A string of alleged racist incidents took place at Syracuse University last fall, prompting school officials to create new punishments for students accused of various offenses.
As Jonathan Turley, an attorney and professor at the George Washington University Law School, explained, the new rules were implemented after a group calling itself NotAgainSU demanded students who witnessed or were present when racial incidents occurred be expelled. The school’s first diversity and inclusion officer, professor Keith Alford, didn’t accept expulsion as a punishment but did say campus rules would be changed to punish student bystanders.
“The Code of Student Conduct has been revised, based on your input, to state that violations of the code that are bias-motivated—including conduct motivated by racism—will be punished more severely. The University also revised the code to make clear when bystanders and accomplices can be held accountable. The code will be prepared and distributed for students to sign in the fall,” Alford wrote in an email to students.
Turley warned that the uncertainty surrounding “how silence or inaction will be judged” will “prompt many to guarantee compliance by speaking or acting to avoid even the chance that they might be subjected to a highly damaging bias charge.”
In addition to new punishable actions (or, rather, inactions), the school also announced it was installing new cameras throughout campus.
“The concern raised by the Syracuse rule is that there remains controversies over vague universities standards on bias or race motivated violations including microaggressive language or actions. Recently, a student writer at Syracuse was sacked for simply questioning the basis for claims of institutional racism. What is viewed as bias-motivated speech for some is viewed as political speech by others. The new rule would suggest that even students who do not agree that an incident is ‘bias-motivated’ must still act to avoid scrutiny or punishment. Students could feel an obligation to prove that they are not racist by immediately and openly opposing such acts, lest they could be next to be accused,” Turley wrote.
Turley added that punishing those who do not act is a form of compelled speech, as it “would now require speech and action to avoid possible discipline.”
The new punishments come even though there doesn’t appear to be news on the outcomes of any investigations into allegedly racist incidents at Syracuse. One of the allegations came from a black woman who claimed a bunch of fraternity members yelled racial epithets at her. Four students from the fraternity were suspended, yet the fraternity’s national chapter confirmed to The Daily Orange that after “hours of voluntary interviews with authorities” along with everything they “have learned, we can confirm that no member of Alpha Chi Rho directed racial slurs at anyone.”
The only other incident where we have a potential outcome is of a white supremacist document allegedly sent to students while in a campus library, but that turned out to be a hoax. While there have been hundreds of allegations of racism at colleges and universities across the country over the past decade, most – if not all – have turned out to be hoaxes or misunderstandings.
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