Syracuse protesters call for heads to roll after being told no
- Syracuse University is spending $5.6 million on “diversity and inclusion initiatives” after two months of pressure by students.
- This includes a “Special Committee” on “University Climate, Diversity and Inclusion,” and a program to hire “more diverse” faculty.
- Student protesters threatened “consequences” if the chancellor didn't resign" after he refused to sign three out of 19 demands- including one that would allow students to choose their roommates based on race.
Syracuse University is spending $5.6 million on “diversity and inclusion initiatives” to fulfill 50 promises that the chancellor made in fall 2019 to placate student protesters, but the protesters are still going strong.
Thirty of them were suspended in February for refusing to leave a closed building on campus.
These promises made by the chancellor, Kent Syverud, came amid months of pressure by the student protest group, #NotAgainSU and its demands for the chancellor’s resignation after they were displeased by his supposedly insufficient response to a string of racist incidents on campus.
Syverud vowed to take “interim steps” to “address space issues for multicultural students.” He designated a room in the University’s library to temporarily address “the serious concern for the lack of space on campus for African American and multicultural students,” and a lack of space that has “long plagued” multicultural student groups including Greek organizations.
Syverud promised that another committee was in the works to specifically address space issues for Native American students. He says it will recommend a “form of and location” for a “permanent marker on campus that acknowledges that Syracuse University stands on the ancestral lands of the Haudenosaunee and the Onondaga Nation.” Jewish students were promised a completed “security assessment of Hillel.”
The chancellor also allocated $400,000 to expand the Center for International Services and hire additional staff members. He defended the high expenses by ensuring that the university is in a strong financial position: “…Savvy people among you who know our history might be asking: Can we really afford all this? We already had great ambitions for our university in our strategic plans. Now we clearly are committing to do more to model a world-class university that truly welcomes and includes all people, no exceptions.”
Syverud announced these promises in a speech in January on the deadline protesters set for him to resign, threatening “consequences” if he refused. Those “consequences” have yet to be seen after Syverud announced he will not resign from his position.
#NotAgainSU organizers were dissatisfied with Syverud for signing on to only 16 of their original 19 demands issued in November after a string of racist and anti-Semitic incidents were reported, including the supposed distribution of a white supremacist manifesto that Syracuse University later deemed a hoax.
Syverud added edits to the three demands he did not agree to, including a demand where students can choose their roommate based on “mutual interests and identities.” The demand initially called for an option where students can choose a roommate of the “same race.” This was reworded after the movement received backlash. Syverud agreed to the “mutual interests” option, but crossed out “identities.”
#NotAgainSU, condemned all of the edits, calling this a “revised variation” of the demands. They listed this as a reason for demanding Syverud’s resignation.
“Under his leadership, racism has been emboldened on Syracuse University’s campus," they added.
The movement’s organizers also demanded that three other university officials resign. They taped up different flyers around campus with the names of each of these individuals, saying, “These individuals have exacerbated a hostile campus environment and have actively allowed hate speech to prevail at this university,” organizers added.
Students occupied Syracuse University’s Barnes Center for eight days straight when the string of racist incidents were first being reported.
In a university-wide forum meant to address the 19 demands, numerous protesters staged a walkout after Syverud initially “hesitated” to sign the list of demands. Hundreds of protesters then marched over to Syverud’s home chanting “Sign or Resign” and other phrases.
In an attempt to keep the movement alive before the university’s Winter Break, #NotAgainSU organizers staged a second campus walkout during classes, marching to the chancellor’s office to hand-deliver letters demanding his resignation. They strung a large poster on Syracuse University’s Hendrick’s Chapel that read, “BYE KENT,” and other posters that state “I hate it here.”
#NotAgainSU vowed to continue the movement into the new spring 2020, but there have been no protests or public gatherings since the Winter Break began. In his speech, Syverud said he believes “this work requested emphatically” by Syracuse students is “helping us become a better place.
But, starting on Monday, they took up residence in the Crouse-Hinds Hall admissions building and threatened “escalated action” if the chancellor and three other administrators do not “vacate their offices,” or if the Board of Trustees does not “remove them” by this Friday, February 21st.
The “NotagainSU” organizers held an 8-day occupation of a different campus building in November after a string of incidents largely involving graffiti deemed racist on campus. It included an alleged distribution of a white supremacy manifesto, but Syracuse University later deemed that claim to be a hoax.
The group said its purpose for the new occupation is “not reactionary” to anything new that has occurred or any “isolated incidents of hate.” The group defended the sudden action by claiming it is “changing the systems of oppression that are upheld and protected by the administration at this university.”
While the school administration initially said it will put its foot down this time and threatened to temporarily suspend students, it appears the administration has back-pedaled. On Monday night, Deans of Students Marrianne Thomson and Rob Hradsky passed out notices threatening to temporarily suspend student protesters who did not leave the building by 9 p.m., which was the regular closing time for that building.
“This is a warning that unauthorized presence in Crouse-Hinds Hall outside of its regular operating hours of 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. is in violation of the Campus Disruption Policy,” the notices stated. “Failure to comply with this directive will result in disciplinary charges through the Code of Student Conduct and may result in an interim suspension from the University.”
But protesters remained in the building past the 9 p.m. deadline. The students responded to the directive to leave by shouting against the deans and continuing a pattern of accusing school administrators of racism. Some of the protesters were wearing black masks over their faces.
“My father is a whole ass lawyer and wants to burn this school,” yelled one student.
The organizers of “NotAgainSU” have since taken to social media, asking if any of their followers know someone who can “provide legal counsel” to the protestors.
The school administration quickly followed with an email sent to students at 12:11 a.m. Tuesday morning, backpedaling on its threats to suspend protesters.
“To be clear: no students are being suspended for protesting,” the email stated, adding that some students “have been referred” to the Office of Student Rights and Responsibilities for “violating the Campus Disruption Policy,”
30+ #NotAgainSU protestors received letters of suspension after an email was sent out to the student body stating that “no students are being suspended for protesting.” These letters of suspensions were given to those who stayed in Crouse- Hinds Hall after 9PM. (1/3) pic.twitter.com/qsvYijIHX4— #NOTAGAINSU (@notagain_su) February 18, 2020
But the “NotAgainSU” organizers posted photos online of suspension notices they claim that students have received, alleging they were sent out after they remained in Crouse-Hinds Hall past 9 p.m. last night. They also allege that a suspension notice was received by at least one Black student who “has not been involved in or present in the occupation of Crouse-Hinds.”
This is bad, real bad y’all.— zellie (@zellieimani) February 18, 2020
Syracuse University just handed our suspension notices to students staging a sit in.
To date, no student has been reprimanded for the hate crimes during the fall semester but students have been reprimanded for demanding better
In a statement later issued by the university, the administration clarified that the only protesters who are being temporarily suspended are those who did “not adhere to the Student Code of Conduct for refusing to leave a building after hours of operation.”
So far, the suspension count has reached over 30 students, according to the Daily Orange.
“My question to them (the “NotAgainSU” organizers) is this: Why should an administrative building have security rules, like closing hours, if it shouldn’t be allowed to enforce them?” stated Syracuse Sophomore, Carson Gambaro, in an email to Campus Reform.
According to a response issued by the organizers, the school administration “did not agree to a single demand, nor did they agree to lift the sanctions as a precondition to any dialogue.”
But in another statement issued early Wednesday morning, the administration claims that organizers refused their offer to meet Thursday to “identify the leaders addressing their new and existing concerns.” The administration also claimed that it promised to revoke interim suspensions for students who agreed to “voluntarily leave” Crouse-Hinds by 10:00 p.m. Wednesday.
These concerns include a list of 18 newly revised demands for the university, that was announced by the organizers into a megaphone during Monday’s occupation at Crouse-Hinds Hall. The revised demands came after the chancellor already agreed to 16 out of 19 original demands that the organizers gave him back in November. He just allocated $5.6 million to “Diversity and Inclusion” initiatives, directly addressing the demands, after being pressured by initial calls for his resignation.
But that wasn’t enough for the protesters.
Among the demands was a provision to allow students to choose their roommate based on “mutual interests and identities,” and to “ensure students of color and marginalized students feel safe in the housing process.” The demand initially called for an option where students can choose a roommate of the “same race,” but was reworded after the movement received backlash.
The chancellor had already agreed to the “mutual interests” option, but crossed out “identities.” He designated a room in the University’s library to temporarily address “the serious concern for the lack of space on campus for African American and multicultural students,” and had also just announced the building of “Multicultural Living Learning Communities” in more dormitories.
But the protesters have demanded that a “Multicultural Learning Community” be established in each dormitory on campus, arguing that it will “give students of color the option of being surrounded by other students who look like them.”
“Students of color believe that multicultural LC’s will make them more comfortable, feel safer on our campus, and ensuring opportunities for them to grow and thrive,” the demand stated.
Other demands include “allocating necessary funds” to “support current students of color in alleviating financial burdens,” and considering “Individual Diversity” as a factor when admitting students who are seeking to transfer colleges within the university.
The #NotAgainSU organizers are now encouraging parents and alumni to call university administrators, using a script they published. They are also petitioning to “reinstate” the protesters who are temporarily suspended. Nearly 500 Syracuse faculty members, staff, alumni, and students have signed a conjoined statement opposing the suspensions:
“We vigorously oppose the university choosing the nuclear option of invoking and applying a disruption policy and suspending students. Suspending students, many of whom are students of color, does nothing to improve campus climate and promises of diversity, equity, and inclusion.”
In a “State of the Campus” address, released days before the occupation of Crouse-Hinds began, NotAgainSU wrote that the university “insists on ignoring the overarching systems in place that preserve, permit, and perpetuate such unacceptable behaviors, attitudes and actions.”
They claim that “far before” the string of incidents, “the administration upheld oppressive structures that supported- and even strengthened- the problematic conditions that prevail on and around our campus.”
“#NotAgainSU would like to emphasize that marginalized identities have always been privy to the hatred the corrosive and colonial culture on the indigenous land on which this campus was founded on and continues to occupy.”
Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @Justine_Brooke