Central New York, Community, Education

Student Movement Rises in Wake of Theta Tau Expulsion from Syracuse University

Students rally outside Hendricks Chapel before an open community forum on April 18, 2018. (c) 2018 James Hilepo


Click “Play” to hear more about the student protests against the Theta Tau fraternity.

Audio Transcript: Hilepo_ThetaTau_Script

By James Hilepo SYRACUSE, N.Y. (NCC News) — Just before noon on April 18, Chancellor Kent Syverud sent an email to the entire student body at Syracuse University, announcing that the school was suspending the professional engineering fraternity, Theta Tau, after videos surfaced showing fraternity members and pledges using racial and religious slurs, as well as making offensive remarks about the disabled. Only hours after the email was sent, over a hundred students gathered outside the chancellor’s residence to demand change.

The group of students banded together under the name Recognize US and marched from the chancellor’s residence to Hendricks Chapel, where they held an open forum for students to express their feelings about the situation. On the way there, one of the movement’s student organizers, Tayla Myree, made her feelings clear.

“I’m sick, I’m really sick,” Myree told the crowd through a megaphone, “All of us need to stand together as students of color on this campus. We need to stand together as people, period, on this campus and hold our faculty, staff, and administration accountable, and hold Greek row accountable.”

Myree took aim at the university administration because for her, and for many of those rallying alongside her, this situation is nothing new. Alumna of SUNY College of

Environmental Science and Forestry, Megan Ferreira, came to protest as soon as she heard about what had happened.

“My response is really just not being surprised whatsoever,” Ferreira explained, “because this is something that is systemic throughout the Greek system.”

The belief that an inherent racist, sexist, ableist culture exists throughout Greek life is one shared by many in the Recognize US movement. Sophomore organizer Liam McMonagle expanded on that belief and his plans to use the videos, made public the evening of the Hendricks Chapel forum not by the university, but by The Daily Orange.

McMonagle explained, “It’s something that we all kind of know is happening but it’s good that now there’s proof. There’s one piece of concrete evidence among millions of instances, and this is something we can work with and build on, that we can bring forward and say, ‘Look, here it is. It’s happening.'”

Some members of Greek life reject this idea, however, as one brother of Zeta Beta Tau, Ethan Schiffman, made sure to point out.

“I just think that a couple of fraternities that may stand out shouldn’t represent everybody else,” Schiffman said.

The Recognize US forum at Hendricks that night lasted nearly four hours, as students shared personal thoughts, concerns, and experiences, and the group as a whole chose to call into question the Chancellor’s choice not to attend the forum, as well as the efficiency of his

response up to that point. They described it as focused mostly on protecting money than ensuring tangible change.

In the weeks following the release of the videos, the situation has dominated the spotlight at Syracuse University. Many of the colleges at the school have held their own community forums to discuss the issue, while the university has permanently expelled Theta Tau from campus, and the students involved in the videos are facing possible expulsion as well.

The Recognize US movement published a list of demands to the university, asking for an audit of all of Greek life, implicit bias training for new students and faculty, and the hiring of more people of color.

As the summer approaches for the student body, Dr. Biko Mandela Gray, an assistant professor at SU who has been helping to mentor the movement, knows the group needs more help from the school, but is optimistic about the near future at the university.

“The conversation seems more transparent than normal,” Dr. Gray observed, “But also it needs to amp up, I need to hear more support. The expectation is that, hopefully this time, things actually change.”

Focused on the speed and efficiency of their work, Recognize US  members hope they will see their change in action by this fall.