Prompted by viral video, campus forum to draw wide variety of students together for open discussion

The Syracuse University chapter of the NAACP will hold a forum Friday in Grant Auditorium at 1 p.m.

Organizers of the Friday’s campus forum are anticipating a diverse audience for their open discussion on issues of race and identity on Syracuse University’s campus

The forum, organized by the Syracuse University of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, comes in response to an Instagram video that went viral this weekend. In the video, SU soccer player Hanna Strong uses racist and homophobic slurs. Its spread on social media prompted students to organize a same-day meeting on Saturday, when early plans for a better organized follow-up forum also began to take shape, said Danielle Reed, an African American studies and Spanish junior who participated.

This follow-up forum will take place in Grant Auditorium on Friday, Sept. 12 between 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. In addition to the viral video, Reed said organizers will raise issues such as the ongoing events in Ferguson, Mo. The intent is to prompt an open and educated conversation about issues that especially affect underrepresented students on campus.

Although the initial meeting — organized through social media in the course of about two hours — brought primarily underrepresented students to Goldstein Student Center on South Campus, Reed said, earlier planning and a push to reach out to other demographics among students is expected to broaden Friday’s participants both in number and experience.

“I’m trying to go above and beyond and really reach out and make it impossible for other organizations to ignore our invitation,” said Reed, who is involved in the planning as part of NAACP’s executive board. “Even if we have to go door to door on frat row, they will know this event is happening.”

The Graduate Student Association, for example, has encouraged participation in the forum in an emailed statement to members. Likewise, Pride Union executive board members said representatives from their organizations will also attend.

Pride Union has also been raising awareness this week for the homophobic aspect of the viral video, said Ian Schenk, Pride Union’s secretary and a paper engineering junior at the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry. They’ve been promoting a hashtag on Twitter, #OutspokenSU, to specifically address the queer perspective of the video and to complement the NAACP’s promoted hashtag, #SpeakUpSU.

“They’re both equally important issues, and it’s important the campus pays attention to both,” Schenk said, referring to racial and identity issues raised by the video. He added, “We want to take the focus away from her and bring it back to the language that’s used every day.”

Molly Mendenhall, Pride Union’s president and a women’s and gender studies senior, said she hoped the video would prompt a policy change at the university. Currently, she said, hate speech is not covered in the student handbook.

The video brought pre-existing issues on campus into open discussion, said Anju Franklin, president of the Student African American Society, and it’s important that this momentum holds. “We’re hoping that this isn’t a fad,” she said.

Franklin, who is a biology and African American studies senior, said students began spreading a hashtag, #ITooAmSU, to continue the momentum throughout the week. Through their Tweets, she said, participants highlight diversity on campus and combat the perception that underrepresentated students are all on scholarships, for example. "We deserve to be here as much as anybody else," she said.

Through the hashtag campaign, she said, alumni are learning about the current campus climate and becoming involved. Because Coming Back Together, SU’s annual reunion for Black and Latino alumni, falls next weekend, Franklin said she hoped to pull alumni into the momentum as well.

“A lot of people have a lot of passion right now to keep this going,” she said.

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