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Racist Manifesto Lands on Syracuse Students’ Phones, Deepening Crisis

Updated: May 1, 2023

SYRACUSE, N.Y. — It was an ordinary cram session, around midnight, when the screed appeared on students’ phones. A racist manifesto, sent to a small clutch of people sitting at a Syracuse University library on Tuesday morning, warned of “the great replacement,” a right-wing conspiracy theory that predicts white genocide at the hands of minority groups.

It was just the latest example of racist activity that has left the private university besieged, with officials confronted by student sit-ins and harsh critiques from faculty members and federal agents crawling the campus.

The incidents, which began less than two weeks ago, have included racist graffiti, swastikas and hate speech hurled at black and Asian students.

On Sunday, the university suspended all social activities at fraternities for the rest of the semester, after a group of students, including members of one fraternity, accosted a female African-American student on Saturday night and used a racial slur.

But Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said on Tuesday that the university’s response was not enough. He called on its board of trustees to hire an independent monitor to investigate, harshly criticizing the chancellor, Kent D. Syverud, and other officials for their reaction to the crisis.

“They have not been handled in a manner that reflects this state’s aggressive opposition to such odious, reckless, reprehensible behavior,” the governor said of the racist incidents. “That these actions should happen on the campus of a leading New York university makes this situation even worse.”

The sudden spasm of hate speech and racist vandalism has shattered the ordinary rituals of autumn, including basketball and football games, and left many of the roughly 22,500 students on campus frightened for both their safety and the reputation of the university itself.

On campus, the disruption was noticeable. Teachers canceled class. Students, afraid to leave their dorm rooms, phoned parents asking to come home. Inside the esteemed S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications, typically bustling with students, hallways were largely empty.

“This triggered a panic,” said Chandler Plante, a third-year magazine journalism major. “We can’t sleep. We can’t think.”

On Tuesday, state and federal law enforcement officials descended on the university, just east of downtown, looking for evidence as to who had sent the manifesto, an anti-Muslim screed previously circulated by the suspect accused of a mass killing at two New Zealand mosques in March.

The manifesto was posted online late Monday night on a forum geared to those interested in Greek life at Syracuse University, according to the city’s police chief, and was then sent or shared via a file-transfer service to the phones of several students who were inside Bird Library.

In a midday news conference in Syracuse, the police chief, Kenton T. Buckner, said there was “no credible threat” associated with the manifesto, though both the State Police and the Federal Bureau of Investigation were investigating. The university’s public safety department doubled patrols around campus and residence halls.

In a lengthy “response to student concerns” that was posted on the university’s website on Tuesday, Mr. Syverud did not directly address the manifesto or Mr. Cuomo’s criticism, but said university officials were aware of “concrete concerns related to the environment for diversity and inclusion on our campus.” He also promised action, outlining plans in an 11-page memo that accompanied the statement.

“We face real challenges here and we operate in a fraught national climate,” Mr. Syverud wrote. Chief Buckner said the dissemination of the manifesto was being investigated as a crime, as was an earlier incident in which a swastika was drawn in a patch of snow.

As news of the manifesto spread, at least one faculty member, Genevieve García de Müeller, who is Mexican and Jewish, reported a direct threat, received in her work email, calling her a Jewish slur and telling her to “get in the oven where you belong.” She canceled class for the day.

But university officials emphasized the campus was open, and classes were taking place.

Bobby Maldonado, the chief of the public safety department, said this week that an anonymous Syracuse supporter was offering a $50,000 reward for information that would lead to identifying who was responsible for the various racist incidents. The university, he said on Tuesday, “is really not immune from larger societal ills.”

“But the people of this university, they love this university,” Chief Maldonado added.

According to university officials, the rash of incidents began on Nov. 7, when graffiti targeting minority groups was discovered on two floors of Day Hall, a dorm. Since then, nearly a dozen others have been reported.

Students have been unhappy with the administration’s response, which has prompted days of sit-ins at university buildings and a flood of online critiques, marked with the Twitter hashtag #NotAgainSU.

Inside the Barnes Center at the Arch, the university’s new $50 million student wellness center, hundreds of students have splayed themselves on the floor over the past week.

They have been clamoring for the university to meet a long list of demands, including the expulsion of those involved in the hate speech and more systemic changes like diversifying the faculty and reforming the curriculum to educate students on racism.

For some students there on Tuesday, the demonstration was an act both of protest and self-protection. “Right now, it’s where I feel most safe,” said one student, who requested anonymity in the wake of anonymous threats made against students of color in the past week.

Mr. Syverud visited the sit-in on Tuesday evening and said he would hold a community forum on Wednesday to address protesters’ concerns.

Faculty members have also expressed disappointment with the administration: On Monday, a group of 19 nonwhite faculty members wrote a letter to the editor in The Daily Orange, Syracuse’s independent student newspaper, calling the university’s response “inadequate.”

Dr. García de Müeller, an assistant professor of writing and rhetoric, echoed that sentiment, saying the university had yet to fully respond to demands for more support for nonwhite students.

“I consistently see this narrative on campus that’s trying to diminish what’s happening,” she said. “I don’t see a plan, a very clear plan, for any sort of systemic change. And I think that needs to happen.”

Chief Buckner, who is African-American, also expressed empathy for what the students, particularly those in minority groups, had been going through in recent weeks.

“No student should have to go through that,” he said.

He also acknowledged that the damage done to the students’ sense of safety, and acceptance, could take time to repair.

“You don’t fix this kind of stuff overnight,” he said.

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