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On Thursday, October 8, we conducted a Blue Sky Reimagining kick-off event, featuring a conversation among four alumni followed by work in small groups brainstorming on how to make the Ithaca College educational experience more immersive. Insensitive comments were made during the conversation. Immediately following the event, I (Tom Rochon) apologized to the alumna to whom the comments were addressed. We regret that what was intended to be a visionary moment for our community was diminished by insensitive comments.

In general, the college cannot prevent the use of hurtful language on campus. Such language, intentional or unintentional, exists in the world and will seep into our community. We can’t promise that the college will never host a speaker who could say something racist, homophobic, misogynistic, or otherwise disrespectful. Even so, we reaffirm our commitment to making our campus an inclusive and respectful community.

We recognize the concerns raised by members of the campus community about the language used during the Blue Sky event. We reiterate our commitment to the principles of respect and inclusion and to the goal of ensuring that Ithaca College is a place where all students, faculty, staff, and visitors feel safe and respected.

Tom Rochon

Benjamin Rifkin
Provost and Vice President for Educational Affairs

Message to Campus Community on Blue Sky Kick-off Remarks | 9 Comments |
The following comments are the opinions of the individuals who posted them. They do not necessarily represent the position of Intercom or Ithaca College, and the editors reserve the right to monitor and delete comments that violate College policies.
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Message to Campus Community on Blue Sky Kick-off Remarks Comment from henderso on 10/12/15
I must say I find this a very weak and disappointing response to an
event that has caused much of the campus community deep anger
and grief. I would like to hear a bit more about how the
administration plans on addressing the unacceptable remarks made
by two alumni who were brought to campus as "models" of what
Ithaca College should aim for. These were not simply two speakers
brought to campus--they were brought to campus to spearhead an
initiative meant to inspire us about what it means to be part of IC--
and two of our highest profile graduates. This "response" is so pro
forma as to be an insult to anyone and everyone who cares about
social justice and inclusion and simple human respect. Will these
individuals continue to be welcomed and celebrated as exemplars
of "Blue Skies" on South Hill? We all have a right to know.
Provost Rifkin's Remarks at 10/12/15 SGA Meeting Comment from kjames1 on 10/12/15
Dear Prof. Henderson,

Please see my post below concerning Provost Rifkin's remarks at our
10/12/15 SGA Meeting. I believe you will find them relatable to your

Message to Campus Community on Blue Sky Kick-off Remarks Comment from dreccki1 on 10/12/15
I believe that there should be another blue skies event created. I ask that it has students involved in the process from the very beginning, and also that it's goals come from a commitment to inclusivity. I'm working on getting students to be more engaged, but there is nothing I can do if I am not informed as their representative.
Provost Rifkin's Remarks at 10/12/15 SGA Senate Meeting Comment from kjames1 on 10/12/15
Dear IC Community,

Tonight the Provost came to the SGA Senate meeting. I will briefly
relate some of the interactions between SGA members and the
Provost concerning the Blue Skies kickoff and AEPi event.

- Student Body President, Dominick Recckio: "Why was the Blue Skies
kickoff such an exclusive event, with very little student attendance?"

- Provost Rifkin: "We did everything we could to make it an inclusive
event (listed off the ways including email reminders, listserves,
intercom posts, etc.), and those who made the effort to be there were
there. No one was told that they couldn't come. We made it clear that
people could sign in at the door and those who could only attend the
event partially, should."

- VP of Academic Affairs, Kyle D. James: "Why was there such a
difference in response times from the President's Office between the
Blue Skies discrimination, 4 days, and the AEPi event, a couple of

- Provost: "People tend to forget that we (the administration) are
human. I can assure you our heart is in the right place."

- Kyle: "What is being done to both educate the two people from the
blue skies event (Burch, Kur) and ensure that future occurrences such
as these are prevented or lessened?"

- Provost: "Did everyone here see President Rochon & I's statement in The Ithacan?"

- SGA Senate & Executive Board: *Most are nodding.*

- Provost: "Then I have nothing else to add."

- SGA Senate Chair, Marieme Foote: "If this was an inclusive event as
you say, were there students involved in the planning process?"

- Provost: "I don't know if there were students involved."

**Note: To SGA's knowledge after extensive research, there were no
students involved in the Blue Skies planning process.

Given that SGA General Body meetings are open to the public and
public record, I believe that it is my duty as VP of Academic Affairs to
relate to you these statements as they come from the Provost and I
serve as the liaison between the Provost & student body.

I can be reached at and Provost Rifkin
can be reached at

Kyle D. James, SGA VP of Academic Affairs
Provost Rifkin's Remarks at 10/12/15 SGA Senate Meeting Comment from jablard on 10/13/15
Thank you for sharing this important information. Best,
Jonathan Ablard
Message to Campus Community on Blue Sky Kick-off Remarks Comment from dturkon on 10/13/15
I find it encouraging that you have offered an apology for the display our campus was subjected to at the Blue Sky event. It is one thing, however, to acknowledge a gaff. It is another altogether to engage the situation and turn it into a learning opportunity, which would the appropriate (and decent ) thing to do at a diverse institution of higher education. We should engage this moment and ask why did this happen, especially at an event meant to showcase models for the kind of educational initiatives Ithaca College is considering giving priority to. Within this milieu the event was anti-intellectual in the way it privileged learning by doing over what I believe one panelist called book learning. (I can't verify the exact language as the video of the event has been taken down). This privileging is, in my opinion, at the root of the problem we are grappling with here.

The references to "the savage" and students as "kids" and women as "girls" were symptomatic of a much deeper problem that plagues higher education and society as a whole. The problem is exacerbated by education models that privilege leaning by doing over intellectual stimulation through classroom interaction. I have no doubt over the sincerity of the apologies that have come forth in response to this incident. However, I also have no doubt that this incident will recur because it is a result of ignorance and insensitivity on the part of several individuals. I'm not saying these are bad people, or even insincere people. Rather, they are people who just don't get it because they were never put in an educational situation that compelled them to confront the sorts of attitudes that they hold, and which manifest during the blue sky event. The problems associated with carrying these kinds of attitudes go far beyond the kinds of insulting characterizations that came out at the blue sky event. A statement from Mr. Burch offended me, as an anthropologist, by harkening back to attitudes of inferiority that colonists held toward the indigenous people they sought to control and exploit. These are attitudes rooted in stereotypes that we have been fighting to dispel for decades but which will not die, because they validate attitudes of superiority that in the end justify exploiting indigenous people in the name of helping or elevating them. Indeed, In discussing his luxury resort on the remote, Indonesian Island of Sumba Mr. Burch referd to it as "the most backward place in the world".... where "people still trade animals for their wives." This is exactly how colonizers portrayed marriage rituals across Africa during as a means of demonstrating the savage and primitive nature of the people they were there to "help"; what Rudyard Kipling coined as "the white man's burden." "Trading animals for wives" is what anthropologists refer to as bridewealth and it is practiced in cultures around the globe. Marriage is accompanies by complex transfers of wealth from the family of the groom to the family of the bride. This usually protects the bride, since if she is abused she can be called to return home but the bridewealth stays put. The practice also symbolically and materially bonds extended families together in cooperative relations and alliances. There's much more to bridewealth but you get the picture. (here is link to an ethnographic film on feasting and bridewealth on Sumba: ). My point is, had Mr. Burch been in an introduction to anthropology class he probably would have learned this. Not by doing but through instruction. And hopefully he would have learned a thing or two about the offensive nature of terms such as savage, primitive, tribe and so on. These were all weapons in the armory of colonialists who needed to justify their projects on an international scale.

Tom, when you were hired as president of Ithaca College I recall doing some research on you. When I learned you wrote a book I went out of my way to peruse it a bit. I seem to recall that it's main thesis was that culture change comes once language changes to facilitate it. There is some some truth in that, but one thing we anthropologists know is that we live in a poly-vocal world. I urge you to take a break from the sort of discourse you are immersed in the upper echelons of higher education, and get familiar with the discourse that faculty are immersed in. They framed markedly different but potentially complimentary worlds. We are not sheep to be led down the path of "best practices" in higher education, but professionals who know our disciplines, the contributions they are making in the world and how they can be the cornerstone of a holistic, interdisciplinary curriculum at Ithaca College, and help us to become tje highly desirable and respected institution of higher education we strive to be.

Respectfully, David Turkon, associate professor and chair, anthropology
Message to Campus Community on Blue Sky Kick-off Remarks Comment from switherup on 10/14/15
I think we actually CAN do something about preventing insensitive remarks in
venues such as this. One way is to invite liberally educated intellectuals to talk
about engagement in higher education. While Burch may be a successful
businessman, he doesn’t possess the perspective or temperance that is
associated with a liberal arts education. If anything, he serves as an example of
why a liberal arts education is valuable and what’s missing when you leave out the
“book learning”.
Message to Campus Community on Blue Sky Kick-off Remarks Comment from aadams4 on 10/14/15
An excellent observation. Change takes time. It is only fair to believe the intent
to create a remarkable event with genuine dialogue was planned. However, the
intent seems to have gotten lost in the unfortunate ramblings of a generation too
far removed from those who might have benefitted from the outcomes of such
an activity. Right concept. Ill-prepared speakers. Thoughtful event executed
poorly. The multitude of reasons at this stage only matter in that it is a
teachable moment for all levels of the campus community to ask for something
different. We teach students that it is OK to fail. That in failing there too we find
success. It's only fatal if we don't take action to shepherd change.

“The secret to being wrong isn't to avoid being wrong! The secret is being willing
to be wrong. The secret is realizing that wrong isn't fatal.”
― Seth Godin, Linchpin: Are You Indispensable?
Message to Campus Community on Blue Sky Kick-off Remarks Comment from jives on 10/15/15
I do not think we should assume that all those who participated in this event came away with the same thoughts or conclusions. In fact, I disagree with a variety of the opinions stated at my discussion table at the symposium, and in some of the ideas expressed here in these comments.

What I won't do in this forum is state the nature of my disagreement because I feel there is, in practice, little academic freedom on this campus. We have just tar and feathered a couple of speakers for saying the "wrong" things and demanded an apology from the President. We make these charges with a pompous attitude about our intellectual superiority over those outside academia.
Where is our humility, our compassion, our forgiveness? Are these not more important qualities?

What speaker -- or faculty member for that matter -- would ever want to come here for fear of misspeaking, offending someone, or not toeing the line? I fear it is a hostile atmosphere we are creating.

Jeff Ives