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After report of racist incident, Syracuse suspends all fraternities — even minority ones

After report of racist incident, Syracuse suspends all fraternities — even minority ones

Syracuse University administrators suspended all fraternity activities after reports of a racist incident.

  • FIRE calls on Syracuse to immediately lift the overbroad, one-size-fits-all punishment.

SYRACUSE, N.Y., Nov. 22, 2019 — Days after an alleged racist incident caused Syracuse University to pull the plug on all fraternity activities — even those of minority fraternities — the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education is calling on the university to stop punishing students it doesn’t even suspect to have done anything wrong. The incident is one of many to rock the campus in recent weeks, prompting increased scrutiny from the public and political leaders, and causing the university to scramble to take action.

Today, FIRE wrote to Syracuse Chancellor and President Kent Syverud demanding administrators immediately lift their ban on fraternity social activities and recommit to respecting student rights to free association. 


“The fact that even minority fraternities are punished for an alleged racist incident — along with others that the university has admitted had nothing to do with it — is a testament to the profound disrespect the Syracuse administration has for its students’ rights and fundamental fairness,” said Zach Greenberg, author of FIRE’s letter. “Syracuse’s leaders must immediately lift their blanket ban on fraternity activities and end the university’s shameful practice of punishing student groups innocent of wrongdoing.”

On Sunday, administrators sent out a campus-wide email announcing the suspension of all Syracuse fraternities’ social activities for the remainder of the semester. Among the fraternities punished by Syracuse are numerous chapters of the Syracuse Interfraternity Council, National Association of Latino Fraternal Organizations, National Pan-Hellenic Council, and Multicultural Greek Council, which include African American, Latino, Asian American, and Jewish fraternal organizations.

Collective punishment seems to be just fine with Syracuse. According to Syverud, “[w]hile only one fraternity may have been involved in this particular incident, given recent history, all fraternities must come together with the University community to reflect upon how to prevent recurrence of such seriously troubling behavior.”

Syracuse’s overreaction cannot be reconciled with the public commitments it has made purporting to protect the rights of students to engage in free association. While Syracuse may impose restrictions on student groups accused of violating campus policy, such rules must be consistent with the First Amendment standards the university promises to uphold, including its stated commitment to honor students’ right to assemble and “associate with religious or other organizations of their choice.” 

Syracuse is a perennial offender on FIRE’s annual list of the worst colleges for free speech. FIRE will continue to monitor developments.

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization dedicated to defending and sustaining the individual rights of students and faculty members at America’s colleges and universities. These rights include freedom of speech, freedom of association, due process, legal equality, religious liberty, and sanctity of conscience — the essential qualities of liberty.


Daniel Burnett, Assistant Director of Communications, FIRE: 215-717-3473;

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