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Chancellor Syverud Addresses University Senate
Chancellor Kent Syverud’s University Senate remarks addressed recent acts of hate speech affecting the Syracuse University community. These remarks were delivered on Nov. 20, 2019, at Maxwell Auditorium.
Thank you, Professor Haddix.
I want to address the immediate issue for our university right now that Professor Haddix identified, which is student welfare, as well as the bigger issue she also identified, which is the bigotry in our midst.
Over the past 13 days, our community has endured the ugliest of hatred based on race, national origin and religion.
Very briefly to summarize the current facts as I know them:
Primarily, we have faced three different kinds of hate:
- Public racist graffiti and vandalism
- The verbal assault of a member of our community
- And an alleged internet attack
Each of these are different in nature. Each has called for a different response. And each has had painful impact on individuals and our community.
First: What we know today about the racist graffiti and vandalism.
To date, there have been 12 cases of racist and anti-Semitic graffiti found on or adjacent to our campus. From my conversations with Department of Public Safety (DPS) Chief Bobby Maldonado from earlier today the indications are that there are between one to five members of our community perpetuating this hate speech in our buildings and on our walls. You’ve heard our outreach for people to come forward with information. Nine officers from two police agencies—the Department of Public Safety and the Syracuse Police Department—are working more than full time to identify those responsible. A generous donor stepped forward to offer $50,000 in reward money for information on these incidents. Since we first announced this reward, others have come forward to offer additional funds to encourage our community to report any facts that could bring this person or persons to justice.
On College Place on Saturday night, there was a verbal assault, which was directed at one of our female African American students. The incident involved 14 people leaving an Alpha Chi Rho fraternity party. Four of them are students at Syracuse University, nine are students at other schools, all of which are outside Central New York. Before dawn on Sunday, after all night investigation, we suspended all activities for Alpha Chi Rho fraternity and all social activities for all fraternities for the rest of the semester. Our four Syracuse University students are now on interim suspension. They are not on our campus and they are not participating in classes. The 10 people who are not our students have all been referred for appropriate discipline, including at the schools they attend. The student who was reported to be the most aggressive in this incident is affiliated with Rutgers University. The entire case has also been referred to the Onondaga County District Attorney. The New York State Police’s Hate Crimes Task Force has been partnering with us and we’re working with the New York State Division of Human Rights on this matter.
Finally, Monday’s internet attack. At 11:35 p.m., there were reports of students in Bird Library receiving a white supremacist document via AirDrop. AirDrop—indicates the danger is in close proximity. Those reports sparked immediate fear and a firestorm of social media communication, which frankly, our team was not prepared to handle adequately in the middle of the night. As a result, this information generated incredible chaos and concern. To date, law enforcement has not been able to locate a single individual who directly received an AirDrop. Not one. It was apparent that this rumor was probably a hoax, but that reality was not communicated clearly and rapidly enough to get ahead of escalating anxiety.
That is part of the current situation. These incidents have caused students rightly to be afraid. These incidents have caused students to step up to work on these issues at a crucial time in their academic studies. We need to make sure that these students do not lose their semester because of these events. I am requesting the Provost, the deans and the faculty to make consistent and humane adjustments in academic rules and schedules so that all of our affected students can continue on course in their education and complete this semester.
These incidents highlight both an immediate challenge to our institution and its values and a long term need to dramatically do more. That need to do much more is, in my view, a fact.
We are at a time in this nation when we risk it becoming an acceptable leadership style to ignore facts, to insult and attack those with whom we disagree, to refuse ever to admit error, and most of all to evade responsibility. That’s not who I am or how I was raised.
I have heard from and listened to many, many students and their families, not just in the past 10 days or 13 days, but also before. I have heard from our faculty and staff. They are in pain because they are afraid of being targeted because of race or religion. They have asked me whether I can ever understand how miserable and unacceptable that is.
I do understand it.
I spent six years of my life publicly fighting to permit affirmative action in higher education admission based on race, leading to the Supreme Court’s decision.
I did this while raising a mixed race family in the South. My kids were threatened, my wife was subjected to many racial epithets, our car tires were slashed, and my kid’s dog was shot. There was little investigation and those responsible were never found. That was then, that was the South, and it was hard for my wife. It was hard for my kids.
But this is Syracuse. This is 2019. I do not accept this hatred here and now. This is not who Syracuse is, at its best, and it is not who we can let ourselves become. We just cannot let our students of color, our Jewish students, or our Asian students—or any of our students or faculty and staff—be afraid on this campus because of who they are.
There are things that have not been handled well enough during this series of recent events. First, the first instances of graffiti were not communicated well enough. Second, the AirDrop hoax took place in the middle of the night and we did not have a team in place who could deal with it effectively. We now have such a team ready at all times, and we already have started more properly communicating about hateful incidents such as threatening graffiti.
We have learned a lot from these incidents at this University, but not enough yet. We have learned a lot from our students in the Barnes Center and our international students and our Jewish students, but we have not learned or done enough yet. I want to be clear: I think we all will be judges, as will I, not on what these hateful people do to us, but in how we respond to it.
I also warn all of us that we need to be careful and graceful in how we respond if we do not want to be controlled by the hateful people committing these acts. In the hundreds of conversations I have been having, I have been urged, among other things, to immediately install security cameras in every bathroom stall on campus. I’ve been urged to ensure that the University will systematically read the email and social media of every student and faculty member. I have also been very angrily told that I cannot and should not hold a fraternity accountable for the action of a few of its members, and I cannot and should not ask all fraternities to learn from and help take responsibility for the action of one fraternity. I disagree. I believe the work we need to do now and every day in the future is going to be hard, but not impossible. I do believe that Syracuse University will do it.
Senators, this will take your hard work too, and your counsel. Thank you.
And now I want to listen and answer questions.