On November 3rd, after being frustrated by Syracuse University administration’s refusal to meaningfully discuss a range of grievances, students held a “Diversity and Transparency” rally and then marched from the steps of Hendricks Chapel to Crouse-Hinds Hall administration building. They never left. Today marks the beginning of the third week of students occupying the administration building, demanding Syracuse’s Chancellor Kent Syverud meet with students to address their significant list of grievances.
Students are protesting a series of unilateral decisions made by Syracuse University’s administration including:
- the closure of the Advocacy Center, formerly the Rape Center, a resource for survivors of sexual assault and a community of individuals fighting domestic and sexual violence
- the decision to not divest from fossil fuels (divestment was passed by overwhelming majorities in the SA and US)
- the defunding of the POSSE program, a scholarship program for inner-city youth leaders
- the lack of diverse student representation in FastForward and in other administrative decisions in general
- the rejection of the University Senate’s proposed tenure and promotion policy in May 2014
Students have also been arguing that “students with marginalized identities feel unsafe and unsupported at SU” and that the university has a a responsibility to address the structural issues that contribute to a hostile environment. As is the case at campuses across the country, university officials often tout their commitment to diversity in their PR materials at the same time they cut programs and initiatives designed to materially support that “diverse” student body.
The students are calling their coalition “The General Body” and their movement is getting the attention of progressives across the county, not only because of their committed action at Syracuse, but because their strategy and tactics are a testament to the fact that the surge in activist organizing since 2010, has not faded away despite the many corporate media obituaries signaling a premature death. Instead, the Wisconsin Uprising, the Occupy Wall Street movement, and more recently the “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot” movement that began in Ferguson, MO, has created a kind of extra-institutional activist laboratory that may just be pointing the way to an upsurge in progressive and radical, grassroots organizing.
It would seem that members of The General Body are pretty self-conscious about the connections between their occupation of Crouse-Hinds Hall and the attacks on higher education nationwide. For example, in a video released by The General Body, Ben Kuebrich explains the tactic of occupying their university’s administration building is an attempt to combat university officials strategy to simply “wait them out,” a common strategy university officials nation-wide use to undermine student movements:
The number one tactic universities use to suppress social movements, is just to wait us out. To invite us to a meeting, maybe months in advance, to tell us they can’t make decisions without the Board of Trustees approval, to ask for us to come to speak out events, maybe fill out surveys — just wait and wait and wait and meet us to death. And then they wait until exams start, they wait until winter break, they wait until people graduate, they wait until people go home over the summer. They know we are only on campus for 3 1/2 months at a time and that half of that time, we’re so busy with exams and work that we can’t stand up for what we believe in and we can’t stand up for the university we want and we deserve.
So, it is imperative for student movements to put some time pressure on universities, especially on things that we already know have broad support of the student body and of the faculty. And that’s why we’re sitting in. That’s why we’re here…We’re sick of going to “listening meetings.” We’re sick of being told that we should “speak out and let our voices be heard,” and then seeing that actions aren’t being taken that correspond with our needs and our voices and our perspectives. So, that’s why we’re sitting here and we’re demanding that we have negotiations and then action.
The action has draw the attention of several national media outlets such as Democracy Now, The Chronicle of Higher Education, and the Nation. Up until this weekend, it seemed like SU’s Chancellor was willing to continue the waiting game, especially with the upcoming Thanksgiving break fast approaching. Call it the Turkey Tactic, if you will. But, with student activist of The General Body indicating they have every intention of staying right where they are through the break if necessary, the Chancellor has begun to peel away the veil of diplomacy, offering threats of sanctions while denying students their rights to legal representation.
As I prepare to post this, The General Body is holding a rally to present its “final needs document” following what they are calling an inadequate response to their demands. Earlier today, The General Body released a response to Chancellor Syverud’s “Final Response” to The General Body. Assuming that The General Body has no intention of walking away from this fight, the stage is set for their struggle to deepen and expand.
Raging Chicken Press has been in contact with members of The General Body and we will continue to follow this struggle for its duration. From the vantage point of Pennsylvania, where the state government has taken a hatchet to higher education funding, getting rid of faculty, and dismantling programs, we can only hope that The General Body can serve as a model for PA students and students around the country.