Education Professor Directs “Deep Distress” at Syverud’s “Menacing” Attitude Toward “Thoughtful” Student Protestors

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Dear Chancellor Syverud,

I am writing to add my deep distress about recent decisions you have made about how to deal with the student protesters on our campus.

I have been a tenured full professor at this University for over 23 years, and I have never been prouder of our students. There are so many laments about apathetic students and those who are more concerned about partying than they are about their own educations or broader issues of social justice. And now, we have all witnessed some of the finest thinking and organizing ever on this topic. This has truly been democracy in action. The students have been well organized, supportive of one another, thoughtful about their own educations and decisions and policies on campus that are problematic — and they have communicated all of this respectfully.

Those of us who have supported them from the beginning have been watchful of how the administration would respond, and, at first, I was quite hopeful. There seemed to be a real respect for the thinking and integrity of the students, and the entire situation has provided so many teachable moments about social change and advocacy. Two students from the General Body came to speak to my class on Social Justice and Diversity last Friday, and they were magnificent. They were neither strident nor angry, but were articulate and clear about their concerns, the courses of action that would alleviate those concerns, and the ways in which their demands transcended individual wants or needs. I was so proud of them, and thrilled that my students (who are preparing to be educators) could have such a clear model of how one moves from beliefs and ideologies to action.

This is, indeed, a critical moment in your relatively new position of leadership, and all eyes are on you and on Syracuse University. I urge you to think about what kind of University we are and what kind we will become if the response to the students is heavy-handed and menacing. I want to continue to be proud of my institution and of the administration as models of civic engagement and a commitment to social justice and diversity. Many of the student concerns focused on issues of transparency, and the most recent decision to deny students access to legal counsel, seems to confirm the impression that things happen in secret and in private and that those of us who should know and want to know are left out of the loop.

As co-chair of the working group on Participatory Experiences on Diversity, I can only say that THIS challenge to you and the administration provides the most powerful example of how one provides meaningful and important opportunities to broaden student and faculty understanding about diversity and inclusion. Adding a course on diversity will never be as significant as what the entire community will learn from how this challenge is handled.

I am willing and able to speak to you or Bea personally if I can be of assistance in thinking and re-thinking how one deals respectfully with the General Body on our campus.

Sincerely,

Mara Sapon-Shevin
Professor of Inclusive Education
Faculty member: Disabilities Studies, Women’s Studies, Programs in the Analysis and Resolution of Conflicts

Syracuse University

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