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SU students walk out of forum to address racism, chancellor agrees to majority of demands

Ellen Abbott
Syracuse University students walked out when Chancellor Kent Syverud said he could not sign the list of demands as it stood word-for-word.

Update: Chancellor Kent Syverud has agreed to 16 of the 19 demands from student protestors and international students. In a message to members of the Syracuse University community sent early this morning, Syverud wrote that he agreed to 16 of the demands as written and has suggested mior revisions to the remaining three. He said these revisions are "required to comply with law or because of the need for board of trustees approval." Syverud will continue the dialogue by meeting with Jewish students this morning.

Syracuse University officials are hoping an agreement with protesters will help ease the racial tensions that have rocked the campus in recent weeks.

"The goal is to enhance critical thinking, allow people to understand one another's experiences, so we can have these open and hard discussions."

What was meant to be a community forum to discuss racist incidents on campus disintegrated when hundreds of students walked out of Hendrick’s Chapel Wednesday night. Students who have been protesting the administration’s reaction to a series of racist events had called on SU Chancellor Kent Syverud to sign a series of demands or resign. When he said he wasn’t ready to sign those demands, they walked out.

“Can I produce agreement to every word at this instant? The answer is I cannot,” Syverud said. “The answer is if I can go back and look at them based on what I hear tonight, the answer is yes, and I’ll do the best I can.”

Syverud at one point left the forum to meet with some students and returned to say an agreement is forthcoming, admitting it will be an ongoing effort.

"I don’t think racism on this campus will ever be solved completely. I think it’s going to require a culture that’s constantly going to work on it, every day, every year.”

Credit Ellen Abbott / WRVO News
Student protesters have organized sit-ins for over a week, calling for changes they say are the first step in building a more diverse and accepting campus. They operate under the moniker "NotAgainSU."

Students organizing a series of sit-ins and protests over the school’s response to racist graffiti, hate speech and swastikas on campus say their demands are a start to dealing with a racist campus culture that leaves some students afraid for their safety. One organizer, a senior who wants to remain anonymous, says the demands are not onerous.

"We are not asking them to solve systemic racism. That’s not the goal. The goal is to enhance critical thinking, allow people to understand one another’s experiences, so we can have these open and hard discussions.”

Students who go by the moniker “NotAgainSU” have asked for a series of reforms including changes in the curriculum that promotes more understanding of diversity, and hiring a more diverse faculty and staff. They also want those responsible for racist incidents punished or expelled.

Ellen produces news reports and features related to events that occur in the greater Syracuse area and throughout Onondaga County. Her reports are heard regularly in regional updates in Morning Edition and All Things Considered.