Syracuse University students frustrated over response to slurs in Day Hall

Students angry over administration's response to racist slurs

Several who attended Tuesday's open forum by the Residence Hall Association say they are unsatisfied.
Published: November 12, 2019
Residence Hall Association Open forum on Nov. 12, 2019

Syracuse University students and faculty members packed Gifford Auditorium Tuesday night to air their grievances concerning the way the university administration has handled the racist vandalism found in Day Hall last week.

While outlining the incident and the university’s response, Residence Hall Association president Sadia Ahmed clarified that the vandalism on the fourth floor was found on a public bulletin board, which had not previously been released to the public.

The open forum also allowed school officials reviewing the case to introduce themselves including SU Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer Keith Alford.

“Let me first start off by saying I was outraged,” Alford said, adding his commitment to changing the culture and praised the commitment of the students who showed up to express their concerns.

Ahmed then opened the floor to the students for comments. This segment was intended to be capped at 15 minutes. However, students in the audience protested for more time.

Students also expressed their frustration with Chancellor Kent Syverud’s absence. The audience began chanting “We want Kent,” only stopping when Alford remarked, “I want him, too,” and explained the Chancellor was out of town and is expected to return Wednesday.

For the next hour, students and a few faculty members addressed the administrators with their grievances surrounding the issue and their own experiences with racism on campus.

In a passionate speech, freshman Aicha Sacko turned to the audience and asked her peers to raise their hands if they feel unsafe at SU. A vast majority of the room raised their hands in a poignant display of how these reoccurring racial incidents have affected student life.

Residence Hall Association Open forum on Nov. 12, 2019
"I don't feel safe. Raise your hand if you don't feel safe," said Sacko.

“As the only black woman on my floor, you guys have not shown me that you care about my safety,” Sacko said. “We constantly come to you to confide in you, and you guys have not shown that you care about our safety.”

Sacko then addressed Department of Public Safety chief Bobby Maldonado directly and recalled a conversation she had with him about his commitment to helping minority communities. Sacko implored him to treat these hate crimes the same way DPS handles burglaries or assaults.

Typically, when those crimes are reported on campus, DPS issues an email warning to the campus community. Several students at the forum requested DPS send these warnings when racially motivated incidents occur, too, as they are a threat to their personal safety.

“We are pledging that tomorrow we are going to go to the Chancellor and ask that communication come out immediately in the future,” SU Student Experience vice president Robert Hradsky responded.

Students also questioned why the university has not classified this event as a hate crime. Maldonado explained that there are certain criteria under New York law that classify a hate crime, to which someone in the audience yelled, “We feel hated.”

Lynnessa Joyner, an administrative specialist in Career Services, took the mic on behalf of students who she says have come to her crying as a result of feeling hated in the Syracuse community. She challenged every student in the audience to come up with solutions the administration could not ignore.

“I suggest you go back to your rooms, your dorms, your places of residence, and start writing down some ideas about what you think can happen here that can facilitate the change,” Joyner said. “I am not talking about being mad, anger only makes us clouded.”

Through the end of the forum, people discussed potential solutions to issues raised, including moving support services offices to more centralized locations, a complete overhaul of the curriculum for the SEM 100 freshman reading experience, and for representation in the administration to match the diversity of the campus.

The forum ran over by about 30 minutes, but students were still unsatisfied with the extent of the discussion. Ahmed stated that the room had to be cleared out but individual students could continue the conversation with her in the hallway directly after the forum.