Express SU forum invites students to voice their challenges and hopes for the campus

Students, administration, and faculty members gathered in Hendricks Chapel on Thursday afternoon to discuss issues about minority scholarship cuts, understanding diversity, and what it means to truly belong at SU.

Raising signs with messages such as “Why are we being ignored?” and “No decisions about us without us,” Syracuse University students led a silent but powerful protest on the steps of Hendricks Chapel before the 3:30 p.m. start of the university-organized Express SU forum Thursday. Their point was to show that although conversations about diversity and inclusion often take place on campus, actual concrete changes and solutions rarely take effect.

“It is important to give people confidence that I am a man of my word.” -- Kent Syverud

The Express SU forum, officially called “Express Yourself: A Syracuse University Community Conversation on Diversity and Inclusion,” was organized by SU administration following the viral spread of an Instagram video in which SU women’s soccer player Hanna Strong uses racist and homophobic slurs. The incident resonated with broader experiences and concerns of minority students on campus who felt it necessary that their voices be heard.

Cuts to the Posse scholarship program and the closing of the Advocacy Center for sexual assault victims were just a few of the many concerns students raised during the forum.

Demanding more than just an ongoing series of conversations, students who spoke at the forum made it clear that they want to see concrete changes within the administration, the faculty and staff and the student body as a whole. Aside from their frustration with the university’s decision to make cuts to programs primarily used by racial minorities such as the Posse program, students also brought up their struggle to find a sense of belonging on campus. The forum encouraged students to share the biases and discrimination they face at SU.

The chapel echoed with passionate voices as students shared personal stories about the challenges they’ve encountered at SU. Recurring themes included the perpetuation of racial entitlement and the feeling among minority students that they have to prove themselves in order to feel worthy of being at SU. Students also brought up the need for more safe spaces outside of an administrative structure where dialogue on self-expression and understanding diversity can take place without judgment.

The desire to be recognized as individuals and not be generalized by race, gender, sexual orientation or disabilities was a key part of the discussion as well. Students said that instead of having to constantly prove they are entitled here, they want to embody a culture of all-inclusiveness and belonging.

“As a current student I’ve been hoping to see some change for a while now,” said Claudia Chen, communications and rhetorical studies junior, in an interview after the forum. “I’ve been doing little efforts and steps, but nothing has really come up to something like this.”

Students said they want to see change not only in administration, but also in the way that their peers are educated about diversity and inclusion. Understanding what is acceptable and appropriate language, taking collaborative action against discriminatory behavior, and giving international students respect despite cultural barriers are just a few suggestions they offered.

When asked about what they hope for SU, students requested organic changes rather than forced implementation of policies and that initiatives take place in a timely manner. They said they also hope to dispel biased, preconceived notions and seek transparency in the SU administration.

In a closing statement, Chancellor Kent Syverud summarized the main points voiced by the students. He also talked about his role as a leader for SU.

“It’s hard becoming a university president in part because of learning what leadership really means,” he said. “Leadership means occasionally telling people what they don’t want to hear.”

Before the forum ended, Syverud also addressed students’ demand for concrete changes that are consensually possible. “It is important to give people confidence that I am a man of my word,” he said. 

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