University Senate endorses canceling classes for duration of week

University Senate endorses canceling classes for duration of week

Early this morning, Provost Michele Wheatly says SU will remain open but gives faculty and students "broad discretion" about attending classes.
Published: November 19, 2019 | Updated: November 21st, 2019 at 11:45 am
Syracuse University’s Chief Diversity Officer Keith Alford explains what happened from his perspective regarding the claims that students were told not to post anything about the racist graffiti during a senate faculty meeting on Nov. 20, 2019.
SU Chief Diversity Officer Keith Alford explains what happened from his perspective regarding the claims that students were told not to post anything about the recent racist graffiti during Wednesday's University Senate meeting.

Students and faculty flooded the Maxwell Auditorium Wednesday afternoon, spilling out into the lobby to hear Chancellor Kent Syverud, Provost Michele Wheatly and community members’ statements on the recent hate crimes on campus. There was a roar of applause when the University Senate finally voted in favor of canceling classes.

At 1:15 this morning, Wheatly said in a campus-wide email that SU would remain open Thursday and Friday in order to avoid adding days at the end of the semester but gave professors and students “broad discretion” about attending classes.

“Any student who feels unsafe going to class should not go to class,” Wheatly’s email stated. “They can make that decision knowing that all absences are excused and no penalty will be applied.”

Wednesday’s nearly two-hour senate meeting opened with a statement from Marcelle Haddix, a professor in the School of Education, who said she is concerned about the safety and well-being of students, as well as their trust in university leadership.

“I operate in life intentionally, purposefully, unapologetically and unafraid,” Haddix said.

She referenced the previous Theta Tau incident in the spring of 2018, and implored to the audience and administration that they remember and learn from prior missteps. A students chant “Not Again SU,” Haddix implored her colleagues: “Not again Senate.”

Syverud spoke next with his own statement, emphasizing his commitment to the students’ well-being, addressing the “bigotry in our midst,” and detailing the known incidents.

The multiple cases of racist graffiti that have been discovered since Nov. 7 are being investigated by nine officers from two police agencies — the Department of Public Safety and the Syracuse Police Department. From the investigations so far, he said, there seem to be one to five students who are responsible.

Syverud also addressed the College Place incident which occurred late in the evening on Nov. 16, which involved four SU students who were members of Alpha Chi Rho fraternity, as well as their guests who were visiting for the weekend.

The group verbally harassed an African-American student with racist slurs, and in response, the university suspended the associated fraternity indefinitely as well as the activities of all recognized fraternities on campus for the duration of the semester.

In addition, the four SU students were subsequently suspended from school and are no longer attending classes and are not present on campus for the remainder of the semester, Syverud said. The other students involved, which brought the group total to 14, were reported to their respective university administrations. One of the students who was found to be the most aggressive attended Rutgers University, he said.

On Monday around 11:30 p.m., a shooting manifesto was posted to an online forum on a website called Greek Rank, which is typically used to rate Greek organizations on college campuses.

Syverud also addressed that post, which contained Neo-Nazi symbolism, saying the reports “sparked immediate fear.” He acknowledged the failure of the administration to communicate information quickly and clearly in order to ease panic.

“This is not what Syracuse is at it’s best,” he said.

Chancellor Kent Syverud thumbs through his paperwork during a senate faculty meeting on Nov. 20, 2019.
SU Chancellor Kent Syverud thumbs through his paperwork during Wednesday's University Senate meeting.

Wheatly, who followed Syverud’s statement, said the hate crimes on campus are “antithetical” to the school’s values and asked faculty to provide academic accommodations when possible. In addition, she asked that students who chose to return home early for break not be penalized for their absences.

“What I’m asking you to do today is to take action,” she said, addressing the audience.

Wheatly said the SEM 100 course, which is required for first-year students to take, is being revised because the current curriculum does not address the students’ needs and concerns.

With the sudden, heightened emergence of racial-based hate over the years, she said, this situation is urgent and calls for “extraordinary measures.” As educators, she said, it is their responsibility to take extra steps to address such issues.

At the forum, a list of revisions of the course was listed on the screen, which included a stronger curriculum, improved hiring selections, more in-depth facilitator training and more.

When the forum opened to public comments and questions, Remembrance Scholar Alex Rouhandeh spoke on behalf of the scholars. He said they have vowed to educate the community about acts of terrorism, adding that the hate crimes on campus have terrorized students. Students, he said, are sharing their pain publicly in order to demonstrate how the university has failed them. They came here to learn, not educate the administration.

“They have exemplified the university’s mission,” he said, “now the university needs to prove it does, too.”

Student Tayla Myree, an active member of the #NotAgainSU movement, said she has slept in the Barnes Center for five of the seven days the sit-in has occurred. In reference to the university’s direct response to students’ demands, which Syveryd published in an email Tuesday, she said it lacks clarity about specific actions the university will take.

She called the student activists’ work “free labor,” saying that it’s frustrating that the responsibility has fallen on the shoulders of students and not administration members who have been hired to take on these tasks.

She said the students lack confidence in the administration. In addition, she said suspending Greek life activities not only demonizes that community but also minimizes the problem at hand.

Rosa Calosso, a graduate student in the School of Education who said she feels unsafe on campus, echoed the same sentiments as Myree, saying it’s not a Greek life issue.

“It’s racism,” she said. “It’s institutional racism.”

People can’t unlearn racism because it’s a personal belief, she said, which can’t be fixed with the change of one seminar class because it’s ingrained.

SU faculty members and students packed Maxwell Auditorium on Wednesday for a University Senate meeting to discuss recent campus controversies.
SU faculty members and students packed Maxwell Auditorium on Wednesday for a University Senate meeting to discuss recent campus controversies.

Other faculty members spoke out among the students in support of #NotAgainSU, noting trends in the administration seemingly covering up previous acts of racism or hatred on campus, calling for transparency and institutional change.

Bea Gonzalez, the vice president of community engagement, said she has worked for 35 years on diversity and inclusion issues on SU’s campus, and that this effort by her and other faculty members cannot be “thrown out.”

Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer Keith Alford said that this week has been “trying.” He’s lost sleep, he said, but rightly so because he is committed to helping students. While changes have been made in the past, things still have a long way to go, he said, which requires everyone to have a seat at the table.

“We can do this,” he said, “But I also know that we really unpack everything that we are saying, thinking and doing.”

In response to Syverud’s continuous references to the activists as “Barnes Center Students,” Myree said: “We are not the ‘Barnes Center Students,’ we are #NotAgainSU.”