THE General Body is a coalition of over 50 Syracuse University student groups calling for diversity, accessibility, transparency, and democratic decision-making process. For nearly three weeks, students have been sitting in at the central administrative building, negotiating students’ needs and grievances with upper-level administration. On Wednesday night, Chancellor Kent Syverud issued his “final word” on negotiations. Unfortunately, the administration’s “final” document fails to provide concrete steps forward for many student concerns. Chief among these are what students call a lack of transparency and lack of support for diversity on campus; their examples include a lack of mental health resources and the sudden closure of an Advocacy Center supporting sexual assault victims.
Student activists say the sit-ins provide a much-needed space for teach-ins and conversations drawing connections between the movement’s work and nationwide trends in mental health, sexual violence, the military-education industrial complex, racism, police repression, and labor. It has also offered a space for students to strengthen ties and understanding between their various concerns.
As students gathered their energy for another weekend “locked in” to Crouse-Hinds Hall (where they will not be granted re-entry if they leave and must stay inside the entire weekend to maintain the sit-in), they reflected on the local, national, and international connections to the movement. These conversations happen late at night, after the teach-ins, after dodging DPS and administrative tactics, after hours of negotiation, after scrambling all day to publish updates that will keep them visible in the public eye, the THE General Body gathers to decompress, and engage in what senior Colton Jones terms “human shit.”
These moments of bonding and sharing are a key part of the movement. They remind members of THE General Body of their common struggles, and how these struggles extend beyond the walls of the campus.
As messages from students attempting to organize on other campuses attempting trickle in, they show that THE General Body is part of a national network of organizing for transparency, accountability, equity, and justice. The issues reflect national conversations on race that reached a pinnacle with the tragic death of Mike Brown and the movement in Ferguson; they are a part of the national conversation around rape as universities are held accountable for deplorable statistics that reveal one in four college-aged women will be victims of sexual assault.
They are also a part of the national conversations around mental health. At THE General Body’s recent rally outside the Board of Trustees meeting, a reporter approached students to bring up the Virginia Tech shooting. The Hong Kong Umbrella Revolution has also been a subject of discussion among students interested in democratic processes and representation worldwide.
Over the weekend, when 40 members of THE General Body were locked into Crouse-Hinds Hall, they received news that 43 student activists had been brutally murdered in Ayotzinapa, Mexico, by police connected to drug cartels, for planning a peaceful act of civil disobedience. Rebecca Fuentes, lead organizer with the Workers’ Center of Central New York brought this up to THE General Body during a faculty and community led solidarity rally on Saturday. She held up a sign that read #Faltan 43, Ayotzinapa/Syracuse USA (Missing 43) to the window and pointing at our signs, communicating with gestures through the glass that THE General Body needed to reckon with this horrifying crackdown on student activists and attempts to erase their voices.
Members of THE General Body were locked into Crouse-Hinds for the weekend, isolated from support groups, pressing signs against the glass reading “we demand transparency” and “our voices matter” in an attempt to connect with supporters, with 7-10 DPS officers and fire marshals outside.
“Students are seen as disposable,” said PhD student Benjamin Kuebrich.
As a sign from #Accionglobalayotzinapa reads: They Tried to Bury Us; They Didn’t Know We Were Seeds.
Yanira Rodriguez and Vani Kannan are first-year PhD students at Syracuse University.
Image credits: THE General Body