Syracuse Orange men’s basketball coach Jim Boeheim nearly walked away from the podium before a reporter shifted focus to the energy and activism occurring next door to the Dome. As Boeheim weighed in on racial slurs found in a vandalized Day Hall bathroom last week, over 100 students pondered extending their day-long sit-in protest overnight at the Barnes Center — SU’s new gymnasium.
Boeheim evoked his 57 years at SU in defending the school’s dedication to diversity, athletically and across campus. Chancellor Kent Syverud and administration received heavy criticism over multiple reports that administrators told students at Day Hall not to spread photos of the bathroom or report the incident to the press. Boeheim said Syverud’s move to meet with students in the aftermath at Barnes fulfilled his duty to react.
“I would like to investigate that,” he said, condemning the act. “If it’s a student then they’re gone. If it’s somebody from the outside, is it one or two people? Is it a group? What is it? But we need to find out the facts.”
Boeheim said he never encountered anything like the vandalism since he arrived at SU in the height of the Civil Rights Era. He roomed with (African-American) Dave Bing, an experience that he deemed the greatest in his life. In the aftermath of Ernie Davis becoming the first black Heisman Trophy winner in 1962, he watched society transform in over five decades to him coaching teams made up of predominantly black players.
New issues confront the black community on campus though, as protestors demanded equal access to resources on South Campus, which overwhelmingly houses minority students. They demanded greater commitment to mental health support, which moved into the Barnes Center this fall. Transparency superseded all though, as SU waited nearly one week to officially announce the incident to campus. Syverud apologized for the delay.
“I think Syracuse University has always been a minority-friendly school athletically and student body-wise,” Boeheim said. “I’ve always felt that. What happened in that situation and that could be one complete moron, could be a non-student, you don’t know. You can’t go and blame the whole university for what could be one or two people that are obviously not the kind of people that should be here, if they’re in the university they shouldn’t be here. And if they’re from outside, then you have to try to keep them out.”
Boeheim touted SU among the most diverse in the northeast, but the school’s black student enrollment remained static, according to a recent campus census. Students stressed that and the renovations that shut down Schine Student Center, a popular gathering spot for black students, campus groups and activism, among concerns specifically related to campus.
“We’ve got to find out about (the Day Hall incident) if we can,” he concluded. “There’s no room for that any place at a university, any building, any office in the country. There never has been.”