Last week the Princeton Review named Syracuse University the top party school in the nation. Less than 24 hours later, our new chancellor, Kent Syverud, released a statement scolding students for earning this title. Despite making a point to discredit the ranking, which was simply based on a small sample group two years ago, he advised us to consider this a "wake-up call" to renew our focus on academic excellence.
There are, however, more important issues to be tackled on campus than a silly party ranking -- and the chancellor's swift reply to the Princeton Review was the exact opposite of what happened when a greater, more serious problem arose at Syracuse weeks earlier.
On May 30, Chancellor Syverud sent an email informing students of the closing of SU's Advocacy Center, which provides students with sexual assault resources and support. A decision was made without any student input to align the services of the Advocacy Center with the Counseling Center and the offices of Student Assistance and Health Promotion at Syracuse University.
What survivors need, however, is an advocate -- not a counselor.
This decision says students who are survivors of sexual assault no longer deserve a safe space to understand their options before being forced into an overwhelming course of legal action. With the statistic that one in four women will face rape or sexual assault while in college and presently over 60 colleges under review for how they handled sexual assault cases, it is a crucial time to have a resource like the Advocacy Center on campus.
What survivors need is a place to come forward with their experiences and heal. The Advocacy Center was there for any student who needed them, and also provided education and volunteer work for caring individuals dedicated to bettering the campus community.
It is not effective or beneficial to students to place the services once provided by the Advocacy Center under the umbrella of mental health services. Making excuses of confidentiality and employee responsibilities and enforcing reporting of sexual assaults will not solve the problems at hand.
In the days following the chancellor's announcement, we saw a Change.org petition that now has over 8,000 signatures, a Facebook support group with now over 1,400 members and coverage on BuzzFeed, Feministing, Daily Orange and local Syracuse news outlets. But neither the chancellor nor his staff commented on the outraged response of students, alumni and parents.
It wasn't until 19 days later that the student body received an email from Senior Vice President and Dean of Student Affairs Rebecca Reed Kantrowitz, announcing a series of "listening meetings" to offer more information on the administration's decision regarding the Advocacy Center, despite the fact that most students are away from campus because it is the summer.
It took over a month after the announcement for the chancellor himself to finally mention the issue again in one his weekly email updates, saying that he does not intend to revert to the previous structure, but will appoint a Chancellor's Workgroup on Sexual Violence Prevention, Education and Advocacy, which will include students, faculty and staff representatives. The group will apparently work only with Kantrowitz and her staff, not the chancellor himself.
It's disheartening to see such a blatant public relations mindset coming from those who should be working to improve our university. People already knew Syracuse has plenty of school spirit, parties and fun events before the ranking. That's not what would discourage prospective students from applying. As a young woman, I would place more importance on finding a school that takes sexual assault seriously.
It's disappointing that the chancellor and his staff do not understand the gravity of the situation that our university is now in -- but I know that our student body filled with dedicated advocates will not stop until we make our points clear.
I love my school and wouldn't have wanted to attend any other college besides Syracuse University. But that's why I want it to be a better and safer place, and one that has its priorities straight.