Q&A: Why Protesters Are Standing Their Ground at Syracuse U.

Laura Cohen

Becca Glaser (second from left) and other members of the Syracuse U. student coalition’s negotiation team met on Wednesday with Chancellor Kent Syverud.
November 10, 2014

After four student protests in two months, Syracuse University’s administration found itself wrestling last week with how to respond to student demonstrators who refused to back down.

Members of a student coalition that calls itself THE General Body have camped out in Crouse-Hinds Hall, a building that houses the office of Syracuse’s chancellor, Kent D. Syverud, as well as classrooms and Syracuse’s admissions office, since last Monday. The group presented Mr. Syverud with a 43-page document charging that the administration lacks transparency, the campus lacks diversity, and the university should not have shut down a center in June that helped victims of sexual assault.

After meeting with the group, Mr. Syverud and Bea González, dean of Syracuse’s University College, released a written response on Thursday detailing a proposal to end the sit-in and begin piecing together a road map for resolving differences.

Becca E. Glaser, a creative-writing graduate student and member of the student coalition, said the group would not end the sit-in until it had a timeline that spells out when specific grievances will be addressed.

In a conversation last week with The Chronicle, Ms. Glaser discussed the issues that have driven the protests, how the movement took inspiration from student demonstrations at Colgate University, and what the coalition hopes to accomplish. Following is a transcript of that conversation, edited for clarity and length.

Q. How did the coalition get started?

A. THE General Body formed about a month ago. We had so many protests about different issues on campus, so a few of the people involved in those movements said, Hey, let’s work together on this. These issues aren’t just from the new administration but things brewing for years. There was a pattern of events, like the closing of the Advocacy Center with one business day’s notice, lack of communication. They cut scholarships that benefit students of color and poor students, and the university hasn’t had a full-time [Americans With Disabilities Act] coordinator in 10 years. We got together and said, We have to fight back as a coalition.

Q. The group seems well organized. Tell me about its structure.

A. We split into a demands committee, a media team, and an action committee that plans events like the rally. A lot of the people in this have already been involved in student government, so we created strategic-planning and work groups. A lot of those involved originally were already involved on campus through normal university processes and realized that nothing was getting done through those avenues and decided to take it to the next level.

Q. How have the recent student protests at Colgate inspired this, and have you heard from students at other colleges who are planning to organize?

A. Largely this idea was inspired by the Colgate protests, and we’ve gotten a lot of support from them, including Colgate professors and students we’ve spoken to. They said there is a real opportunity for positive change here. We haven’t heard from other universities, but I am sure there are student groups who see us as we saw Colgate and feel like they can inspire change also.

Q. Did the university’s written response to your demands and the offer to meet with trustees help the situation?

A. The demand list is a living document. As we hear about new issues, we add them to the document. Faculty members and students have brought issues to our attention, so it’s very much a document that represents everyone’s issues on campus.

The response from the administration was nowhere near enough. We want a timeline and want to ensure that real change happens, and the issues aren’t cast aside. If we end the protest, there is no guarantee that our demands will be met.

Q. Did the chancellor respond adequately this week to the coalition’s concerns?

A. The chancellor seemed kind of conciliatory and said he learned things from the document. At this point we’ve made it clear what our demands are, and we articulated directly what the timelines look like and proposed times of action. We are keeping the sit-in going until we are satisfied the demands are met.