Dear Students, Faculty, Staff and Families: The start of the spring semester is quickly approaching, and many in our community are working diligently to prepare for the return of our students and to safely resume in-person teaching and learning. We…
Confronting Anti-Black Racism in Our Community
Dear Members of the Syracuse University Community:
These last two weeks have revealed hard truths about ourselves, our institutions and our country. These are truths that Black Americans know all too well. Anti-Black racism has created economic disparity, health inequity, toxic environments in many schools and workplaces, and policing that has at times been unjust and, at its worst, deadly for Americans like George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and countless others. I am sickened by it. It is on all of us to end it.
These last two weeks have also given some signs of hope. I am inspired by the passion from protesters around the country, and in our own city. Their powerful message is simple—that the lives of our Black friends, neighbors, co-workers and strangers must matter. To all of us. We haven’t lived up to that basic ideal. We need to acknowledge where we have fallen short and where we must change. That work needs to happen at Syracuse University, and I want to share with you how we are moving forward to create meaningful and lasting change.
Public Safety Review
This summer, former U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch has begun an independent review of our Department of Public Safety (DPS). Ms. Lynch served under President Barack Obama and is respected for her work in the area of police-community relations. I have asked her to evaluate how DPS operates and what changes we need to make to protect all of our students, including our Black students, who report being treated differently than their white peers. We are asking the hard questions that universities and cities must grapple with. The answers may be difficult for some to hear. For example, how do we create a model where the focus is truly on public safety and not policing? Do we need to rethink how we train our officers? To what extent do DPS personnel need to be armed on campus? The review will include interviews with students, DPS personnel at all levels, University leadership and other members of our campus community. It will be fair and comprehensive. I expect it will lead to recommendations for significant change.
I am also directing the following immediate steps by our Department of Public Safety:
- freeze the hiring of five approved officers within DPS pending the independent review;
- form a Public Safety Citizen Review Board, composed of members of the Syracuse University community, to hear, review and recommend action to the chief of DPS regarding complaints made by University community members; and
- release and publicly post standard operating procedures for police conduct in the use of force, as previously requested by students.
Commitments to Change Our Campus
This summer, we continue to fulfill our campus commitments, making consistent progress to meet the expectations of all our students. In the last several months, we have achieved many milestones. They include an updated and approved Code of Student Conduct with new guidelines for perpetrators and bystanders of racist incidents and crimes; investing $5 million for scholarships and programs like the Higher Education Opportunity Program, Student Support Services and Our Time Has Come; increasing the Office of Student Living (OSL) budget by $500,000 for resident advisor diversity programming and hiring a new assistant director of diversity and inclusion within OSL; hiring new and diverse counselors at the Barnes Center; implementing mandatory diversity training for faculty and staff; requiring all first-year students to undergo a newly updated anti-racism and anti-Semitism training program; and allocating an additional $600,000 for volunteer programming in the City of Syracuse. There is more work to do. Not only are we committed to fulfilling our previously made promises, we plan to take this work even further.
In addition to our campus commitments, the Board of Trustees Special Committee on University Climate, Diversity and Inclusion continues its work that began in December. In recent months, hundreds of students, faculty and staff have engaged with this Special Committee and with the Independent Advisory Panel working on behalf of the Special Committee. Input from students will directly inform their recommendations. I anticipate their updates and preliminary recommendations to be delivered this summer.
As we take action, we need to be engaging with one another in difficult and critical conversations. This week, our Office of Diversity and Inclusion will be hosting a virtual discussion with renowned politician, commentator and attorney Bakari Sellers that will be open to members of our community. We will have an open conversation about racial inequality, institutional racism and how the killing of Black Americans has led our country to this moment of significant change.
In this unique time in our country’s history, we must look within ourselves and to one another to expect progress and action. We have an opportunity before us. Let’s resolve to make progress together.
Chancellor Kent Syverud