safety officers, Sergeant Terry O'Pray and Master Patrol Officer Jon Elmore, made comments described by RAs as 'racially insensitive,' 'aggressive' and 'invalidating' during RA-training sessions Aug. 18. The group of RAs had asked Terri Stewart, director of the Office of Public Safety and Emergency Management, for an opportunity to address the issue directly with the two officers, but the officers have not attended subsequent meetings.

"The comment from O'Pray that sparked the RA's anger was a dismissal of an RA's concerns about racial profiling, saying that it does not happen at Ithaca College. During a simultaneous training session, Elmore and other officers began talking about weapons and showed the RAs a black BB gun.

" '[Elmore] said, "If I saw someone with this I would shoot them," ' RA Rita Bunatal said."

A few months later, students complained about a racially insensitive party with the name "Preps & Crooks." According to The Ithacan:

"The event said the 'Crooks' theme 'refers to a more '90's thuggish style. Come wearing a bandana, baggy sweats and a t-shirt, snapback, and any "bling" you can find!'

"On the other hand, the invitation said the 'Preps' category is 'self explanatory; come wearing your favorite Polo shirt, button down, backwards baseball cap, khakis or boat shoes!'"

Also this fall, a roundtable discussion became controversial after two white men used racially charged language to refer to a black student. The Ithacan has video:

Rochon responded on Tuesday by announcing that he would be hiring a "chief diversity officer."

"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," Rochon said in a statement. "Other institutions have been able to engender lasting change by establishing this level of accountability, and I am confident that this is the right thing for Ithaca College as well."

It's important to note that the faculty vote is mostly symbolic. It does not force the College Board of Trustees to fire the president.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Eyder Peralta is NPR's East Africa correspondent based in Nairobi, Kenya.