Several students who spoke to The Washington Post on Tuesday described feeling terrified after the latest incidents, which they say continue to escalate at the Upstate New York university.
Jenna Swetland, a Syracuse freshman who is Asian, said the activity on campus has left her feeling unsettled. The earliest reported issues were racist graffiti with anti-Asian messages and slurs against African Americans.
“It went from vandalism to students of color actively being harassed,” Swetland told The Post. “It’s getting worse.”
Since Nov. 7, when racist scrawls were discovered in dormitory bathrooms and hallways, the campus of nearly 23,000 students has been shaken by at least 10 more hate-fueled episodes. From a swastika carved into a snow bank outside an academic building to allegations of epithets hurled at people of color, the aggression has become more frequent and more personal in recent days. The incidents have drawn national attention and spurred sit-ins, protests and intervention from the state’s top elected officials.
Freshman Dumebi Ebemor said Tuesday that university officials had not canceled classes after the distribution of the manifesto, which Syracuse police later said appears to be identical to the white supremacist manifesto shared by the gunman in the Christchurch massacre in New Zealand.
The racist screed was sent to students in the university’s Bird Library via the Apple file-sharing feature AirDrop. Images reviewed by The Post show that the document was also posted on an online forum, with the message: “We must secure the existence of our people a future for white children.”
“You want to ask me if I feel safe? I haven’t left my dorm [today] — and I’m not the only one,” a shaken Ebemor told The Post. Ebemor, who is black, expressed incredulity that the school expects students to feel safe walking around campus amid the recent threats. She noted Tuesday that all but one of her professors canceled classes.
In response to the manifesto, Syracuse University’s Department of Public Safety announced that it would double patrols, place more squad cars around campus, and increase the police presence at residence halls and campus buildings.
New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo (D) denounced the hate incidents at the school, while also issuing a broadside to university leadership in a statement Tuesday.
“[The incidents] have not been handled in a manner that reflects this state’s aggressive opposition to such odious, reckless, reprehensible behavior. That these actions should happen on the campus of a leading New York university makes this situation even worse,” Cuomo said. “Despite his efforts, I do not believe Chancellor Syverud has handled this matter in a way that instills confidence.”
Cuomo called for the board of trustees at the private university to bring in an outside monitor to investigate the incidents and recommend a strategy to address them. In the meantime, Cuomo said he has ordered the state’s hate-crimes task force to expand its existing investigations to include the white supremacist manifesto.
Syracuse Police Chief Kenton Buckner, whose officers are handling the investigation, defended Syracuse Chancellor Kent Syverud at a Tuesday news conference.
“The chancellor could not have done more,” Buckner said. “You don’t fix something like this overnight; the kids up there protesting are not there because of a[n] incident. You can’t put this on the back of one person.”
The university did not address Cuomo’s criticism directly, but it issued a message to students and staff Tuesday that included a chart detailing how the university planned to address concerns raised by student protesters, who have staged a sit-in at Barnes Center, a campus hub, since last week.
“As Chancellor, I take very seriously these immediate priorities, and commit to promptly achieving them, as well as to supporting the other important measures in the responses,” Syverud said in the message.
Over the weekend, Syverud suspended all social activities for fraternities after reports that fraternity members yelled a racial slur at an African American student at a campus bus stop Saturday night.
In an email notice to students after the Saturday incident, Syverud said university police had identified the suspects through surveillance video, eyewitness accounts and interviews. He pledged they would be held “appropriately accountable.”
Campus police said the African American student reported being “verbally harassed by a large group of individuals” and said they shouted the n-word at her as she walked by. Syverud said the suspects were determined to be members of a campus fraternity that was later suspended pending an investigation.
Syverud said a $50,000 reward funded by a “generous university donor” was being offered to anyone with evidence leading to suspects responsible for the instances of racist vandalism. Syracuse police are investigating the manifesto and the snow-drawn swastika.
The campus has experienced a spate of racial bias incidents since early November.
Incidents previously reported to school authorities include anti-Asian language and anti-black slurs written in a residence hall bathroom. University officials did not issue a response to the graffiti until the student paper publicized the incident in a report last week. Campus police followed with an alert several days later.
The other incidents are not linked to fraternities, and no suspects have been identified.
Student activists have given administrators a Nov. 20 deadline to respond to a list of demands that include calls for greater speed and transparency in the university’s response to bias incidents and more financial and institutional support for students of color at the school.
Swetland was one of several students who expressed to The Post a sense that they must assume the burden of figuring out how to make the campus safe for them.
“Ultimately, it shouldn’t be up to us to craft an appropriate response to racialized incidents,” Swetland said.
A sophomore who spoke on the condition of anonymity out of concern for her privacy and safety told The Post via email Tuesday that instances of racism and harassment of minority students on campus are hardly isolated to the incidents of the past few weeks.
“I wasn’t surprised because it has been sort of ingrained in the Syracuse culture here. Many of us minority students have heard a slur used against us, but it’s not always reported, or when it is reported, nothing gets done,” the student said. “It’s come to the point where we don’t feel safe anymore and we want to go home. I’m from Syracuse so this basically is my home.”
Reis Thebault contributed to this report.