SYRACUSE, New York—Anger over a string of racist and anti-Semitic incidents at Syracuse University reached fever pitch late Wednesday night when student activists insisting the school agree to a list of demands stormed out of a forum with the chancellor, shouting “Sign or resign!”
Hours later, in what may be a turning point for the discord that has gripped the upstate New York campus, Chancellor Kent Syverud made his choice. The university announced early Thursday that it had agreed to nearly all the conditions submitted by #NotAgainSU, the black-led protest group, and international students. He will be meeting with Jewish students to discuss their demands.
The potential breakthrough comes after a dozen of graffiti or harassment—the latest a vile anti-Semitic threat to a faculty member—that fueled student sit-ins, got fraternities suspended, prompted Gov. Andrew Cuomo to blast administrators, and sent some students fleeing a campus they felt was no longer safe.
Authorities announced a 13th incident on Thursday, and a subsequent arrest, after racist graffiti with slurs against black people, Native Americans, and Asians was discovered on campus a day earlier.
The tension came to a head at the Wednesday night forum where Syverud faced off with hundreds of students at the Hendricks Chapel.
“We will not be silenced,” announced Jett Cloud, one of the #NotAgainSU leaders. “And we will not allow the administration to pacify us without the full endorsement of our demands in the exact language they were presented in. We fully reject the chancellor’s response to our demands.”
“All power to the students,” Cloud added, raising a clenched fist into the air.
The raucous crowd at in the chapel, which appeared to be pushing its 1,000-person capacity, responded with an extended standing ovation and chants of “Sign or resign!”
The audience provided loud applause when Syverud was asked to respond. A nervous hush fell over the building when he was given a microphone. He spoke with the calculated hesitance of the lawyer he has been for decades, carefully crafting his words.
“If the question is, ‘Can I produce agreement to every word this instant?’ the answer is I cannot,” Syverud responded to immediate jeers. “If the answer is, ‘I’m going to go back and look at them based on what I hear tonight,’ the answer is yes.”
Protest leaders immediately stood up and exited the building, followed by about three-fourths of the audience. Although it appeared spontaneous, The Daily Beast has learned the walkout was planned in advance.
The protesters headed to Syverud’s home. Law-enforcement officials were forced to close the unlit street facing the house when hundreds of frustrated students descended upon it, still chanting “Sign or resign!” The group spilled around parked cars, cycling through chants supporting students of various ethnicities and declaring, “You can’t stop the revolution!”
Students settled on chanting “Occupy Barnes,” referring to the recreation center co-opted as the movement’s headquarters, and the evening’s protests returned to where they started. Organizers used a megaphone to remind protesters to stay hydrated and distribute bottles of water to the cramped and huddled crowd.
“Sorry everybody,” one activist apologized after activating the megaphone’s siren. “I am not a pig! I am not a pig; I’m sorry, everybody.”
It was still dark out when the chancellor issued a statement saying he had decided to sign the demands that include measures like diversity training, curriculum changes, and the expulsion of students found to be involved in recent incidents.
“Of the 19 recommendations made by student protestors, I have agreed to 16 as written; I have suggested minor revisions to the other three for them to consider. These revisions are required to comply with law or because of the need for Board of Trustees approval. Later this morning, I will meet with Jewish students, and I am confident we will make good progress together,” he said.
“Implementing these recommendations is the right thing to do. They will make our community stronger.”