Racist and Anti-Semitic Incidents at  Syracuse University:  Governor Cuomo Calls for Outside Monitor!


CBS Footage of Student Sit In at Syracuse University

Dear Commons Community,

Syracuse University has seen a wave of racist and anti-Semitic incidents over the past two weeks, leading many students to fear for their safety, prompting some professors to cancel class, and touching off investigations by several law-enforcement agencies, including the Federal Bureau of Investigation.  The incidents have also put Kent D. Syverud, the university’s chancellor, under fire. Gov. Andrew Cuomo of New York, issued a statement yesterday saying Syverud’s response to the incidents had been inadequate: “Despite his efforts, I do not believe Chancellor Syverud has handled this matter in a way that instills confidence.” Governor Cuomo called on Syracuse’s Board of Trustees to bring in an “experienced monitor with the relevant expertise to effectively investigate these incidents.”  As reported by The Chronicle of Higher Education.

“Starting November 7, campus police officers received several reports of racist graffiti and hate speech targeting members of the Asian, African American, and Jewish communities. They were followed by a racist slur, allegedly yelled at a black student by a group of people that included fraternity members.

And then came a white-supremacist manifesto, which law-enforcement officials say appears to be the one written by the shooter charged with killing 51 people at two New Zealand mosques in March. The document was posted in an online discussion forum and allegedly sent via AirDrop to several Syracuse students’ cellphones in a campus library, according to the university’s public-safety department.

Four agencies are working together on the investigations: the campus police, local police, and state police; and the F.B.I. Law-enforcement officials said during a news conference on Tuesday that they were investigating “between eight to 10 incidents,” at Syracuse, though some students have counted at least 11 of them.

Kenton Buckner, chief of Syracuse’s local police department, said he first learned that the white-supremacist manifesto had been shared online just before midnight on Monday. Students have reported that the document was sent via AirDrop to several students in the library at around 1 a.m. on Tuesday.

The hate speech doesn’t appear to be abating. A professor told The Chronicle that she received an anonymous email at her syracuse.edu address on Tuesday that targeted her religious background.

Syverud, Syracuse’s chancellor since 2014, has sent several messages to the campus over the past few days. In one, he promised to overhaul the university’s procedures for handling bias incidents and ensuring that affected students are supported.

In another, he said the university had canceled all Greek-life events for the rest of the semester after learning that fraternity members had been involved in allegedly shouting the racist slur at the black student. He also said he’d suspended the fraternity in question.

But student activists say Syverud’s responses have been delayed, and his tone hasn’t been compassionate enough.

From their perspective, it’s not the first time the chancellor has failed to lead. Students staged a week-long protest in 2014 over Syverud’s decision to close a campus advocacy center and to cut funding for a scholarship program for underprivileged students, among other things. And when a racist video surfaced involving the university’s Theta Tau fraternity chapter, some students weren’t happy with his response. (Syverud eventually expelled Theta Tau from campus permanently.)

About 1,600 people have signed an online petition calling for Syverud’s resignation.

Governor Cuomo echoed students’ concerns in his statement on Tuesday: “As we have learned repeatedly, these increasing exhibitions of hate and bigotry must be handled strongly, swiftly, and justly. That must be both the reality and the perception. Syracuse University and its leadership have failed to do that.”

Some faculty members have also expressed solidarity with the students: “As faculty of color who have some shared understanding of the students’ experiences, we feel that the university’s response has been inadequate.”

Jenn M. Jackson, an assistant professor of political science, said she’d like to see top administrators talk about the recent racism as a systemic cultural problem, “rather than in the language of events and incidents,” she said. The larger issue, she said, is that students from marginalized groups have long experienced hate at Syracuse, as well as at other predominantly white institutions.

Dozens of students have been holding a sit-in in the Barnes Center, a campus recreation complex, for the past week, demanding that university leaders expel any students involved with the racist incidents, among other things. They have also organized a social-media campaign, #NotAgainSU.

On Tuesday, university leaders issued a response to students’ demands, promising to make changes in the student code of conduct by August 2020 that would “make even more clear the serious consequences for hate speech.” Administrators also agreed to make changes in a newly required diversity-and-inclusion course, based on how it’s gone, and to issue statements about future racist incidents within 48 hours.

Syverud visited the students’ sit-in on Tuesday and delivered brief remarks. He said he was eager to continue to work with them. “I think we’re in a key moment at this university,” he said. He added: “I appreciate what I think has been extraordinarily constructive work by this group and also patient and peaceful work under circumstances of great stress.”

Syverud acknowledged in his first campus email, on November 12, that his office hadn’t communicated with students quickly enough when the first racist graffiti appeared this month.

But law-enforcement officials said on Tuesday that they didn’t agree with the criticism of Syverud. “I think it’s unfair to put this on the chancellor’s shoulders,” said Buckner, the local police chief. Bobby Maldonado, chief of the campus public-safety department, agreed: “I couldn’t say enough about the chancellor’s leadership. He has been working feverishly and tirelessly for the last 13 days.”

Maldonado said he understood why students felt frustrated that there wasn’t more information available about who committed the acts. As the investigations continue, he said, officials will keep students and others on the campus informed.

Law-enforcement officials emphasized numerous times on Tuesday that, for the time being, there was no known direct threat to the Syracuse campus. “Our students are safe,” Maldonado said. “We believe our campus is safe.” Those statements haven’t calmed many students’ anxieties.

Syracuse didn’t officially cancel classes after the white-supremacist manifesto appeared and shook the campus on Tuesday, but many professors chose to do so on their own. Jackson, the political-science professor, was among them.

Jackson told The Chronicle that she emailed her students first thing on Tuesday, once she saw the news about the manifesto, and said she would hold a Blackboard discussion instead of an in-person session. Several of her colleagues in the political-science department also canceled class. Jackson knows of other professors who planned to hold class as usual but wouldn’t penalize students who didn’t attend.

Syracuse will close next week for Thanksgiving, Jackson said, so canceling class this week gives students an opportunity to head home early.

Moreover, she said, it’s “inconsiderate” for professors to expect students to come to campus, given that people from specific racial, ethnic, and religious groups have been targeted in the incidents. By canceling class, Syracuse’s faculty members are showing that they genuinely care for students’ health and well-being, Jackson said.

Genevieve García de Müeller, an assistant professor of writing and rhetoric and director of Writing Across the Curriculum, also canceled class early on Tuesday. Not long after that, she received this anonymous email.

García de Müeller, who is Mexican and Jewish, immediately called the campus and local police. They took her statement, she said, and said they would fold her report into their broader investigation of hate incidents. They also told her that others on campus have received similar hateful emails.

She doesn’t have an obvious Jewish name. Yet the person knew her identity. “I do feel like it was a very personal and targeted attack against me,” she said. “Somebody knew me and sought me out and sent me that email.”

García de Müeller said her department has been supportive. But she doesn’t feel that university leaders are doing enough to ensure her safety, as well as the safety of her students. No one from the administration has reached out to her since she received the email, she said.

“There’s this narrative that the administration is pushing that these attacks are not specifically targeting people,” she said. Her experience shows that’s not true. “I really do think that the administration needs to admit that these are direct attacks.”

She added that she’d continue to hold her classes online. “I’m not going to go to campus for the rest of the week,” she said, “until I know for sure that it’s safe for me to go.”

This is not going well for Chancellor Syverud and the University!



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