October 14, 2012

Thank you, Nancy Cantor

Syracuse University photo
Syracuse University Chancellor Nancy Cantor announced this past Friday that she’ll be leaving SU at the end of her contract, which runs through the 2014 school year. 
Over the next several months, there will likely be countless articles on her tenure, some of them positive and some less so, depending on the perspective of the writer or the scope of the article.  Today, I want to share my one and only interaction with the Chancellor, one that I think speaks volumes about her.
Flash back to late October/early November2010, when  Syracuse was going through a bad stretch of violence, including, ironically, at a rally to stop the violence.
I had done a couple of posts on the violence (here and here), and then on Tuesday November 16th, I was sitting at home thinking about everything that was going on, and I had a hare-brained idea and decided to act on it. 

At 8:38 that night, I wrote an email to Chancellor Cantor and asked for her help.  Here are excerpts from that email:
Our city is currently in the midst of a horrible spate of violence, most of it violence by youth against youth... We had shootings on Halloween, we’ve had a murder caught on tape, we’ve had shots fired at a peaceful ‘stop the violence’ gathering. All of it is disturbing, all of it is frightening, and all of it is disheartening. Our city is better than this.
Police Chief Frank Fowler, Mayor Stephanie Miner, and community leaders such as Mary Nelson are reaching out in every way they can, trying to engage local pastors and local organizations, encouraging them to do what they can...in homes, in workplaces, on buses and shops all over town, people are talking, and thinking, and trying to come up with answers...
An idea that occurred to me was to ask members of the SU community...if they’d be willing to appear in short public service announcements calling for an end to the violence. We know that kids look up to famous people, and around here there aren’t a lot of folks more famous than the SU family, both those currently on the Hill and the alumni that we claim as our own.
Is this outside the realm of possibility? Is this something that could be undertaken by students at Newhouse, in cooperation with folks from Maxwell? Does this type of effort fit in with your vision of Scholarship in Action?
Thanks for listening, and thanks for anything you and the SU community can do to help us.
The next day, I received both an email and a voicemail from Henry Wildhack, then an Associate Athletic Director, who had been asked to contact me about my idea.  After a few phone conversations and email exchanges, there was a script in my hand for review - all within 48 hours of my initial email to Cantor. 

The gist of the message was that kids need to stop and think before they pick up the gun, before they get involved with a gang, before they make a mistake that may leave them “six feet under” or behind bars – and yes, those words and images were included in the end product, which was put together by Roger Springfield’s media team and included coaches and players from the football team and both the men’s and women’s basketball teams. The script and resulting video perfectly captured what I had hoped for, and was pretty powerful.

If you attended any games at the Carrier Dome that fall/winter, you may have seen my video on the big screen.  If you watched the news on local television during that time period, you may have seen my video, which ran as a PSA for a period of time on several stations.
I say 'my video' mostly in jest – sure, I had the idea, and planted a seed with Chancellor Cantor.  But she was the one who chose not to ignore the email, who handed it off to the people who could make it happen.  And she did it immediately, when we were still reeling from what was going on, and her team cam through in a big way.

Yes, there’ll be much said about Nancy Cantor and her time here in Syracuse. For her response to my idea back in 2010, I'd like to offer this belated thank you.

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