Last fall, colleges and universities across the U.S. erupted with student protests in response to racial tensions and a lack of action toward inclusion on their campus.
Ithaca College was no different. Students, including the main protest group called POC@IC, took part in campus-wide protests addressing a no confidence vote of the current president, Tom Rochon, and frustration with the administration.
Despite the frustration, there are multiple inclusion programs both run by and available to Ithaca College students that aim to provide a safe space for marginalized members of the community.
In spring 2016, after the events that occurred during the fall semester, former senior Namarah McCall created IC Color. At the initiative of McCall and three other student team members, this weeklong convention was held in mid-April to improve the communication among various groups on campus, specifically among marginalized communities, student organizations, staff and faculty, and the administration.
This was done through presentation of various art forms to celebrate and honor the issues specific communities wanted to address while also expressing their individuality. These communities included LGBTQ, people of color, women, and individuals with mental health problems and illness. Music and dance, and spoken word performances, art galleries, panels and talking sessions were hosted in collaboration with other student organizations and school programs throughout the week.
“We worked to create spaces where individuals can come commune and share,” McCall said. “A lot people think that we need a voice. These individuals in marginalized communities have a voice; they just don’t have the reach. We wanted to create the bridge and be the connection that’s missing.”
IC Color is currently in the process of becoming an officially recognized student organization that will plan the event in the fall and execute it in the spring. The former leader said that the makeup of the weeklong event would not be the same every year.
“To expect the same make-up,” she said, “is to also say that the community we have is not a growing and changing one. IC Color needs to be a community that first listens then creates. By observing the campus issues and trying to find what it needs, we can provide the most encouraging and uplifting space.”
In addition to IC Color, there are a number of other student organizations at the college that offer support to marginalized communities. PRISM, one out of four of the college’s LGBTQ organizations, is a campus queer-straight alliance that provides a safe space for LGBTQ students and allies to connect. Elijahda Warner, the vice president of PRISM, said the group allows for those who identify with that community to connect, grow and find long-lasting relationships on campus.
“As a member of PRISM as well as a person of color, it was extremely eye-opening to experience the protests on campus. It made me realize that a lot of my peers didn’t understand that not only can you experience racism, but you can experience homophobia at the same time,” the PRISM vice president said. “That’s what made me want to get involved with PRISM more, to help people understand that intersection and include more of those voices.”
The college also provides workshops and sessions run by students a part of the diversity peer educator (DPE) program run through the Office of Student Engagement and Multicultural Affairs (OSEMA). This program aims to “improve cultural awareness and understanding at Ithaca College, as well as enhance each student’s comprehensive knowledge of, and relationship to issues of diversity and social justice.”
Katrina Clark, a DPE and senior at the college, said that program has a variety of set workshops, which are both discussion and presentation style, that inform audiences such as student leaders and those involved in residential life. These presentations address issues revolving around microaggressions, privilege and social justice at a fundamental level.
“Having these types of conversations and helping other people start those types of discussions is really rewarding. You might not be able to see the benefits of it, but it is so crucial especially in today’s society,” the DPE said.
Clark said there was a need for more spaces for students to talk and question the world around them especially after the previous protests.
“Our role as DPEs is important all the time but the need is presented more especially at time of campus unrest,” she said. “It’s really beneficial to you and others if you understand structures of power and how that interacts with individuals on a institutional and personal level. Students will gain a deeper awareness who they operate which increases empathy and you can learn how to leverage that in today’s world but there is still so much work to be done.”
For more information on Ithaca College student organizations and OSEMA visit ithaca.edu or login into OrgSync. §