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Pro-Palestinian SU student protestor faces conduct charges

People and tents on a large lawn, with a fence in the foreground and large campus buildings in the background.
Chris Bolt
SU set up a fence to separate the Pro-Palestinian encampments tents from the university's commencement tents and activities. (May 2024)

Updated 6/27/24, 10:44 a.m.

A Syracuse University graduate student is facing student conduct charges Thursday morning, in connection with a campus pro-Palestinian encampment this spring.

Cai Cafiero’s meeting with SU’s Community Standards is over allegations that on May 9, 2024, she refused to relocate the encampment, after SU asked student protestors to move their tents, as commencement tents were being pitched.

Cafiero was media spokesperson for the encampment, which lasted from April 30 to May 15. She says she’s not too worried about Thursday’s informal discussion, at which a professor from SU’s School of Education, which is where she is enrolled, will serve as her Procedural Advisor. But Cafiero is worried about future implications.

“Any sort of reprimand or disciplinary probation that I leave with, means that any sort of activism that I choose to engage with in the future will have much more severe consequences,” she said.

She calls the charges an “egregious affront” to her freedoms of speech and expression, and hypocritical, at a school that “really prides itself on the history of student protests. Our library had a digital exhibit about the student strike of 1970. Syracuse students participated in Anti-Apartheid strikes. There was the general body protest in 2017. There was NotAgainSU. In 50 years, is someone going to take this copy of my conduct letter and put it on display to show how much Syracuse has changed?”

Cafiero says, to her knowledge, she is one of at least eight students to be charged with conduct violations.

Syracuse University declined to answer other questions from WAER, including whether Community Standards decisions go on students’ permanent records, or could affect future protest activities, and where the school draws the line between First Amendment protections and its protocols.

The school is not specifying how many students have been charged so far. According to Sarah Scalese, SU Senior Associate Vice President for Communications, “Several students have been identified and referred to the conduct system.”

SU also provided the following statement:

“In compliance with to federal privacy laws, the University will not comment on individual conduct cases. All students who violate the Student Conduct Code are subject to the same adjudication procedures set forth in the Student Conduct System Handbook. As explicitly communicated to the student protesters on May 8, failure to relocate the protest from the Quad to one of two alternate protest locations offered to them would constitute a disruption of University graduation week activities in violation of University policy and would result in charges under the Student Conduct Code. Students were given every opportunity to comply with the request and those who failed to comply were referred to the Office of Community Standards and our conduct system.”

Cafiero was informed of her conduct charges on June 13. It is unclear why SU waited more than a month after the encampment ended.

Natasha Senjanovic teaches radio broadcasting at the Newhouse School while overseeing student journalists at WAER and creating original reporting for the station. She can also be heard hosting All Things Considered some weekday afternoons.