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Syracuse University students protest after three racist graffiti incidents reported on campus in eight days

Syracuse University
Posted at 1:42 PM, Nov 16, 2019
and last updated 2019-11-16 15:42:36-05

(CNN) -- Racist graffiti has been found at three separate places on Syracuse University's campus in New York, spurring police investigations and garnering attention from elected officials.

The first incident, reported November 7, featured graffiti disparaging the African-American and Asian communities. It was found on the fourth and sixth floors of Day Hall, a student dormitory, according to Sara Scalese, the senior associate vice president for communications at Syracuse University.

The second incident, reported on Wednesday, featured graffiti derogatory toward the Asian community and was found in a bathroom in the physics building. More graffiti that disparaged the Asian community was found in the same residence hall on Thursday in what is now the third incident being investigated on campus in little more than a week.

Scalese did not say whether investigators believe the any of the incidents are related.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo issued a statement after the first incident, directing the New York State Police Hate Crimes Task Force and the state division of human rights to assist in an investigation.

"I'm disgusted by the recent rash of hateful language found scrawled on the walls at Syracuse University, where students from around the world are drawn each year in the pursuit of higher learning," Cuomo said in the statement. "These types of hateful and bigoted actions seek to splinter and segregate our communities, and they have no place in New York — period."

The three active investigations are led by the university's Department of Public Safety with help from the Syracuse Police Department and state police. Neither department was able to confirm what the perpetrators will be charged with if caught.

A delayed university response prompts protest

In a statement issued Tuesday, following the first incident, university Chancellor Kent Syverud expressed serious concern over the vandalism at Day Hall.

"First, I want to speak to the university's response to this incident. It's clear that the members of the leadership team should have communicated more swiftly and broadly," said Syverud, referencing the university's delay in notifying the Syracuse community of the incident. "I am disappointed that didn't happen in this case."

Syverud said university officials are meeting with students "directly impacted" by the incident to offer their support.

Students staged a sit-in Wednesday at the Barnes Center at the Arch in response to last week's incident, according to Scalese.

Sophomore Zoe Selesi, who is participating in the ongoing sit-in, told CNN the incidents left her feeling "unsafe, frustrated and tired." Selesi estimated that approximately 300 students were at the Barnes Center at the peak of the protest. Many of them found out about the first incident on social media on Sunday, three days after it was reported to university authorities.

The second and third incidents were reported to authorities during the protests, according to statements from the university's Department of Public Safety.

Around the same time the third incident was reported on campus, anti-Semitic graffiti was found off-campus.

A swastika etched into the snowy grass of an off-campus apartment complex was discovered just steps away from the university Thursday evening, according to Matthew Malinowski, public information officer for the Syracuse Police Department. This incident, which was reported by the university's Department of Public Safety, is being investigated by the Syracuse Police Department as an off-campus matter.

The continued racial incidents have encouraged students to remain at the Barnes Center, protesting. Selesi confirmed that the sit-in, which was meant to last until 1 a.m. Thursday, turned into a "sleep-in." Students have now been protesting and sleeping at the Barnes Center since Wednesday.

"We feel as though the only way to get results is through direct communication with university leaders and contact with the board of trustees, not through emails or pats on the back," Selesi said, adding that while administrators have acknowledged their demands, they have yet to address them.

Students gave officials a November 20th deadline to address their 18 short and long-term demands for changes in how the university handles racial incidents. The demands include requiring faculty and staff to undergo diversity training, establishing a housing portal where students can select roommates based on mutual interests and identities, and allocation of $1 million for the creation of a curriculum "that educates the campus on diversity issues, specifically anti-racism."

If their demands are not met, they will call on Syverud to resign.A petition by "A Concerned Student" for the resignation of Syverud is already circulating Syracuse's campus. It has 1,297 signatures to date.

The petition comes on the heels of a string of racial incidents, which supporters say speak to the university's failure to create a "safe, diverse and inclusive campus." For example, in 2018, a racist video derogatory to a few minority groups emerged from Theta Tau, an engineering fraternity at the university.

A trending hashtag and a visit from a state senator

As protesting continues, #notagainSU has been trending among the Syracuse University community on Twitter.

The hashtag has been turned into a Twitter page with the handle @notagain_su, which identifies as a black student -ed movement and accuses the university's administration of sweeping racial incidents under the rug in its bio.

Selesi explained to CNN that the hashtag and platform were created to help spread awareness of the issues on Syracuse's campus.

"#NotAgainSU believes transparency from the administration is necessary," Selesi told CNN. "The safety of students on this campus — specifically the safety of underrepresented and under-served students — is paramount."

A video from Syverud was posted to the university's website on Friday addressing the Syracuse community and promising that the university "will respond in the future transparently and quickly," while asserting values of inclusion and the rejection of hate.

"I am committed to the difficult conversations we are having on our campus," said Syverud in the video. "I am committed to keeping students, faculty, staff and alumni properly informed — both about incidents as they occur and the university's response. And I am committed to upholding the values we aspire to as a university."

State Sen. Rachel May of New York's 53rd District and Assemblyman William B. Magnarelli of the 129th District briefly visited protesters in the Barnes Center Saturday morning.

"Tired and stressed as they must be, they had profound and important questions and I look forward to coming back for a more in-depth discussion," May tweeted following the meeting.