CORTLAND, N.Y. — Police at SUNY Cortland are investigating two separate instances where racist graffiti was written on the wall of an academic building on campus following the November presidential election.
In an email to college students, faculty and staff sent out last Wednesday — one day after Election Day — SUNY Cortland President Erik Bitterbaum said that the University Police Department is investigating the incidents.
“Recently a number of blatant displays of bias and disrespect have been directed toward members of the campus community,” Bitterbaum wrote. “On behalf of the college, I want to remind you that actions of this nature will not be tolerated on the SUNY Cortland campus and will be met by the most severe sanctions available.”
College spokesperson Fred Pierce said the college is not releasing any details of what the graffiti said pending the outcome of the police investigation. While the displays would likely not constitute a hate crime or hate speech, the college would enact disciplinary measures against the person or persons responsible, according to Pierce.
“It doesn’t fit the legal definition of a hate crime, but it’s racist speech, and there’s no place for that any college but certainly not at SUNY Cortland,” he said.
Pierce says following the incident, Bitterbaum met privately with student groups of color, faculty and staff to ensure them that such blatant displays of racism would not be tolerated on campus.
The incident follows similar reports of racist graffiti at the SUNY Geneseo campus, near Rochester, prompting New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo to launch a hate crime investigation into the incident. Cuomo has also launched a state hotline to report incidents of discrimination.
About 17 percent of students at SUNY Cortland fall into “underrepresented groups,” which includes African-Americans, Hispanics and Asians, among others, Pierce said. That number is up sharply from a decade ago, when just 4 percent of students were from minority groups.
Pierce says in response to the incident, the college plans to hold a series of “campus community conversations on diversity.”
“We can’t limit investigations to one single event,” he said. “We really need to have a conversation that gets at some of the root issues.”