An Alumna’s Open Letter to Syracuse University
by Earica Parrish
Syracuse University '17
In solidarity with the #NotAgainSU movement
To Chancellor Kent Syverud, faculty, staff, board of trustees and everyone in-between:
I cannot say that I am surprised about the recent hate crimes targeting students of marginalized identities, as well as the constant negligence exhibited by the university’s ‘leadership.’ As I’m sure you know, racial tension at Syracuse University is nothing new. In fact, it’s become a staple to this university and its long history of undermining underrepresented groups who create the heart and soul of the institution.
As a graduate of the Newhouse School, we were required to fulfill 3-4 diversity credits that count towards the completion of our degree. To any person who has felt any form of racism, silencing, and underrepresentation, this could seem like a step in the right direction. You would think these courses would help students understand the dynamics of intersectionality and allow for faculty to also promote more inclusion in the classroom.
Unfortunately, this was not my reality.
I remember getting the chance to share, with my Diversity in the Media class, my thoughts on the culture of America. I mentioned how because of its roots in colonialism, racism, and slavery, that I personally couldn’t feel emotionally connected to a country that has shown such disdain for people of color.
I was told that I needed to let go of the past and that “racism happened over 300 years ago.” My professor silenced me, making an additional case behind why I felt the way I did, even after encouraging us all to share our opinions on the topic. After that first class session, I remember not speaking up in class for the remainder of the semester. I became disengaged, simply because I felt like my voice was not equally accounted for compared to my other classmates.
Though this was one of many diversity classes offered at Newhouse and the university at-large, it is clear that the work the university does to train their faculty on handling diversity and inclusion has not refined since I graduated years ago. There is more work to be done to ensure that diversity classes are being taken seriously and make sure the way in which they are facilitated is open and safe for all voices to be heard.
I write to you all as a concerned alumna. I am worried about the safety of the current student body. I am frustrated with the administration’s passive behavior and lack of proactivity in assuring the protection of underrepresented groups of students against hate speech and white supremacy.
To see the leadership of my alma mater fail (not once, not twice, but) multiple times in meeting the needs and demands of the student body over the course of my time there and beyond has been truly disheartening. The people who oversee the university do not even uphold the values they try so hard to market to the world. It is shameful, disgusting, and downright pathetic.
Based on the administration’s response (or lack thereof) to the series of racial attacks, it is clear that the administration’s value is not in the people who create the culture of the university. Their priority isn’t with making sure that the students are secure mentally and physically. The goal of the administration isn’t to create a safe and inclusive space for all of their students. Their focus is to save their own reputations, to ensure that donors are still contributing financially to sustain the university, and to make sure that the overall external presence of the university isn’t tarnished.
To the current administration at Syracuse University, I ask you to set aside your egos and the need to protect the image of the university. Instead, take a hard look at yourselves and dig deep within your souls to find compassion and empathy for the student body. Think about how many people you are hurting. Think about the number of lives these cycles of racial attacks have impacted both on and off-campus. Think about the families concerned about the safety and well-being of their children; all because you were not willing to put the students first.
As for the alumni of color, let us continue to work to uplift the younger generation of ‘Cuse students. Please continue to support the multiple multicultural organizations that made ‘Cuse feel like home for us amidst the racial tensions we experienced during our undergraduate careers. Let’s continue to preserve the Office of Multicultural Affairs and its programming. Let’s work hard to keep events like Coming Back Together, alumni panels and recruitment events in existence so that we may do our work to give back to the current student body, despite the university’s failure to do so.
One person cannot change or reverse the history of racial injustice in America, that’s for sure. However, if the administration would walk in compassion, take the initiative in seeking student engagement and participation, and work alongside the campus community, then maybe the progress the students have requested wouldn’t be as burdensome as the administration is making it out to be.
It is about time we stop with the forums and begin implementing real, concrete and steadfast change at Syracuse University.