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Syracuse refuses to divulge motivation of students punished for ‘acts of hate’

Federal student privacy law is not stopping it from sharing details

Syracuse has been reeling from racial protests, racist demands and silly suggestions for the past several months, spurred by bewildering graffiti left in a residence hall.

Last month Chancellor Kent Syverud said it has punished three students, some with suspensions, for “acts of hate.”

What did they actually do? Syracuse is refusing to say, but given what we know about its punishment of students for their expression, it may be less shocking than the “hate” label suggests.

Syverud claims the student conduct process prevents the university from providing any details about the investigation and the culprits, including whether it’s connected the Day Hall graffiti.

That’s odd because The Daily Orange notes that Syracuse provided rather specific detail for an earlier punishment: suspending four members (one detail) of Alpha Chi Rho (two) after “members and guests shouted a racial slur at a Black woman” (three). It also noted that Syracuse mentioned the incident (anti-Semitic graffiti in a library) behind a more recent punishment in January.

The College Fix emailed Syracuse media relations Thursday afternoon seeking the motivation for the “acts of hate” that Syracuse gleaned from its investigation. Not the perpetrators’ names or anything that could identify them – just their motivations.

The Fix pointed Syracuse to another incident that made clear that federal student privacy law – often invoked by universities to withhold information from the public – wasn’t stopping it from sharing such details.

Nearly five years ago, Duke University publicly said a student who hung a noose from a tree admitted that he didn’t understand the threatening message it conveyed and had intended to invite friends to “hang out.”

In keeping with their continued refusal to do their jobs, media relations staff have not replied to the Fix query.

MORE: Supposed hate incident at Duke turns out to be bad joke

It’s hard to avoid the possibility that Syverud simply wants to avoid scrutiny for what the university considers “acts of hate.” Consider that it expelled a racially diverse fraternity, indefinitely suspended some members and threatened to dox them because of leaked video of its satirical pledge skits from a private Facebook group. (The university got away with it because of an internally contradictory court ruling.)

This is what Syracuse considers “acts of hate.” This is why the public should demand further detail from Syverud.

The chancellor’s refusal to provide detail is creating anxiety among the residents of the dorm targeted with racial graffiti, who worry that their own neighbors are secret bigots, the Daily reported last week:

While the messages [posted in the dorm in response to the graffiti] contain colorful images and positive messages such as “there is no room for hate here,” many students living in Day said they still feel tension on their floors.

Josh Rosendo, a resident on the fourth floor of Day, said the hate incidents have strained his relationships with his neighbors because no one knows who’s responsible for the acts. …

“Walking down the halls, now we don’t want to say hi to people (because) we think it might be (them),” Rosendo said. “It’s horrible, pointing fingers at each other. But it is what we’re doing now because we want to know who it is.” …

Michaela Varvis, a student living on the fifth floor, said she looked at everyone she encountered differently in the days after the incidents occurred.

“You don’t necessarily expect the people you’re in the elevator with to be racist, homophobic or anti-Semitic,” Varvis said. “It makes me angry every time I get a bias-incident email, especially when it happens in Day. I don’t like feeling like my neighbors or the people I walk past in the hall are bad people.”

Nothing is preventing Syracuse from informing students in some detail about the results of its investigations of alleged hate incidents on campus. It doesn’t have to identify the perps.

It can simply give the students closure about an incident that continues to disturb them because it remains shrouded in mystery – and hold itself accountable to its community, including the parents who pay tuition for the students who end up in its Star Chamber.

MORE: Judge ‘inexplicably’ upholds Syracuse Star Chamber

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About the Author
Associate Editor
Greg Piper served as associate editor of The College Fix from 2014 to 2021.