Rally addressing controversial closure of SU's Advocacy Center ends in chancellor's office

Students and faculty called on Chancellor Kent Syverud to re-open the Advocacy Center as a safe space.

The sun was shining on Hendricks Chapel at noon as a crowd of people began to gather. Some talked quietly among themselves, while others sat silently on the steps with their homemade signs speaking for them: “Survivors need more choices, not less” and “The AC was a safe space!”

Syracuse University students and faculty gathered on the steps of Hendricks Chapel at noon Wednesday for a Rally for Consent. Organized by the Campaign for an Advocacy Center at SU, the rally attracted representatives from several sponsoring organizations and many non-affiliated student supporters.

Photo: Abby Rose Sugnet
Protestors hold up signs in expressing their frustration with the university's decision to close the Advocacy Center without student input.

SU’s Advocacy Center closed June 4  following an email announcement from Chancellor Kent Syverud five days earlier. The center provided services for victims of sexual and relationship violence, as well as violence prevention and victim and non-victim education.

As soon as the closure of the Advocacy Center was announced, a change.org petition was created, said creative writing graduate student and campaign member Rebecca Glaser. The petition currently has 8,137 signatures and 750 comments, and organizers concluded the demonstration by presenting the petition to Syverud. “The University needs to consult the full community in order to make any kind of major decisions such as closing down a center,” Glaser said.

The rally began just after noon, with opening remarks from Yanira Rodriguez, a composition and cultural rhetoric graduate student.

“I want to urge all of you to think about why you are here today,” Rodriguez said, addressing the crowd through a megaphone. “Hold on to those feelings that brought you here, because the culture of rape depends on our silence and on our amnesia.”

Other speakers included two faculty members: associate professor of writing and rhetoric Eileen Schell, who led the crowd in a chant before delivering her speech, and associate professor of African American studies Linda Carty, who read several statistics about rape on college campuses nationwide. She continued to impress upon the crowd the importance of a stand-alone advocacy center as an educational tool for students to learn about rape culture, what is wrong with it, and the ways in which they can empower themselves not to become victims.

Other student speakers included Farrell Brenner, a citizenship and civic engagement and women’s and gender studies sophomore, and Brittany Moore, a television, radio and film, and information management senior. Farrell and Moore, who is also Student Association’s Student Engagement Chair, gave a joint speech. Doctoral student in the cultural foundations of education program Derek Ford also spoke. All helped to organize the rally.

After the speakers finished to numerous rounds of cheers and applause, supporters marched from Hendricks Chapel to the Crouse-Hinds Admissions Building — home to the Chancellor’s office — chanting, “Yes means yes, no means no, rape culture has got to go.” Once in front of the building, Glaser and Brenner read aloud a few of the comments from the petition, including one that read: “The Advocacy Center saved my life.”

About half of the supporters then climbed the stairs to the chancellor’s sixth-floor office to hand Syverud the petition and voice their concerns, while the other half stayed outside and continued to chant. One of those who stayed behind was anthropology and political science senior Alejandra Avina. “I’m here, I’m a survivor of six years,” Avina said. “The safe space that there was before — I can’t find it, it’s been taken away from me.”

Inside the chancellor’s office, Syverud accepted the petition and briefly addressed the concerns of several rally participants. Syverud said he understands the desire of the SU community to be involved in major decisions regarding the university. As chancellor he is committed to that, he said, but occasionally the university faces issues that need to be addressed more quickly.

The rally dispersed almost two hours after it began, leaving attendees with mixed feelings. But most rally leaders felt positive.

"What happened to us was wrong, and I hope the rally communicates that hurt to the administration, and that they can acknowledge and engage that pain so that we can truly move forward,” Brenner said. “Ultimately, we all want the same thing: the best sexual assault services possible.”

Post new comment

* Field must be completed for your comment to appear on The NewsHouse
The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.