New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Tuesday blasted leadership at Syracuse University for its handling of ongoing hate speech and racist harassment on campus, which escalated overnight when a white-supremacist manifesto was allegedly AirDropped to some students’ cell phones.
The university’s Department of Public Safety announced in a campus-wide email early Tuesday morning that it was investigating reports that the hate manifesto, which students told The Daily Beast was the same one used by the Christchurch mosque shooter, was sent to student phones at Bird Library at around 1 a.m. It was also posted in an online discussion forum about Greek life just after 10 p.m., The Daily Orange, the student newspaper, reported.
“The hateful activities at Syracuse University are most disturbing, not only to the Syracuse University community, but to the greater community of New York,” Cuomo said in a press release on Tuesday afternoon. “They have not been handled in a manner that reflects this state's aggressive opposition to such odious, reckless, reprehensible behavior. That these actions should happen on the campus of a leading New York university makes this situation even worse.”
Earlier this month, Cuomo ordered state agencies to investigate hate speech on the upstate school’s campus.
The university’s DPS is working with the Syracuse Police Department, New York State Police, and the FBI to investigate the quickly escalating situation on campus, but the university’s DPS said there was no “specific” threat to the school Tuesday, The Daily Orange reported.
In response to the events overnight, protesters have asked that the administration cancel classes and campus events.
“Students are scared for their own safety,” tweeted Josh Meyers, a Syracuse student journalist, on Tuesday morning. “Campus is looking extra empty this morning.”
“Students are truly terrified here,” he told The Daily Beast.
The screed shared on Tuesday marks the 11th racist incident reported on campus since Nov. 6, including the Saturday night harassment of a black student by members of a fraternity who allegedly yelled the n-word at her as she waited for a bus. Others have included anti-Semitic and anti-Asian graffiti in the form of a swastika and slurs. The n-word was also reportedly found scribbled in residence halls and a physics building. In another incident, a student loudly yelled a racial slur against black Americans. Separately, a Chinese freshman reported a racial epithet being used against him.
University Chancellor Kent Syverud said in a letter to students and staff Sunday that he was “deeply angered by these events” and hours later announced a $50,000 reward for any evidence that leads to “the apprehension of the individual or individuals responsible for these heinous acts.” The money came from a “generous” donor, he said. Otherwise, anyone with relevant information about the spate of incidents is encouraged to contact the Department of Public Safety directly.
But Cuomo said Tuesday, after hours of silence from the university administration in the wake of the manifesto’s alleged release: “Despite his efforts, I do not believe Chancellor Syverud has handled this matter in a way that instills confidence.”
“As we have learned repeatedly, these increasing exhibitions of hate and bigotry must be handled strongly, swiftly and justly,” said Cuomo, who also called for the school’s board of trustees to install a monitor. “That must be both the reality and the perception. Syracuse University and its leadership have failed to do that. It is your obligation to remedy the situation immediately.”
The monitor, Cuomo said, must “effectively investigate these incidents, clearly communicate the facts with the board and to the State Police Hate Crimes Task Force and recommend a decisive strategy to address both the specific incidents and behavior.”
Earlier this week, after it became clear that one of the hate incidents originated from a fraternity on campus, Syverud suspended Alpha Chi Rho and—in one fell swoop—directed the Office of Fraternity and Sorority Affairs to suspend all social activities of fraternities for the remainder of the semester.
“While only one fraternity may have been involved in this particular incident, given recent history, all fraternities must come together with the university community to reflect upon how to prevent recurrence of such seriously troubling behavior,” Syverud said.
An ongoing campus sit-in has been staged by black students leading a movement called #NotAgainSU, which also organized a boycott of Syracuse basketball games. The sit-in began last Wednesday at 10:30 a.m., and dozens of students have joined the effort inside the school’s Barnes Center at The Arch—a brand-new $50 million recreational complex. Participants have been holding signs that read “Black Safety Matters” and sharing their frustration on social media.
Early Tuesday morning, demonstrators asked the administration to cancel all classes and campus events until further notice.
“These active threats targeting students should be taken seriously and handled with a sense of urgency,” said a statement from the group on Tuesday. “We believe that students should stay in spaces where they feel the most comfortable, as safety is paramount.”
The demonstrators have vowed not to end the protest until all of their demands—including the expulsion of students involved in what they’ve called the “November Hate Crimes”—are met.
“The safety of students on this campus—specifically the safety of underrepresented and underserved students—is paramount,” the group said Monday in a press release.
“I’ve never felt less safe on campus than I do right now,” said Claire Bauerle, an 18-year-old Syracuse freshman. Bauerle told The Daily Beast on Tuesday that she, a white student, wants students of color to know they are supported.
“People aren’t involved just to be involved,” the Chicago native said.
“It’s awful,” Bauerle added, emphasizing that students are afraid that it will escalate into a shooting. “It doesn’t feel real. It’s like walking through an awful nightmare.”
“Whether or not tonight’s threat is credible, it’s tremendously irresponsible if #Syracuse doesn’t cancel classes,” broadcast journalism major Sam Gelfand—a native of Parkland, Fla.— tweeted just after 3 a.m. on Tuesday.
“People on this campus, myself included, are shaken, frightened, and fatigued. This is no environment for academics right now. Just let people go home,” he added.
Gelfand, a sophomore, told The Daily Beast on Tuesday that he was “down the street from the Stoneman Douglas shooting while it occurred”—when 17 people died in one of the nation’s most harrowing school shootings in February 2018—and that while on campus at Syracuse today he found himself “drawing parallels.”
“I was terrified last night,” Gelfand, who is Jewish, said. “These hateful incidents have consumed our lives; it’s all we can talk about.”
The “lackluster response” from the administration and the DPS is, Gelfand added, “inexcusable.”
Professors, meanwhile, were not immune to the campus tension. Several tweeted that they had either canceled classes or would not penalize students who chose not to attend Tuesday.
“I will support and advocate for any students who choose not to go to class today,” Prof. Genevieve García de Müeller tweeted. “I support the students protesting and I urge the chancellor to uptake their demands in a serious and systemic way.”
She added: “Most of my students have said they are not going to campus today. As a Mexican and Jewish woman I don’t feel safe going to campus. This is a direct attack. First and foremost I care about the safety of my students.”
Late Tuesday afternoon, after days of intense national scrutiny, leaders at the university released a detailed, 11-page list of proposed campus changes, including a $1 million commitment to implement the responses over the next year. After meetings with a group of international students and protesters, Syverud said administrators have promised specific responses to each of the concerns voiced by students, including revisions to the student code of conduct, curriculum changes, increased access to resources, and better security.
“As Chancellor, I take very seriously these immediate priorities, and commit to promptly achieving them, as well as to supporting the other important measures in the responses,” said Syverud.
Kathy Walters, chair of Syracuse University’s Board of Trustees, later praised the plan’s comprehensiveness.
“What he and members of his leadership team put forward is a plan with actionable solutions with real timelines, real deliverables, real resources and real accountability,” she said. “That’s what our students are asking for, that’s what our students deserve.”