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Ithaca College students staging walkout over racial remarks
01:23 - Source: WSTM

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Ithaca College students stage walkout to demand president's resignation

Protesters say president hasn't done enough to improve racial climate on campus

Walkout came two days after University of Missouri president stepped down

CNN  — 

Emboldened by recent upheavals at the University of Missouri, hundreds of Ithaca College students staged a walkout Wednesday to demand the resignation of President Tom Rochon, who they claim has not responded adequately to incidents of racism on campus.

Chanting “no confidence” and “new president, now,” students filled the academic quad at this school in upstate New York, where they marched, listened to speeches and lay on the ground for 20 minutes of silent protest.

“With University of Missouri’s president stepping down, we demand Rochon to do the same as it is vital to fight against both covert and overt racism in all places of education and empowerment,” said protest organizers in a statement.

A campus group called People of Color at Ithaca College is urging a student vote of “confidence” or “no confidence” in Rochon by November 30. The college’s faculty council also is seeking a referendum on Rochon.

Ithaca has been rocked recently by several racially charged episodes, including a frat party last month whose invitation urged people to come as “Preps” or “Crooks.” The suggested “Preps” attire included a polo shirt, khakis and boat shoes while “Crooks” were to be dressed in “thuggish style” with baggy sweats and “bling.” After a flood of complaints, the party was canceled.

That followed a campus panel event at which two Ithaca alumni referred to Tatiana Sy, a panelist who is African American, as a “savage.” And in September, a group of students protested what they called racial profiling and harassment by campus police officers during a training session for resident assistants.

“In general, the college cannot prevent the use of hurtful language on campus. Such language, intentional or unintentional, exists in the world and will seep into our community,” Rochon said in a statement to the Ithaca community last month.

“We can’t promise that the college will never host a speaker who could say something racist, homophobic, misogynistic or otherwise disrespectful,” he added. “Even so, we reaffirm our commitment to making our campus an inclusive and respectful community.”

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Rochon and other college administrators have held meetings with student leaders to discuss the racial climate on campus. On Tuesday, he announced the college would hire a diversity officer next year to address student concern about racism and cultural bias.

But campus activists complain the president hasn’t done enough.

“Students have felt that he is incapable of leading the school in a manner that creates the most inclusive and diverse community as possible,” student vice president of campus affairs Yena Seo told CNN affiliate WSTM.

A vote of no confidence could not force Rochon to step down, although it would send a strong message to the college’s board of trustees, which has so far expressed support for the embattled president.

“It is not easy to see the IC community that I love going through such a difficult time – to see so many of our students recounting experiences that leave them feeling fear, pain and alienation at a time in their lives when they should instead be feeling welcomed, supported and inspired,” said Tom Grape, chair of the board of trustees, on Wednesday.

“Board members and I are in contact on a daily basis with the president and other campus leaders about the issues that are taking place, and I am committed to helping the institution address its problems so that we may become the Ithaca College that we all know we can be,” Grape said.

Wednesday’s unrest at Ithaca came two days after the president and chancellor of the University of Missouri stepped down amid similar protests and as a number of U.S. colleges and universities, including Yale and USC, are grappling with incidents of racism on campus.

On Twitter, many were using the hashtag #BlackOnCampus Wednesday to share examples of racism and discrimination they have encountered in school.