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A spate of racist incidents, including graffiti, verbal harassment, and a threatening email, have upended campus life at Syracuse University over the last two weeks and triggered student-led protests demanding officials at the New York state school step down or make changes.
Four students have now been suspended in connection with an incident last weekend where a group of students, including members of a fraternity, called a black female student the n-word as she walked by.
Earlier this week, a faculty member also received a threatening, anti-Semitic email, which the FBI is looking into. School administrators were also informed that the white nationalist manifesto written by the New Zealand mosque shooter had been uploaded to an Greek life forum online. There were even rumors that students were receiving the screed via AirDrop to their phones, but university officials have since dismissed those claims as a “hoax.”
"The entire case has also been referred to the Onondaga County District Attorney," University Chancellor Kent Syverud told the university's senate on Thursday. "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."
In addition to the graffiti, a swastika was also found drawn into a snowbank near a student dorm. University officials received about a dozen reports of racist graffiti in total. The surge in racist activity rattled the nearly 15,000-strong student body: Some students became afraid to leave their dorms and asked their parents if they could come home, according to the New York Times. Some professors even canceled class.
Students have accused the university of having a lackluster response to the alarming uptick in racism and hate speech on campus, which started November 7, when anti-black and anti-Asian graffiti started appearing in residence halls. Rather than addressing racism head-on and investing in programs to fight it, students said school officials have, instead, tried to assuage their fears by telling them there was an “ongoing investigation.”
Starting last week, black students led a seven-day sit-in protest, occupying a campus building with the hashtag #NotAgainSU.
On Wednesday evening, Syverud held a forum to discuss the list of demands compiled by student activists this week on behalf of the wider community. They want a clearer policy against hate speech, an allocation of $1 million toward revamping the curriculum to address racism, and revised housing policies.
Syverud told students he couldn’t sign all of their demands at that moment, which caused dozens to walk out, chanting “sign or resign.”
By Thursday morning, he’d signed their 19 demands, with minor revisions to three of them.
So far there have been no arrests in connection to the racist graffiti. But on Thursday morning, Syracuse Police arrested an individual in connection with graffiti on campus that was supporting the anti-racism protests and charged them with criminal mischief in the fourth degree and making graffiti, both misdemeanors.
Students weren’t the only ones accusing Syracuse University's administrators for inadequately responding to the spate of racism across campus. Earlier this week, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo called on Syracuse’s board of trustees to bring in an independent monitor to investigate the crisis.
“They have not been handled in a manner that reflects this state’s aggressive opposition to such odious, reckless, reprehensible behavior,” Cuomo said. “That these actions should happen on the campus of a leading New York university makes this situation even worse.
Cover image: General view of the Syracuse Orange logo outside of the Iocolano-Petty Football Complex Saturday, Sept., 17, 2016. (Cal Sport Media via AP Images)