Syverud rescinds suspensions of student protestors
Suspensions dropped as protestors finally receive provisions
Three days into the #NotAgainSU occupation of Crouse-Hinds Hall, SU Chancellor Kent Syverud finally addressed the latest series of student protests.
Speaking to the University Senate on Wednesday afternoon, Syverud said he had lifted the suspensions of the 23 students staging a sit-in for the second time in three months.
The chancellor’s announcement came only hours after faculty were allowed to arrange for donations of food and personal supplies to be delivered to students who have been camped out in the Crouse-Hinds lobby since Monday afternoon.
Throughout Wednesday, small groups of supporters maintained a show of support in the sometimes snowy conditions outside the building. The quieter day was in contrast to Tuesday when tensions between students and Department of Public Safety officers stationed at Crouse-Hinds flared up.
SU administrators and protestors could not reach an agreement on ending the sit-in Tuesday night, which resulted in the students remaining in the building for a second night.
The latest sit-in began Monday at the start of a popular week for prospective students to visit with families and protestors faced interim suspensions for staying overnight in the building. When protestors refused to leave, DPS officers refused to allow anyone else inside the building and denied food and supplies attempting to be delivered to the students inside.
Hoards of students, staff and faculty crowded in to the Maxwell Auditorium at 4 p.m. with signs that said “lift their suspension” to hear Chancellor Kent Syverud’s first public remarks in a University Senate meeting regarding the Crouse-Hinds occupation by #NotAgainSU.
His response: the students’ suspensions are lifted.
“I am not going to let students be arrested and forced out of Crouse-Hinds Hall,” he said.
He acknowledged the anger of the protesting students about perpetrators of the racial bias crimes not being punished or found.
But, the chancellor said, some of them have been found and punished, although, due to privacy rules, the university cannot reveal their identity or what has happened to them. He added that he believes that there are more perpetrators still in the community.
He also said he has made arrangements for the students protesting in Crouse-Hinds to be able to remain in the space to protest and receive necessities like food.
“We cannot move forward unless we start with compassion,” he said.
In what Marcelle Haddix, a dean’s associate professor, called a “tumultuous time” in history, Syverud called for the Syracuse University community to take a deep breath and a step back.
Additionally, the chancellor reiterated a commitment to changing the SEM 100 course, a class all incoming students would be required to take that would involve discussions of diversity and inclusion.
In an open Q&A with the forum’s audience, Associate Professor Crystal Bartolovich asked about free speech policies on universities’ campuses and the cause of the students’ suspension, to which Syverud replied that it was due to fire code.
Syverud continued to say that fire code and safety were the reasons students violated the code of conduct and received interim suspensions. One student, who identified themselves as Romo, said that was ironic, because the students in Crouse-Hinds don’t feel – and haven’t felt – safe at all. They are starving, sick and without basic necessities, the student said.
“The fact that we are using safety is a complete oxymoron here,” the student said.
Biko Gray, an assistant professor of religion, said historically, black people were disruptive. He gave examples of protests and moments that changed history, saying they were disruptive – but necessary – events.
In addition, he asked why the university can’t find and punish the people responsible for the racial bias incidents, but they can find the students protesting in the name of ethics. He said he received a phone call from one of his students inside of Crouse-Hinds the night before.
“Those are my babies in there,” he said, choking up and wiping his eyes.
The term “disruption,” Syverud said, comes from the language used in university’s code of conduct.
Eileen Schell, a professor of writing and rhetoric who created a Google document petition in favor of rescinding the suspensions of the student protestors, offered up the petition as an example of the university’s commitment to never allowing this situation to happen again.
“As a faculty member of 21 years I have never seen anything like this,” she said.
The proof of commitment to change from the university, she said, comes from listening to critique, supporting the students’ peaceful protests and working together to negotiate solutions and come up with ideas for change.
She offered the petition, with 487 names of students, faculty and staff, as an indication of the community’s desire “to never have this happen again.”
“You cannot undo the damage that has happened,” she said.
At the end of the University Senate forum, a group of graduate students took the podium, linking arms, and read aloud a statement they crafted in solidarity with #NotAgainSU. They said they can “no longer stand by” while the university’s administration “targets” student activists. They promised to without labor until the suspensions of the students had been lifted and noted in writing. Until then, they would not work as staff members.
After their statement, two members of the senate took the podium and proposed a Sense of Senate Resolution statement, which included statements of solidarity with #NotAgainSU and a call to action targeted at the administration.
There were debates over amendments – that food should be unconditionally delivered, faculty allowed to advise students and the building open during regular business hours – specifically about whether or not food was withheld from students.
Sarah Scalese, associate vice president for SU, addressed the students’ claims that there was no food, and said that they had provided food but that it was declined by protestors. Students clarified that the food was offered conditionally if the protestors would meet and negotiate with administrative officials.
After voting on the resolution – which passed with 63% approval – a student supporter of #NotAgainSU called for attention because she had a student inside Crouse-Hinds on the phone.
The student on the phone said that none of them had received rescindance letters regarding their suspensions and that DPS used surveillance footage to identify students at the sit-in and that they had never been asked to identify themselves, like Rob Hradsky, the associate vice president for the student experience, had originally claimed.
“We were suspended before any people were suspended for hate crimes,” the student said over the phone.
The student addressed the chancellor, saying, “You cannot run from what you’ve done to us.”
On Wednesday afternoon, SU faculty and staffers were invited to help deliver food and supplies to about 20 #NotAgainSU student protestors during their third day of occupying the lobby of Crouse-Hinds Hall.
The move marked a change from the previous two days in which efforts to get food and other items to protestors inside were denied by Department of Public Safety officers guarding doors. By Wednesday morning several bags had piled up outside the building entrances.
Initially, there was confusion on whether one or two bags per student would be allowed and if they were labeled with a student’s name put them at risk for suspension. Also, graduate student organizers asked that tenured professors volunteer in case there was any retaliation from SU.
Once the concerns were settled, organizers began sorting food, clothes, medicine, tissues, feminine hygiene products, Lysol and other personal items into The Lender Center for Social Justice bags.
At 2:30, about a dozen faculty members carried bags and wheeled bins down Waverley Avenue to make the delivery to Crouse-Hinds. They met with a pair of SU officials who handed off a large rolling bin with donations that would need to be sorted back a block away.
The SU officials told the faculty they were trying to avoid supporters outside trying to rush the entrances as had happened on Tuesday when a physical altercation between DPS associate chief John Sardino John Sardino and protestors that was captured on video. Also, DPS officers had been seen searching through bags and disposing of food items that were not allowed.
Pam Peters, director of Fraternity and Sorority Affairs who was bringing donations inside Crouse-Hinds said there would be no inspections today.
“I just rolled the cart in and said ‘Here, take your stuff,’” Peters said.
As the #NotAgainSU sit-in launched this week, petitions supporting the protestors have circulated online. Following are the signature counts for each as of 3:30 p.m. Wednesday:
Change.org: 4,512 signatures
Syracuse University faculty and community: 497 signatures
Graduate strike call to action: 111 signatures
A crowd of supporters swelled outside Crouse-Hinds Hall Tuesday night as #NotAgainSU protestors staged a sit-in, leading to chanting, tense interactions and efforts to stay in contact with the 20 students who remained inside the building.