SU wants to move on, but student protestors will continue sit-in

Nov 13, 2014

Syracuse University's chancellor says he's issued "the final word" to a large group of student protestors and it's time to move forward, but the students have no intention of moving out the school's administrative building, which they've called home for nearly two weeks.

In a letter to the campus, chancellor Kent Syverud this week gave the student protestors something they've wanted for awhile: a formal apology for the way the university closed a sexual assault advocacy center over the summer.

I apologize to those who have experienced stress and anguish owing to the process and communications regarding decisions made on issues important to members of our community. In particular, I apologize that decisions about the Advocacy Center, as well as the Posse Program, have caused this to occur. I have sincerely tried to engage and seek opportunities for students, faculty, staff and alumni to provide their thoughts and opinions on these important issues. However, I recognize some in our community have felt left out, and I regret that. 

It's the center's closure that sparked the student unrest earlier this fall. But since a September rally, the protest has morphed into being about more than just the center.

The students, calling themselves THE General Body, have developed a lengthy list of demands and complaints centered around a lack of administrative transparency and support for minority and disabled students.

"While a partial apology on the advocacy center’s irresponsible closure is important, it should not have taken 8,000 signatures, three listening meetings, and ten days and a sit-in to achieve this simple and reasonable request," said Colton Jones, a member of the student protestors.

Jones and about two dozen other students held a press conference on the steps of the Hall of Languages Thursday afternoon. The university's police department had forbid them from having it inside, despite the freezing temperatures and snow fall.

THE General Body has been staging a sit-in on the ground floor of the administrative offices of the college since last Monday. Syverud and other top university officials have met with students several times since then.

But in his letter, Syverud says they're done negotiating and the latest response to the demands is their final word.

To make significant change, though, we need to move forward. Tonight we responded with our final written response and have informed THE General Body that our time must now be spent addressing the needs of the entire student body. To do this best, I believe we and THE General Body should work collaboratively with the duly elected representatives and governing bodies that are currently in place, including the Student Association and the Graduate Student Organization, to bring continued action and resolution to these concerns. I look forward to being an active participant in this process. 

For student Mali Golomb-Leavitt, the chancellor's letter only ups the ante.

"We’re getting attention for the demands that we’re making and how they’re treating those demands," she said. "And so I think that in it of itself gives us hope, because we know this makes a difference to them."

Among other things, the university has agreed to: raise the pay for teaching assistants; advance the hiring of a disability services coordinator; increase student access during university decision making; and hire a psychiatric nurse.

The students say the administration has failed to restore a scholarship program for minority students, offer concrete plans to improve mental health services and open up a proposed new university mission statement to rewrites.

The students say they've made concessions, too, but given the lack of a full resolution of their complaints, they're not done their protest.

Even with the university's stance that it is done negotiating with the students, THE General Body said Thursday it will not end the sit-in. That's despite the nearing Thanksgiving break, they said.