Tensions are high at the private university in Upstate New York after more than a dozen incidents were reported this month, including offensive graffiti, racial slurs shouted at students, a threatening anti-Semitic email sent to a professor and a white-supremacist missive that appeared on campus. Law enforcement agencies are patrolling campus, and some classes were canceled this week ahead of the school’s Thanksgiving break.
“Any student who feels unsafe going to class should not go to class,” Michele G. Wheatly, vice chancellor and provost, announced Thursday. “They can make that decision knowing that all absences are excused and no penalty will be applied.”
As authorities investigated the new episodes of racist graffiti, the city police arrested a Syracuse University student who allegedly scrawled graffiti supporting protests demanding changes following the racist and anti-Semitic incidents.
Kym McGowan, 18, was charged with criminal mischief and making graffiti in connection with markings that appeared in and around the Irving Garage and Bird Library on campus, according to Syracuse Police Department spokesman Sgt. Matthew Malinowski. The charges are misdemeanors.
In an emailed response to a request for comment, McGowan asked why her name had been released and those of students who hurled a slur had not. “I find it to be very telling that my name has been released, while the names of the several students who verbally harassed an African American student and yelled slurs at her have gone unreleased,” McGowan wrote.
Four students were suspended by the university following an incident in which a large group of people, some of whom were enrolled at other universities, yelled a racial slur at a black student. The fraternity the Syracuse students belong to was suspended. Universities typically do not identify students who have been disciplined, citing federal student privacy laws. But police departments usually make public the names of those facing charges.
Four students were suspended following an incident in which a large group of people, some of whom were enrolled at other universities, yelled a racial slur at a black student. The fraternity the Syracuse students belong to was suspended.
The racist and anti-Semitic episodes have sparked student protests. The school’s chancellor announced Thursday he had agreed to 19 demands presented by two student groups. Students posting messages on social media tagged #NotAgainSU have been occupying a campus building for a week. Student demands included requiring diversity training for faculty and staff and strengthening the school’s anti-harassment policy to make clear that targeted hate speech is unacceptable.
“In response to real concerns raised by members of our community, the leadership team and I have worked in good faith — to support the thoughtful, forward-thinking and constructive solutions offered by many of our students,” Chancellor Kent D. Syverud announced Thursday.
Later Thursday, the chancellor announced that he had met with a group of Jewish students and agreed to recommendations including ensuring that all public-safety cameras were in working order, and improving communications about bias incidents on campus.
“Those students have been working diligently to try to get his attention,” said Genevieve García de Müeller, an assistant professor at Syracuse. “It took much longer than needed to listen to them.”
García de Müeller was frustrated by school officials’ response when she received an anonymous email this week with an anti-Semitic slur and a message to “get in the oven where you belong.”
“I was immediately afraid for my family,” García de Müeller said. “It felt like a very real physical threat to me.”
She is Mexican American and Jewish, and because she does not think most people know her religion, she found the message even more unsettling, suspecting it must have been sent by someone who knows her. She said university police advised her to avoid campus.
“I really do think that Syracuse University hasn’t handled this correctly or taken these attacks very seriously,” she said.
Ramesh Raina, chairman of the biology department and immediate past president of the University Senate, said the chancellor spoke at Wednesday’s Senate meeting, which was tense because of concerns about the situation. He said Syverud has been doing a good job under difficult circumstances and has been committed to diversity on campus from the beginning of his tenure. “I think at the end, he did everything in his power to address the students’ concerns,” Raina said.
On Wednesday evening, protesters groaned, booed and walked out while Syverud spoke about students’ demands and safety concerns.
“I don’t think racism on this campus will ever be solved completely,” Syverud said at a campus chapel. “I think it’s going to require a culture that constantly works on it every day, every year and that demands that of everybody who works here and comes here. And I’m committed, and I think that’s the spirit of what we were asked to do with these demands.”
Svrluga reported from Washington.