White supremacist manifesto ‘airdropped’ to US students’ phones

New York governor joins criticism of handling of racist incidents at Syracuse

November 20, 2019
Syracuse University
Source: iStock

A US university is under fire and cancelling classes after a series of racist and antisemitic incidents, including a phone-based attack, left many of its students frightened and demanding their chancellor’s resignation.

The problem has reached the point where the governor of New York, Andrew Cuomo, also criticised Kent Syverud, chancellor of Syracuse University, and urged an outside investigation of the private 22,500-student research institution.

The incidents over the past two weeks include at least 10 instances of swastikas and other racist graffiti, several on-campus verbal assaults of minority students and faculty, and a white supremacist manifesto “airdropped” to the mobile phones of patrons at the university library.

Many if not most Syracuse faculty, seeing their students shaken by the incidents, have reportedly begun cancelling their classes ahead of the coming week-long Thanksgiving break.

Professor Syverud, a law professor who has led Syracuse since 2014, has outlined a series of planned responses to student demands, in areas that include improved campus security, courses and training for students and staff on diversity and inclusion, updates to the student code of conduct, the hiring of new counsellors with minority backgrounds, and the addition of dining hall food options that reflect minority preferences.

“I take very seriously these immediate priorities, and commit to promptly achieving them,” the chancellor said in one of several campus-wide messages on the matter.

Nevertheless, more than 1,700 people have signed a petition demanding Professor Syverud’s removal, and Mr Cuomo issued a statement saying the incidents at Syracuse “have not been handled in a manner that reflects this state’s aggressive opposition to such odious, reckless, reprehensible behaviour”.

“Despite his efforts, I do not believe Chancellor Syverud has handled this matter in a way that instils confidence,” Mr Cuomo said.

The Syracuse University board of trustees immediately pushed back, issuing its own statement condemning the racist incidents and endorsing the chancellor and his planned course of action.

“The board of trustees stands behind our chancellor,” it said. “We stand with our students. And we stand for what’s right.”

The phone-based attack involved a copy of the racist manifesto attributed to a gunman who killed 51 people and injured 49 last March at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand. The manifesto was reportedly posted to an online forum associated with Syracuse fraternities, then sent by a file transfer service to the phones of several students on 19 November inside the campus’ Bird Library.

The university earlier cancelled all fraternity events for the remainder of the semester after finding some fraternity members were involved in an incident on 16 November in which several students shouted slurs at a black female student at a campus bus stop.

Other recent reported incidents on the Syracuse campus include a racial slur against a Chinese freshman, and a Jewish slur against a faculty member with Mexican and Jewish heritage.

A report this week by the non-profit World Education Services found such problems widespread on US campuses. The group’s survey of nearly 2,000 foreign students and recent graduates found that nearly a third of them, especially those from China, have faced discrimination because of their nationality.

paul.basken@timeshighereducation.com

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Reader's comments (1)

I am not sure why these racist incidents are somehow the responsibility of the chancellor? Is it the case that he has not taken actions in the past that might have prevented this kind of behaviour? It is difficult to see what he could have done however.

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