Delivering American University's news and views since 1925. | Saturday, November 17, 2018

State of the union: Catching up with SG president Taylor Dumpson

Midway through her term, Dumpson is focused on improving campus climate

State of the union: Catching up with SG president Taylor Dumpson

Student Government President Taylor Dumpson, pictured at a rally in September, said she is committed to responding to racist incidents on campus and advocating for safe spaces for students of color. 

When she was first elected student government president, Taylor Dumpson’s central campaign promise was to create an "Ask Clawed" phone app for students to ask questions about campus resources.

A lot has changed since then. More than six months into her term as president, Dumpson has witnessed two major racist incidents on campus, one of which targeted her and was later termed a hate crime by the FBI. This reality has led Dumpson to shift her focus towards initiatives that create a better campus climate, specifically for students of color.

In an October interview with The Eagle, Dumpson said she is committed to responding to these racist incidents and advocating for safe spaces for students of color.

Reacting to racist attacks on campus

In September, Confederate flag fliers were found pinned to bulletin boards with cotton stalks taped to them in four buildings on campus.

Following the incident, which took place the same night professor Ibram X. Kendi gave a presentation about his new Anti Racist Research and Policy Center, the University hosted a town hall with students and community members to discuss racism and safety at AU.

“The threat came from someone who recognized that AU is like a breeding ground for things like this,” Dumpson said. “Just like Berkeley or the University of Texas, there are so many schools across the country that have very active students and very passionate students that are being targeted with propaganda and hateful rhetoric across the country.”

Dumpson was at the center of the response to the incident, organizing a rally alongside Kendi. She wanted all community groups affected by the flag incident to be involved in the rally and know their concerns were being heard.

“Although this incident has obvious racial epithets, they were also posted on an Israel Studies sign,” Dumpson said. “There are a lot of times where I hear Jewish students specifically, that they feel left out of the conversation.”

This wasn’t the first time a racist incident had occurred on campus. In May, bananas were hung from nooses featuring the words AKA, a predominantly African-American sorority. The act occurred right after Dumpson was elected as the first black female president of AU’s student government.

Since then, Dumpson has pushed for an annual campus climate survey that allows students to express how safe they feel on campus. Currently, the survey is conducted every two years, and until this October, none of the survey results were made available to students.

Dumpson is concerned that the biannual basis of the survey and AU’s refusal to release the full results do not allow community members to measure progress.

“It’s a disservice to students to not be able to know what they are coming into and what the state of the campus is prior to coming on campus,” Dumpson said. “You don’t know where your money is going if you don’t know what the campus dynamics are. If you don’t feel safe, how can you know?”

Dumpson’s next steps: Burwell, HOME space and 'Ask Clawed'

Nearly two months after the Confederate flag incident, many students are wondering: what comes next?

Dumpson is hopeful that under President Sylvia Burwell, who took over in June, administrators will effectively respond to student concerns. Burwell has been hosting listening sessions with students and campus organizations to hear out their concerns.

“I think the world of her,” Dumpson said. “She’s very compassionate, she’s very empathetic and she has not had an easy start to coming to campus because she started exactly one month after the hate crime.”

Dumpson believes there needs to be more student contact with administrators to ensure they are taking the right steps to make students feel comfortable on campus.

“[I’ve been] following up with administrators and making sure that they’re bringing the right people into the conversations and recognizing that it’s not just my voice that matters.” Dumpson said.

Currently, Dumpson and her student government colleagues are in the process of developing HOME, which stands for Hub for Organizing Multiculturalism and Equity. The space, located on the third floor of the Mary Graydon Center, is meant to be a safe space for students to feel comfortable. Dumpson plans for it to open this fall.

“It’s a space for students to feel unapologetically themselves,” Dumpson said. “This can be a space where students can be supported, validated, reaffirmed and just be able to exist without the rest of the stress and the outside world.”

And Dumpson has not forgotten about "Ask Clawed." She said SG is working to create a Facebook page where students can express their concerns or ask simple questions about the University and receive answers.

“In an ideal world, it wouldn’t be student government administering 'Ask Clawed,'” Dumpson said. “The University would also have control so that if there’s an issue or concern that we can’t answer, students will still have their questions answered.”

Dumpson also has advice for incoming students who are worried about coming to AU because of racist incidents on campus.

“I don’t know if I would be who I am without the good, the bad and the ugly,” Dumpson said. “There is no college in the world that you can remove current events from impacting [you] and because AU is in D.C., we are impacted by national issues every day. Staying at AU for the last three years, I have really found a passion for advocacy and I have found my voice. I don’t know if I would have gotten that anywhere else.”

lromero@theeagleonline.com


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