Ackerman Assault: Students Speak Up
Students came together to share their thoughts to make a change.
By Abby Fritz
A student-led forum was held last Monday in light of the assault on Ackerman Avenue the night of February 9th, when three students were targeted and assaulted because of their race. This forum was held in response to the lack of consideration that both the Syracuse Police Department and Syracuse University presented when informing the student body.
The Student Association and The Student African American Society organized this event to give students a space to voice concerns and present a list of demands they felt must be addressed in regard to handling the consequences of this crime.
Answering questions on behalf of the SU administration was Rob Hradsky, the dean of students; Keith Alford, the interim chief diversity officer; and Bobby Maldonado, the Department of Public Safety chief. No representatives of the Syracuse Police Department were present, although an invitation was extended.
The assault victims were given time to speak at the forum. Jair Walker spoke on his experience, recounting the racial slurs used by the attackers before hitting him on the head with a pistol. “I saw anger in his eyes,” Walker says, speaking to the appearance of the attacker.
Paris Kelly spoke on behalf of the African American Society and presented a list of demands to the administrative representatives. The demands included more sensitivity training requirements, more efforts and programs to protect students that live off campus and in the surrounding areas, and a DPS student liaison program to promote a more cohesive relationship with the student body.
Once the floor was opened up to students, Syracuse officials were directly questioned about the negation of race and the racial motivation behind the attack within the initial emails.
Maldonado responded to students explaining that the investigation is in the hands of the SPD, and is not under Syracuse University DPS jurisdiction.“It’s unprofessional for me, the department of public safety chief, to classify it as a hate crime,” Maldonado says. He also commented on the fact that it is procedure to leave race out of security alerts, even in light of racially driven incidents.
Audience members present responded with a resounding questioning of this practice and for the rationale behind leaving the nature of this crime out of announcements. “I really encourage the administration to find a language that meets these students and their experience of being targeted a little bit more.This language of ‘racially charged’ is erasing their experience,” a member of the forum says.
The Tuesday after the forum was held, Syracuse University sent out an email to students and faculty saying they are taking steps to address the concerns brought up in the forum. This included reaching out to SPD again in order to facilitate a meeting with students regarding the incident, to work with the city in investing in additional security cameras in neighborhoods surrounding the university, and creating a students of color advisory committee to collaborate with DPS in the future.
Syracuse University students are now waiting patiently to see if the University will take direct and immediate action on these demands and promises.
Only time can tell if this will be another Theta Tau repeat and next year the same discussion of marginalized students will be brought forth yet again and consistently put on the backburner of the administration's priorities.