SYRACUSE, New York—A string of racist and anti-Semitic incidents at Syracuse University has ratcheted up tensions to the point that more and more students are fleeing campus before the Thanksgiving break.
“I’ve simply had enough. I’m exhausted from all of the hate going on at campus,” senior Mason Horodyski told The Daily Beast on Tuesday night.
The upstate New York school has been reeling from 11 reports of racist graffiti and harassment in two weeks—which prompted widespread student protests, a tongue-lashing for administrators from Gov. Andrew Cuomo, and a $1 million commitment for campus change.
In the twilight hours of Monday, the manifesto written by the Christchurch mosque shooter was posted to a Syracuse discussion forum and hours later allegedly AirDropped to students’ phones in the university library. Many students took this as an implied threat of violence.
One freshman, who asked to remain anonymous, said the manifesto incident was the tipping point for her. “I was very shocked. I don’t feel safe right now,” she said as she frantically stuffed garbage bags filled with clothes into the trunk of a white Mercedes-Benz SUV.
The university’s Department of Public Safety has stressed there is “no appearance of a direct threat,” but students who are leaving early all say the same thing: They don’t feel safe.
“Everybody was already pretty tense going into the week, just with everything that’s going on,” said Ford Hatchett, a resident assistant in the Brewster, Boland, and Brockway residence hall complex, known to students as BBB.
Tension morphed into fear on Tuesday. Cries to cancel classes emanated from every corner of campus. A police car was parked outside BBB.
"As I’m walking into BBB, there's several girls with suitcases that are walking out,” said Will Scott, a student sports reporter who visited BBB. “I’m like, ‘Where are y’all going; what’s up?’ And one of the girls was extremely rattled and said, ‘Someone just threatened to shoot up BBB.’”
The rumor was based on a screenshot of a conversation between two students that had begun circulating among the student body. Although the threat was quickly debunked by DPS officers, the damage was done.
“In those two to three minutes, students had already gotten a hold of it,” Hatchett said. “We started getting panicked messages from students, who again, want to know, ‘Are we on lockdown?’ ‘Do we need to evacuate?’ ‘I called my mom, she wants me to get on a flight, like, right away.’ So it was almost mass panic there for a good hour and a half before we finally figured out that everything was calm and safe.
“There wasn’t any concern that there was an active shooter in the building, but there was a concern that it would be happening sometime today. At that point, a lot of people just wanted to get as far away from here as they could.
“I kid you not, within five minutes, I saw some people walking out with suitcases. They had suitcases in their hands and they were bookin’ it for the door.
“A couple of them booked flights today,” Hatchett said. “I have a couple students who booked hotel rooms in the area and are staying there because they didn’t feel safe in the dorms. And I know of other students who are driving home tonight.”
Hatchett oversees 36 students on his floor. Twelve of them left Tuesday night. All of them cited the unfounded threat as the reason, he said.
“They all felt a little on-edge,” Hatchett explained, “but no one had taken the action to go home or get a hotel until today’s threats. I don’t think anyone has ever heard of one-third of a floor getting out of here a couple days early.”
Freshman Victoria Ghillani said she wants to leave “as soon as I possibly can.”
“This just shouldn’t be happening,” she said.
Minutes after Ghillani went upstairs to gather her belongings, Jenna Klein dragged her black suitcase across the lobby. The 18-year-old freshman, backpack slung over one shoulder, said shooting fears—even though they were unfounded—pushed her over the edge.
“With everything happening on campus, I don’t really feel safe here. It’s just that shootings have happened so much, and…” she trailed off.
Syracuse University has adopted a business-as-usual stance. Several schools and colleges informed students Tuesday morning via email that classes would not be canceled by the administration—though by afternoon most had relented and declared that absences this week would be excused.
Students who have stayed behind are on high alert. While Hatchett spoke to The Daily Beast on Tuesday evening, a student listening to an emergency dispatch claimed he heard reports of shots fired at nearby Sadler Hall. They realized they were mistaken a few minutes later, but not before a handful of people received frantic texts to shelter in place.
Hatchett, a senior, said he wasn’t concerned about his safety but he could not blame freshmen for being jittery in the current climate.
”They did what was best for them, and I’m glad everybody got out of here safe,” he said.