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Syracuse University asks Loretta Lynch to review their Department of Public Safety following response to student protests over racist incidents

Former United States Attorney General Loretta Lynch has been hired to review Syracuse University’s Department of Public Safety at the school’s request following student protests over incidents of racial bias, the university’s chancellor said in a statement.

Chancellor Kent Syverud said the school requested it over concerns raised about how the department managed interactions with students.

#NotAgainSU, a black student-led movement at Syracuse University, launched a sit-in last week at Crouse-Hinds hall, the school’s administration building, citing the administration’s handling of previous and recent racist incidents on campus.

A spate of bias incidents beginning in November 2019 prompted the group’s first protests. But last week’s protests brought new concerns over the interaction with DPS and consequences students faced, particularly after the demonstration at Crouse-Hinds hall, the school’s administration building.

“I believe this review is necessary given that concerns have been raised through several channels about how DPS engages with our community and how it has managed various interactions with students, including protestors,” Chancellor Kent Syverud said in Monday’s statement, acknowledging the former USAG’s notable career and her work in police-community relations.

Syverud says he is “not proud” of events last week involving student protesters, particularly those misidentified in suspension letters sent out.

During the demonstration student protestors were given interim suspensions and then offered the opportunity to revoke them if they left the building that they had been occupying.

The university mistakenly sent four students interim suspension notices but all interim suspensions issued were revoked last week, the university said.

Interim Provost John Liu was appointed to work with deans, faculty and administrators to create protocol for handling future protests, the chancellor said. “Faculty and deans must have greater involvement, oversight and authority around how we handle protests,” Syverud explained.

Eight new bias incidents this year

There have been eight reported bias incidents since the 2020 spring semester began on January 13, according to the university’s Department of Public Safety bias incident report website.

On February 24, DPS reported it was investigating a screenshot sent to a student containing racist comments about African Americans. Earlier that week they announced they were investigating homophobic graffiti found in a restroom in a residence hall.

Racist graffiti using derogatory language about African Americans was found in the stairway of the same building earlier in the month, according to the website.

The department investigated at least 19 incidents in the fall 2019 semester which included offensive graffiti against several different groups, students yelling racial slurs loudly, and an anti-Semitic email threat made against a faculty member, the website said.

The school increased security after the Department of Public Safety received multiple reports that a document purported to be a white supremacist manifesto was posted in an online forum and allegedly airdropped to the cell phones of several people in the Bird Library in November. The purported manifesto sparked a criminal investigation by State Police and the FBI.

According to a university statement, “no one has reported receiving or produced a device that received the document, despite repeated requests from investigators.”

At the time, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said university Chancellor Kent Syverud did not handle the situation “in a way that instills confidence.” He called on the university board of trustees to bring in an “experienced monitor” to investigate the spate of racist incidents on campus.

“The hateful activities at Syracuse University are most disturbing, not only to the Syracuse University community, but to the greater community of New York,” Cuomo said in a November statement. “They have not been handled in a manner that reflects this state’s aggressive opposition to such odious, reckless, reprehensible behavior.”

Following several incidents in November, Syverud announced a university-wide suspension of fraternity activities for the rest of the fall semester because of racist incident, and the Department of Public Safety offered a reward for information leading to the arrest or referral of the person responsible. The administration also released a list of commitments in response to the demands of protestors.

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