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Commentary & Opinion

Fred Kowal: We Will Not Be Silent

United University Professions abhors racism and hate speech in all its forms, and this union will always stand up to and fight efforts by any individual or group that embraces and propagates these vile beliefs.

Therefore, we stand with the students at Syracuse University who have railed against the university’s administration over its sluggish response to a series of racist incidents on and around campus.

At least a dozen events have occurred since early November, including racist graffiti in dorm bathrooms, a swastika carved in the snow, and a white supremacist manifesto sent to some students using the file-sharing feature AirDrop.

UUP represents over 37,000 academics and professional employees at State University of New Your four-year campuses across the state. As such, our union respects differing views and perspectives. But no safe harbor should be given to racism.

While UUP does not represent SU faculty or staff, members of our union are part of the fabric of the Syracuse community. Our membership makes up thousands of employees at SUNY Upstate Medical University, the region’s largest employer, SUNY’s College of Environmental Science and Forestry, and SUNY Oswego.

UUP also condemns a Nov. 22 incident at the University at Buffalo, where anti-Semitic, racist and homophobic graffiti was found in a dorm bathroom stall.

But there are major differences in the ways the schools reacted to the hatred on their campuses. We applaud UB President Satish K. Tripathi for acting quickly to publicize the incident and stating unequivocally that racism and hatred will not be tolerated at UB. And we support Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who has directed the State Police Hate Crimes Task Force to investigate at both universities.

In contrast, Syracuse University Chancellor Kent Syverud and SU administrators waited four days after racist graffiti was found in a dormitory before sending a Nov. 11 email notifying students about the incident—convincing some students that administration was trying to downplay the event. The next day, Syverud apologized for the university’s lax response.

That wasn’t enough for SU students, some of whom were shaken and fear for their safety, but not too scared to fight back.

It was students who staged a week-long sit-in and demanded that Syverud agree to a list of demands to combat racism. When Syverud wavered at a student forum, hundreds of students walked out. He later agreed to 16 of them, with minor revisions to the others.

We congratulate the students for their courage to call out the SU administration over its handling of the incidents and for doing little to resolve racial divisions some students say are evident on campus.

The racist acts that occurred at Syracuse University are abhorrent and compel our union to speak out. Our members—especially our Syracuse-area members at Upstate, ESF, and SUNY Oswego—stand shoulder-to-shoulder with students in this fight.

At Upstate, our members provide cutting-edge, life-saving health care to all who come to the hospital seeking care—regardless of whether they can pay for it. Our medical school has educated and graduated more than 4,000 doctors who live and work in New York state.

ESF is uniquely positioned to help lead SUNY’s transition to renewable energy sources and can work to meet the mandates of the sweeping Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act.

SUNY Oswego is one of America’s best comprehensive colleges and is known for excellence, value and alumni, who are fiercely local to their alma mater.

UUP will always be quick to condemn racism, and wherever it rears its ugly head.

Dr. Fred Kowal is President of the 35,000 member United University Professions, which represents faculty on 29 New York State Campuses. UUP is an affiliate of NYSUT, The American Federation of Teachers, The National Education Association and the AFL-CIO.

The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.

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