Students participate in sit-in protest in Schine atrium

Students participate in sit-in protest in Schine

Suspension of SU's Theta Tau chapter and ensuing protests have garnered national attention.
Published: April 21, 2018

“Raise your hand if you’ve ever been discriminated against on this campus.”

Almost all of the students participating in the sit-in at Schine Student Center raised their hands. The student-organized sit-in was coordinated in response to the controversial video released showing members of the Syracuse University chapter of Theta Tau displaying deeply offensive behaviors. The contentious video, the university’s response and student-led protests made national headlines on April 18th.

The sit-in began just before 8 a.m., as the organizers taped fliers to the doors and walls of Schine Student Center. While holding signs and shouting chants, students also handed out flyers to prospective students and their parents who were visiting the campus for an admitted students reception.

student protest in Schine
Students gathered at the Schine Student Center early Friday morning.

Katherine Sotelo, one of the main organizers of the demonstration, said that the sit-in was just the first step toward making the community a kinder and safer place for everybody.

“Right now we have a list of three demands. We are asking for the expulsion of the students in the video with Theta Tau. We are asking for Theta Tau’s house to no longer be on the campus, and then to have a town hall meeting with Kent Syverud, the board of trustees, and the administration and deans on this campus,” Sotelo said.

Chancellor Kent Syverud addressed the students in Schine, apologizing for his absence at a forum held at Hendricks Chapel on Wednesday evening after the video was posted online.

“I see you and I hear you and I am deeply concerned,” said the Chancellor.

Sotelo and other speakers expressed their demands to Syverud and stated that the administration would have until 11:59 p.m. on Wednesday, April 25th to meet them.

Schine Student Center Protest - April 20, 2018
Chancellor Kent Syverud was present to address the students at the Schine Student Center atrium.

Among the SU students and faculty were some prospective students – orange totes in hand – who expressed their concerns about committing to SU.

“For me, as a prospective student coming into the spring reception and this is the first thing that I’m hit with, it’s frustrating. Even going downstairs to the auditorium I felt out of place, but seeing an event like this gives me hope that good things will come out of this,” said one prospective student.

In an effort to lead prospective students away from the demonstration, the check-in time was delayed and they were led by SU officials to their scheduled locations through different routes to avoid protesters, who walked across the quad and gathered in front of the Carrier Dome for the second half of their demonstration.

Following the sit-in, roughly 50 students and faculty gathered in the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs to discuss how these issues lend themselves to a larger conversation about discriminatory practices on campus.

Students expressed their concerns about the lack of counseling and safety resources for marginalized groups, conversations between domestic and international students and microaggressions in SU’s classrooms. Maxwell Dean David Van Slyke stressed the faculty’s desire to be educated by its students and stated that they would find a “mechanism to report bias in the classroom.”

Signs at sit-in

Syverud detailed a list of actions the university would be taking to promote an inclusive environment, he announced in a campus-wide email on Thursday. The measures constitute a university-wide push to expand training on inclusivity and implicit bias.

Apart from continuing to suspend all Theta Tau activities until further notice, the Chancellor announced a top down review of all SU Greek life policies, activities and culture starting this week. He added that all Greek and student organization leaders, members and advisors would be required to participate in implicit bias training and inclusivity training. Syverud also stated that the university would conduct a review of “appropriate training” for faculty and staff this summer.

Across all corners of the university, supporters of the movement made it clear that their main concern was the administration’s superficial solutions. Students referred to these actions, such as the implicit bias training, as “symbolic, band-aid gestures that fail to resolve the fundamental problems.”

Biko Mandela Gray, an assistant professor of religion in the College of Arts and Sciences, described Syverud’s reaction to the video and the sit-in as “predictable.”

“We aren’t the butt of jokes,” Gray said. “Students need to know that this country has a nasty, brutal violent past against minorities, that doesn’t get cleaned up by saying don’t say the “N” word or don’t say the “S” word—that’s where the work has to get done.”

Signs at Schine sit-in

One of the videos posted by The Daily Orange shows someone being asked to kneel down by another person and asked to repeat an “oath” containing racial slurs. The fraternity said in a statement that the act was part of a custom where the new members write and act out an elaborate skit to “roast the active brothers” that was “never intended to be centered around racism or hate.”

“I solemnly swear to always have hatred in my heart for n*ggers, sp*cs and most importantly the f*ckin’ k*kes,” one pledge said as the rest laughed.

In a formal apology posted on the fraternity’s website, they claimed that the controversial sketch was meant to be a roast of one of the brothers, who is said to be conservative and Republican. “It was a satirical sketch of an uneducated, racist, homophobic, misogynist, sexist, ableist and intolerant person,” reads the statement on the website, which was initially appeared to be taken down in the immediate aftermath of Chancellor Kent Syverud’s first announcement of their suspension on Wednesday.

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is a contributor to The NewsHouse.