Delivering American University's news and views since 1925. | Friday, September 21, 2018

Venue choice for Founder’s Day Ball sparks strong reactions from students

SG responds to criticism that National Museum of African American History and Culture choice is ‘distasteful’

Venue choice for Founder’s Day Ball sparks strong reactions from students

A view from inside the  National Museum of African American History and Culture, the selected venue for the 2018 Founder's Day Ball. 

Even if junior Aleisha Bynum wasn’t currently studying abroad in Nairobi, Kenya, they still wouldn’t want to attend this year’s Founder’s Day Ball.

When Student Government announced Monday that the 2018 Founder’s Day Ball will be held at the National Museum of African American History and Culture, Bynum was not pleased.

“I appreciate that by hosting the annual Founder’s Day Ball at the NMAAHC, AUSG may have been hoping to start a dialogue about history and diversity,” Bynum said in a Facebook message. “However, when one envisions a group of majority white students from a predominately white school which has a recent history of racist incidents against black students, it feels very distasteful.”

Bynum wasn’t alone. Several students spoke out about the event on social media, calling the venue choice inappropriate and disrespectful.

In response to the negative feedback, Founder’s Week Director Demi DeBonis said she sees the Founder’s Day Ball venue as not only an opportunity for students to experience the new museum, but also think more critically about race.

“We are celebrating the past 125 years of our university, but we are also celebrating and taking an active role in crafting what we want the next 125+ years of American University to be,” DeBonis told The Eagle in an email. “The NMAAHC highlights the accomplishments, honors and contributions of African-Americans to our country and to the liberties that we all enjoy today.”

Some of Bynum’s friends have decided not to get tickets, even though they usually make an effort to go, Bynum said. If it wasn’t too late to pick a new venue, Bynum would have preferred SG to host this year’s ball at the National Portrait Gallery or the Library of Congress — not the National Museum of African American History and Culture.

Bynum said they don’t like thinking of white students who use racial slurs and claim black students were “overreacting” to the nooses and bananas around campus last year dancing and snapping selfies in front of parts of the museum showcasing the traumatic experiences of African-Americans.

“I do not believe that having a late night dance party will lead to the type of focused education that needs to occur,” Bynum said. “It seems more likely that this will result in many insensitive photos and comments that may widen the gap between members of the student body.”

Other students expressed similar feelings, saying it was disrespectful, including senior Scott Mullins.

“It is disrespectful to have drunk white students who don’t even understand the history and current role of racism in the world to shake their asses in the same building as Emmett Till’s coffin,” Mullins said on Facebook. “The celebration of black culture as reasoning for the location of Founder’s … cannot outweigh the trauma of black people and people of African descent … when racism is alive and functioning.”

Expectations for student conduct at the 2018 Founder’s Day Ball will be explicitly clear, and misbehavior will not be tolerated, DeBonis said.

“In the lead up to the event, if a student is found to be making threatening or other remarks that lead us and the University to believe that said student will be disrespectful or disruptive during the event, we reserve the right to cancel that student’s ticket,” DeBonis said.

AU staff and museum security will not hesitate to remove students who are being disrespectful or disruptive at the event as well, DeBonis added.

While Falyn Satterfield, the vice president of AU’s NAACP chapter, does not have a negative view of the venue choice, the organization hopes students will act respectfully during Founder’s Day.

“NAACP currently doesn’t have any negative thoughts about [the event] being in that space, but we as an organization just hope that our AU peers who aren’t POC [people of color] respect that space,” Satterfield said.

Sophomore Jaha Knight said that having the ball at the museum does not excuse AU from their “previous infractions” with students of color. But she hopes that students will appreciate the time and effort organizers put into the event.

“Has the thought ever crossed anyone’s mind that this wasn’t ill-intent and it’s just a great opportunity to be able to look around the museum with no time limit-passes?” Knight wrote on Facebook. “I think people need to look at the positives sometimes.”

cjames@theeagleonline.com


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