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Syracuse University Suspends 23 Students After Large Campus Gathering

SYRACUSE, NY (WRVO) - Syracuse University announced the suspensions of 23 students Thursday night, for violations of the school's Code of Student Conduct, and for violating the university's Stay Safe Pledge, after more than 100 students gathered on campus Wednesday night with no social distancing and few students wearing face masks.

In a news release sent late Thursday, Department of Public of Safety Chief Bobby Maldonado and Dean of Students Marianne Williamson said the gathering "was foolish as it put these individuals, their fellow students and our ability to remain on campus in jeopardy. We will not tolerate anyone putting the health, safety and well-being of our campus and the Syracuse community at risk."

Maldonado said the gathering began in the quad around 9:30 p.m. Wednesday, but quickly escalated by 10 p.m. Maldonado said officers broke up the gathering and the quad was cleared by 10:30 p.m.

The gathering drew harsh rebuke from SU officials Thursday. "The students who gathered on the Quad [Wednesday] night may have done damage enough to shut down campus, including residence halls and in-person learning, before the academic semester even begins," said SU Vice Chancellor J. Michael Haynie in a scathing letter to students Thursday morning.

Students have been asked to sign a Stay Safe Pledge, which requires students to practice social distancing, and requires the wearing of face masks in public at all times. By signing the pledge, students also agree to limit gatherings to less than 25 people.

"Make no mistake, there was not a single student who gathered on the Quad [Wednesday] night who did not know and understand that it was wrong to do so. Instead, those students knowingly ignored New York State public health law and the provisions of the Syracuse University Stay Safe Pledge," said Haynie in the letter.

Maldonado and Willamson said SU continues to investigate the gathering, and more students could face diciplinary action if identified. They said students who organize off-campus gatherings that violate the Stay Safe pledge face suspension or expulsion. If a gathering is on-campus, the student could be removed from campus housing and face suspension or expulsion.

Several colleges and universities have rolled back reopening plans because of outbreaks on campus. The University of North Carolina switched back to online learning after just one week of in-person classes, after more than 100 students tested positive for COVID-19. Ithaca College announced this week it would not bring students back for the fall semester, opting for 100% virtual classes.

"For these students, this is how tone deaf some of you are," Onondaga County Executive Ryan McMahon said Thursday afternoon. "You saw what happened in North Carolina. You saw what happened at Notre Dame. And then you do that anyway? Come on."

McMahon said the only positive thing is that all students have been tested for COVID-19 twice, so there is little chance any of the students involved in the gathering could spread the virus.

"That's what's saving these kids, and my temperament right now," he said.

McMahon said about 12,000 students are on campus right now, so Wednesday night's gathering represented a small fraction of the student body.

In his letter to students, Haynie offered a stern warning.

"I want you to understand right now and very clearly that we have one shot to make this happen. The world is watching, and they expect you to fail. Prove them wrong. Be better. Be adults. Think of someone other than yourself," he said. "And also, do not test the resolve of this university to take swift action to prioritize the health and well-being of our campus and Central New York community."

McMahon agreed, saying it was "knucklehead central" for students to attend the gathering, and suggested that some should be sent home.

"Some of these students and their comments and their mindset, maybe they're not ready yet for college. Maybe they need to go home for a semester," he said.