Ithaca is Fractured.
The notion itself disheartens me, but I have to admit it: Ithaca College is a fractured community. In my tenure as Student Body President, I have witnessed our campus join up in arms to protest business as usual, and stand up for the rights and experiences of marginalized communities. POC at IC did an historically impressive job of shaking this institution to its very core, and it is time that Ithaca College wakes up, and works toward integrity as a community, putting the pieces back together, and allowing our community to finally heal.
Committed faculty and staff at Ithaca College are underappreciated and undervalued. The heart of Ithaca College is not our physical buildings, or our tuition rates, or our Board of Trustees. Our heart is our people, our human capital. The Board of Trustees and the VP’s in the President’s Council need to do a better job of understanding and valuing the cultures and voices of the campus community. I have been around professors and staff members that have committed years upon years of service to this institution, only to be disregarded in decision making processes and forced to fear impending staff cuts or decisions that will be made without their input. Our human capital is overworked and underpaid, and we need to put serious effort into valuing our faculty and staff that make Ithaca College work.
We cannot continue to let priorities be set only at the top levels of our current structure, a practice that has been a massive part of what has led us to this perpetual crisis. Priorities are centralized, corporate, and not entirely reflective of our community’s needs. The PRW building represents a broken system. Its very existence often physically removes the decision makers from the community that they are here to serve. Geographical isolation is not an excuse for our high level administrators. They must do a better job coming to us during decision making and priority setting processes, not just once decisions have been made or priorities have been set. How could a building that allows decision makers to be isolated be named after a community member who is so celebrated for her inclusive and servant leadership? This is a call for all decision makers at Ithaca College to step up and include more community members in your decision making processes, while being transparent about how you do it. It is my sincere hope that a new system of shared governance will help to solve some of these problems. For now it is the responsibility of all of us to step up today and be more inclusive and transparent, from SGA to the Board of Trustees, and every leader and decision maker in between.
In 2008, our community’s Planning and Priorities Committee presented a “Bridge Plan” to the administration. It is self-described as existing to “serve the campus during the presidential transition [from Williams to Rochon], and/or until a new long-term plan is devised.” I had to dig this plan up as it is nowhere to be found on the College’s website. After reading through it, it is my opinion that our decision makers have been negligent of the community’s values and needs for years. Some pieces of the plan come from Middle States Commission on Higher Education accreditation standards and previous institutional plans, but many of the most important insights are from community brainstorms. Seemingly forgotten about by eight years of decision makers, the Bridge Plan includes diversity and sustainability as two tenets “central to our culture,” “Create an environment that increases and celebrates diversity,” “Enhance retention of faculty, staff, and students from underrepresented groups,” and “Identify, acknowledge, address, and support the needs of diverse student populations” were blatantly stated priorities in 2008. Many students, staff, and faculty have worked toward these goals, but lacked and continue to lack the institutional resources and support to proliferate the work. People feel insulted that the alternative approaches taken to demand justice are so quickly disregarded. Making IC more diverse and inclusive does not need to manifest solely within the bubble laid out for us by the broken structures that caused the issues in the first place.
President Rochon recently released the “Current Areas of Focus” with no acknowledgement of anyone other than the “college’s leadership” having participated in crafting the statement. This is a disturbingly profound difference from how priority-setting was handled just eight years ago, and it is my hope that we can get back to the community that Ithaca College once had and celebrated. I will let the differences in areas of focus speak for themselves, but I would like to share an antithetical quote from President Rochon at the last protest of the fall: “Everything good that happens on a college campus happens because of community. We get things done together only by working together.”
An honorable staff member here once told me “power is always seized, never ceded,” and it struck me that this entire crisis wouldn’t be a power struggle if the ones given power didn’t abuse it.
We all walk through the Academic Quad, and it is pretty hard to miss the ICC theme advertisements. When I see them, I think that Ithaca College has a few lessons to learn. Ithaca College must begin to respect and celebrate the identities on our campus, and to critically examine our world of systems that creates inequities, and marginalizes bodies and voices on our campus. Ithaca College must assess the power structures, and address the demands for justice that our community has made. Our leaders have to inquire about issues, we all must collectively imagine our future, and only then can we innovate and get Ithaca College on the right track. We have to show that we care about our community’s minds, bodies, and spirits, spending more time and resources addressing mental health concerns across campus. Ithaca College is not on track for a sustainable future. We have to re-prioritize sustainability, and only then can we quest for something better.
We can rise to the occasion and thrive as the Ithaca College that we all know and love. Here are some thoughts on a roadmap forward: We have to continue openly discussing and codifying what we value in leaders, and what characteristics we want to see in the next president. We have to ensure that our new shared governance system proficiently empowers our community to co-own decisions, processes, and priorities. We all have to keep coming together to heal, to talk about why we’re here, what we value, and what we want Ithaca College to stand for. Ithaca College needs to respect our part time faculty and pay them a living wage, and stop putting staff members in fear of losing their jobs without justification or conversation. Ithaca College needs to meet its deadlines on diversity and inclusion initiatives, and to take POC at IC’s demands more seriously, allowing for radical ideas and alternative approaches. Leaders and decision makers on this campus need to focus on servant leadership and supporting community building so that IC can regain the integrity we all deserve.
Student Body President