American University hosts town hall to address racist incident targeting black women
Students march to financial aid office to request withdrawal forms in act of protest
The President’s Council on Diversity and Inclusion led a community town hall in the Kay Chapel on Tuesday to address Monday’s racist incident targeting black women and Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Incorporated, whose members include Student Government President Taylor Dumpson.
“If you had told me [three years ago] that I would be student government president and that I would have bananas put on my campus, my university that I pay to go to, that I put my hard earned time into, that I work to get a degree just like anyone else,” Dumpson said at the town hall. “If you would have told me that it took this to happen...I guarantee you if you told me that then, then I would not be at this University.”
During the town hall, more than a hundred students exited the chapel and marched to the Office of Financial Aid in the Asbury building to request withdrawal forms as an act of protest. The students then marched back to the chapel and created their own impromptu town hall outside of the Kogod School of Business.
In response to criticism of AU’s policies toward hate crimes, University President Neil Kerwin said AU will be considering changes to their policies regarding bias related incidents and hate crimes this year.
“Later in the fall, the President’s Council on Diversity and Inclusion, with the help of senior administration, will consider a complete rewrite of our discrimination and discriminatory harassment policies,” Kerwin said. “Those policies have been in place now for decades. They have developed over time in an incremental manner and they need a complete redo.
Community expresses concerns about communications, response from administrators
Community members, including students and alumni, raised questions about the AU Alerts system and why there wasn’t a notification to the community earlier on Monday. Fanta Aw, the interim vice president of campus life, sent an email about the incident to the campus community at 12:58 p.m. on Monday, nearly six hours after the bananas were first discovered and reported to public safety officers.
Phillip Morse, the executive director of the AU police department, said that communication from the University can come in various forms that don’t include AU Alerts, like President Kerwin’s memo, sent around 7 p.m. last night, and Aw’s memo.
Morse also said that a flyer with information about the crime will be released by the AU police department shortly. He also announced that a $1,000 reward is being offered for anyone with adequate information about the incident, and that he has spoken to federal agents about the investigation. He strongly urged students to speak up about anything that has seemed out of place.
.@AUPublicSafety Director Phillip Morse says he has communicated with FBI and will meet with Civil Rights Division officer today
— The Eagle (@TheEagleOnline) May 2, 2017
In addition, Morse said that when there is a “continuing, immediate threat” to the community, that’s when an alert will be sent out. He believes that the response from the university was “adequate” in this instance, but recognized the need for an improved response time.
Students were also upset with Kerwin’s lack of engagement with students about race over the last two years. Dumpson addressed President Kerwin about his lack of interaction with students, and that it’s a “shame” that he has little time left in his tenure at AU.
She hopes that the University will take a strong stance on changing the student experience and said that the current pace of progress is too slow.
Students protest by requesting withdrawal forms
After spending about 45 minutes at the University town hall, students from several campus organizations walked out of Kay Chapel together to begin marching to the Asbury building, where they planned to request withdrawal forms from the Office of Financial Aid. The demonstration had been planned the night before at a meeting of student leaders.
Student demonstrators chanting "Hey hey, ho ho, this racist shit has got to go" as they march past McKinley pic.twitter.com/gr8IwPL2QT
— The Eagle (@TheEagleOnline) May 2, 2017
Student organizers, namely senior Nick Pierce who led the crowd with a megaphone, instructed demonstrators to fill out withdrawal forms and return them for processing without signatures. This would ensure that they would not be unenrolled from AU.
After several students received withdrawal forms, they began to march back toward the Kay Chapel with the intention of delivering a list of demands to administrators at the town hall. However, the town hall had ended before the demonstrators returned, so Helen Abraha and Alyssa Moncure of the Darkening announced the demands outside of the Kogod School of Business.
The demands called for mandatory expulsion for hate crimes, implementation of training programs for AU faculty, increasing the number of faculty and staff of color and improving financial aid packages for all students.
After the list was announced, administrators came forward to accept the list and say they would try to work with students on the demands. Celine-Marie Pascale, an associate dean in the College of Arts and Sciences, was met with student pushback when she did not commit to meeting the demands.
“You can suck up y’all’s anger and make sure that we are okay. We pay tuition,” sophomore Isaiah Young of the Black Student Alliance said during an exchange with Pascale. “We basically cut y’all’s checks and so therefore until our demands are met, y’all are not getting no checks. Divest from paying y’all’s tuition and cut their resources.”
Othniel Harris of Alpha Phi Alpha, Incorporated, a historically African-American fraternity, announced that he had secured a meeting with Provost Scott Bass that would include his fraternity brothers and other black student leaders.
"He guaranteed me that, with his word," Harris said to the crowd. "We shook hands, and if you know business, shaking hands is just as good as signing a contract. So we will have that meeting, and we will bring black student leaders with us, and we will bring solutions to this problem of racism on our campus."
Students continued to take the megaphone to encourage members of the crowd continue to push for change as the protest came to a close, nearly two hours after the town hall began.
“At the end of the day, we are stronger than this,” Abraha told the crowd. “We are more beautiful than this.”