Syracuse University Offers $50,000 Reward for Information About Racist Incidents on Campus

Olivia Messer
REUTERS

Syracuse University has announced a $50,000 reward for information about the recent spate of at least 10 racist incidents on campus, including the Saturday night harassment of a black student by members of a fraternity who allegedly yelled the n-word at her as she waited for a bus.

“This report of an affront to our student’s—and our whole community’s—safety and well-being is the latest incident of several against Jews, Asians and African Americans,” Chancellor Kent Syverud said in a letter to students and staff on Sunday. “I am deeply angered by these events, including this latest incident.”

The racist incidents have also included a swastika, anti-Asian slurs, and the n-word found in residence halls and a physics building. Officials are also probing an incident where a student loudly yelled a racial slur against African-Americans, as well as another report of a racial epithet being used against a Chinese freshman.

Syverud apologized last week for the school’s slow response to some of the xenophobic graffiti—which first surfaced on Nov. 7—despite “personalized and immediate care” provided to residents who were “directly impacted” by the incident. Earlier this month, Gov. Andrew Cuomo ordered state agencies to investigate hate speech on the school’s campus.

The new $50,000 reward came from a “generous” donor and will be given “for evidence that leads to the apprehension of the individual or individuals responsible for these heinous acts,” said Syverud. Otherwise, anyone with relevant information about the spate of incidents has been asked to contact the university’s Department of Public Safety.

Since Saturday evening, DPS Chief Bobby Maldonado has “assembled substantial evidence, including security camera video, eyewitness accounts and interviews” about Saturday’s incident in coordination with the Syracuse Police Department, said Syverud. The perpetrators—who were reportedly identified as members of Alpha Chi Rho—will be held “appropriately accountable” to both the student code of conduct and the law, the chancellor added. 

“We are disgusted by the language and harassing behavior alleged of a handful of our members and guests of our chapter at Syracuse University,” Alpha Chi Rho’s national office told The New York Times in a statement. “The fraternity is working with the university to investigate and if confirmed will hold any members accountable.”

The fraternity was suspended. Early Sunday morning, Syverud also directed the Office of Fraternity and Sorority Affairs to suspend all social activities of fraternities on this campus for the remainder of the semester.

“While only one fraternity may have been involved in this particular incident, given recent history, all fraternities must come together with the university community to reflect upon how to prevent recurrence of such seriously troubling behavior,” he said.

Meanwhile, the university’s interfraternity council said its chapters would soon begin attending diversity training.

“There is no place for intolerance on our campus, and we will work with all proper authorities to ensure that this never happens again,” a statement to the Times said. “We extend our deepest condolences to those hurt by these intolerable actions, and we stand ready to support them however we can.”

Maldonado said the DPS has also added several measures on campus to improve student safety, including two new shuttles and increased officer presence.

“All students on this campus should feel welcomed, valued, and respected. Some of you do not feel that way now and some of you have not felt that way in the past, and this must change,” said Dean of Students Marianne Thompson on Sunday night.

Unfortunately, the spate of incidents this year are not new.

Fifteen students from the Theta Tau fraternity at Syracuse were suspended last year after a six-minute video showcased them expressing sentiments that were “racist, anti-Semitic, homophobic, sexist and hostile to people with disabilities,” according to a statement from Syverud at the time. The footage included a pledge “to always have hatred in my heart” for Jews, African-Americans, and Hispanics and used xenophobic slurs throughout.

“This kind of outraged everyone, because we have had incidents like Theta Tau happen before and nothing has happened since—no real change,” Avani Singh, a 19-year-old sophomore at the university, told the Times.

A movement led by black students, called #NotAgainSU, has risen in response to the incidents. They organized a boycott of Syracuse basketball games. Since last Wednesday at 10:30 a.m., dozens of students have staged a sit-in inside the university’s Barnes Center at the Arch—a brand-new $50-million recreational complex—while holding signs that read “Black Safety Matters.” The demonstrators vow to not end the demonstration until their demands—including the expulsion of students involved in what they’ve called the “November Hate Crimes”—are met. 

“NotAgainSU is a Black student-led movement that believes transparency from Syracuse University's administration is necessary. The safety of students on this campus—specifically the safety of underrepresented and underserved students—is paramount,” the group said Monday in a press release. “#NotAgainSU stands in solidarity with all groups and communities that identify with and for the movement.”

“I am a part of this movement because I believe in justice and I strongly believe that no person regardless of race, religion, creed, belief, or sexuality should feel unsafe on a campus that promises them safety and education,” a freshman said, according to the #NotAgainSU Instagram.

Another said: “I joined this movement because I feel like our voices finally need to be heard. I feel like changes need to be made here. All communities of color need to be represented here and we need to feel like we are loved and supported by our school. It’s time for change. It’s time for us to be heard.”

Local politicians including Syracuse Mayor Ben Walsh, State Senator Rachel May, and Assemblyman William B. Magnarelli have all reportedly visited the protesters to show their support.

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