More than 100 students and staff rallied on the steps of Syracuse University’s Hendricks Chapel Wednesday, protesting the way the school closed a center that helped sexual assault victims. Some students ultimately took their complaints to the SU chancellor.
Students don’t like the way SU shut down the Advocacy Center in June, consolidating sexual assault services in the school's counseling center and moving student support groups into the the Office of Health Promotion.
For one freshman, the Advocacy Center was one of the reasons she came to SU.
"I have been sexually assaulted before in high school," she said. "And there was basically no one to go to. So I thought, ok, I’ll go to ESF and SU and they’ve got something there, so in case something does happen to me in college, I’ll be ok. And then I found out that it’s not going to be here anymore, and it kind of like... just really bothers me a lot.”
Protesters say one of the biggest issues they have is the suddenness of the change.
“There was no consultation," one woman said. "We did not have a chance as a community to weigh in about the decision. We’re any of you asked?"
The crowd responded with a no. "Did any of you give consent?" the woman yelled. “No."
Senior Brittany Moore says the realignment of services makes things more complicated for students.
“Counseling Center is now the main place for victims to go to, and the educational programs like MVP, E5M, those are places that are now under Health Promotions, which is different from the Counseling Center," Moore said. "So students would have to go to the Counseling Center, and then walk to Health Promotions, and if they need assistance go to Steele Hall. They’ve really split up the resources, so there’s not one central community space.”
Protesters walked to Chancellor Kent Syverud’s office carrying a petition with 8,500 signatures on it and comments from people upset with the change.
“SU needs to be more concerned with the health, safety and well being of it’s students, than with its reputation as a party school," one protester said. "Listen to the students and reopen the Advocacy Center."
Graduate student Maria Carson says she believes the timing of the closure was poor.
"The U.S. as a whole is getting more and more concerned about rape culture and realizing how many college students are raped every day on campuses," Carson said. "And closing an institution like the Advocacy Center at such a time, when there’s more national news about rape culture, just really struck a bad chord with a lot of people.”
Syverud said he appreciated the activism and is listening to the students' concerns.
"I’ve heard very much that people wanted to be consulted about major decisions at the university before they’re announced," Syverud said. "As chancellor, I’m committed to that, and I’ve learned from this experience.”
Susan Pasco of the Counseling Center says an SU work group will continue to meet on the issue, and emphasizes that all the services that have helped students in the past are still available..
"That change did not result in any diminishment of services," Pasco explained. "And it did not come from a university's lack of commitment or interest in resources and supporting services for survivors."