On Monday, Oct. 26, Ithaca College’s Student Government Association voted unanimously on Bill 1516-0005, which initiated a student vote of no confidence in President Tom Rochon. This call to action is an unprecedented move, with no other student body having ever called a vote of no confidence (before a faculty vote of no confidence) for their college’s president. As a member of the senate and a co-sponsor of the bill, I not only feel like there is a desperate need for student voices to result in tangible action, but that there is also a desperate need for a change in campus leadership.
This belief has been confirmed by Rochon’s inability to positively change the campus climate. The events of this past semester are not isolated and only provide further evidence that Rochon is unfit to lead our campus. The SGA bill outlines a history of Rochon’s failure to act as the chief executive officer of our college. His presidency has resulted in unstable leadership at the top levels of college administration, overseeing five provosts over the span of seven years. Time and time again he has denied interactions with students, ignoring the voices of those he is supposed to be serving: us.
We cannot ignore that Rochon’s failure to address current campus events, including the Blue Sky Reimagining Kick-Off Event, the Alpha Epsilon Pi fraternity’s “Preps and Crooks” themed party and his incapacity to create safe spaces for people of color on our campus. Though Rochon has increased racial diversity on our campus, he has not built the infrastructure to support and retain students of color. Over the past month, Rochon’s inability to act as a leader has changed the educational foundation of Ithaca College at its core, with classroom conversations revolving around the appalling experiences of both students and faculty members. These conversations have been a vitally important part of this semester, helping students understand and process what is happening on our campus.
In one of my own classes, one student stated that events taking place on campus are not as bad as events taking place on campuses across the country, sparking a passionate conversation. For me, the argument of “it’s better here” is unacceptable. As Ithaca College students, we have to hold ourselves, and our administration, to a higher standard. There is a perception that you either go to a good or a bad college, a racist or a non-racist college. In reality, colleges, just like humans, fall on a much larger scale. Just because Ithaca is a liberally minded school in a left-leaning town does not mean that racism doesn’t happen here. It certainly does not mean that when inequality is visible on our campus we are not responsible for creating change.
But what does change look like? Another student pointed out that removing Rochon from leadership did not necessarily mean that the campus climate would suddenly get better. This was made evident when Peter Rothbart, chair of Faculty Council, asked a student at the event “Addressing Community Action on Racism and Cultural Bias” if “six white dudes on stage” is a microaggression. This statement clearly showed that, despite being asked to speak at an event on the campus climate, Rothbart lacked basic knowledge about racial privilege.
Rochon is responsible for the direction and vision of the college. How do we expect for our campus to change if a leader who has proven non-responsive time and time again remains in power? How do we move forward if we do not demand to be a part of deciding our own leadership and rethinking the current leadership’s structure? In my opinion we can’t. We can’t expect change and we can’t move forward if we do not first vote no confidence in Tom Rochon.
Over the past two years, I have witnessed friend after friend struggling to exist here at Ithaca College. I have witnessed the frustration of students of color who feel isolated in their educational journey. I have witnessed fellow students juggling to maintain schoolwork and sanity as they fight for a space at this college. I have witnessed anger and tears. I have witnessed people dropout and transfer because they are so unhappy in this world that Rochon continuously reinforces through his leadership. As a witness, I refuse to not act and I promise to vote no confidence in President Tom Rochon.
Charlotte Robertson is the off-campus senator for the Student Government Association. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.