After videos posted to a private Facebook group appeared to show members using racial slurs and mocking certain groups of people, an engineering fraternity at Syracuse University has been suspended.
In a letter to students and faculty on Wednesday, Syracuse Chancellor Kent Syverud said an investigation was being launched.
As an offensive video involving members of Theta Tau, a professional engineering fraternity at Syracuse University, spreads across the country, students are looking for ways to heal and demanding swift action from school administrators.
The video, apparently intended as a “satirical sketch” depicting an uneducated, intolerant person, according to an apology from the fraternity, shows members using racist and anti-Semitic language. The university became aware that the video was circulating online and suspended the fraternity Wednesday, but did not release the video to the public.
Enter The Daily Orange, the campus’ independent student newspaper that first released the video to the public and is working around the clock to cover the story from the ground.
The newspaper has placed an extra emphasis on inclusivity since the beginning of the year,which uniquely positions the newsroom to cover the student body’s reaction to the video and the campus-wide conversation that followed, said editor-in-chief Alexa Diaz, who is the first woman of color to lead the paper.
This story is coming at an interesting time for the student paper, as it is involved in a nationwide project with Pro Publica called Documenting Hate, which consists of collecting and verifying hate crimes and bias incidents around the country.
Also going on is a nationwide hashtag campaign, called #savestudentnewsrooms, which has called for student media organizations to publish editorials on April 25 highlighting the importance of student media.
A Q&A with Alexa Diaz, Editor-in-Chief of the Daily Orange
Edited for clarity.
How did you handle the release of the video and why was it so important to you to do so?
“We obtained the video and we knew right off the bat that it was incredibly important for us to contact our legal counsel, and do everything we can … to verify the video and make sure that we’re doing everything that we need to do responsibly, and just report on this like no one else can. That’s really the power of independent student newsrooms, being able to publish that video.
(When asked about the mechanics of how The Daily Orange obtained the video, Diaz said she could not speak to those details.)
“The first thing that we thought of was the accessibility of information. That’s why it was so important to us that we made it a readable video, so that someone could watch and understand what was happening (and) what words were being said to the best of our understanding.
“We hear a lot about what goes on in Greek life and student organizations, and this was a visual example of one of those instances, and we knew we were going to take that and really run with it and report on it in the best way that we can. That’s what we’re trying to do, even right now as the protests are ongoing on campus.”
What’s your role as a student-run newspaper as a story like this unfolds across the country?
“We have the closest eye on the university at all times, and it’s not only this weekend and not only when videos go national. Syracuse has a number of initiatives — diversity initiatives, committees, task forces — that, over time, work on issues like this, but now we’re able to track, ‘This is what their goals are, and this is how they’re reacting to this video and to this instance,’ to students who are very upset about what’s been going on.”
How will The Daily Orange continue to cover this story and topics like race, hate and inclusivity issues on campus going forward?
“One of our biggest goals always at The Daily Orange, and especially this year, is to cement ourselves as an inclusive news organization. We’ve written so many editorials on behalf of our editorial board … encouraging community members to engage with us, to challenge us, to critique us, to make us a better organization so that we can better cover the university and the greater Syracuse community.
“This doesn’t end when protests end, it just keeps going, and there are cultural issues and institutional issues to report on here, which is what we look forward to.”
What are the next steps after the video?
Students called for an immediate and significant response from Chancellor Kent Syverud, who is an Irondequoit native, in response to the video, and he released a list of action items to the campus community Thursday via email, which included the following:
- Continue suspension of all Theta Tau activities until further notice and engage the Theta Tau national office in conducting a comprehensive chapter review.
- Conduct a top to bottom review of all our Greek life policies, activities and culture, to be commenced this week and completed in time for us to revise all our practices for the start of the fall semester.
- Provide mandatory training for all students, new and continuing, about the culture and expectations of our community.
- Conduct a review by the academic leadership and administrative leadership, including all deans, of appropriate training for faculty and staff, to commence this summer.
Theta Tau released a statement apologizing for the video, noting that it depicted a skit meant to roast active brothers.
“This event was never intended to be centered around racism or hate. This year, one of these brothers is a conservative Republican, and the new members roasted him by playing the part of a racist conservative character,” the school’s Theta Tau chapter says on its website. The men who participated in the sketch don’t hold those views themselves, it continued.
The chapter said it’s embarrassed, disappointed and ashamed, adding, “Anyone of color or of any marginalized group who has seen this video has every right to be angry and upset with the despicable contents of that video.”
Syverud previously called the video racist, anti-Semitic, homophobic, sexist and hostile to people with disabilities.
Many students weren’t surprised with the video’s content, as they believe the views on display flow under the surface of Greek life, said junior and resident adviser Claire Stocum, 19, of Binghamton.
“College kids, they joke around, but it was taken to the next level with this video, and the campus finally had evidence of this culture,” she said. “People are finally paying attention to what’s going on.”
The video was offensive to “almost every minority group,” she said, which “brought the whole campus together in this concern for the culture.”
“There’s a lot of concern for what this shows about our campus as a whole, and what that looks like for students that are considering coming here,” said Stocum.
In regard to Syverud’s “top to bottom review” of the campus’ fraternity and sorority policies, activities and culture, students are interested to learn what that means, said Stocum.
‘When we come back next semester, I think people will be looking out for those changes,” she said.
While being in the national news spotlight for such a negative reason isn’t a comfortable place to be, this incident will hopefully continue to bring to light broader issues of inclusivity on campuses around the world, she continued.
“It’s not like this only happens at Syracuse. This is an issue around college campuses everywhere,” she said.
Includes reporting by the Associated Press.
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