Venue selection for Founder’s Day Ball event is racially tone-deaf
For a campus rattled by racial tension, the National Museum of African American History and Culture is not the best venue
Every year, the University celebrates its founding with a Founder’s Day Ball. Typically located at glamorous venues in the D.C. area, previous locations have included the National Portrait Gallery and the Newseum. Sometimes fueled by typical pregame alcohol consumption, hundreds of students sporting their most elegant attire convene, take photos and dance the evening away in celebration. This year, student government has selected the National Museum of African American History and Culture for its venue. And that feels racially tone-deaf.
The University is a predominantly white institution characterized by ongoing racial tensions. It was not long ago that the university faced issues with Yik Yak, a social media app that granted users anonymity. In one anonymous post, someone openly considered the idea of hosting slave auctions for black students in Mary Graydon Center. Now, the University will bring hundreds of students to the National Museum of African American History and Culture, a revered space dedicated to illuminating the history and struggle of African-American people in the United States. Students will party above hallowed exhibitions detailing the gruesome truths of the transatlantic slave trade. It is off-putting to say the least.
It was only months ago that someone decorated our halls with Confederate flags and cotton stalks as an attempt to intimidate African-American students. It was less than a year ago that nooses and bananas were hung on campus to terrorize African-American students and target the newly-elected African-American student government president, Taylor Dumpson. Now, students are going to drunkenly party under the casket of Emmett Till, a 14-year-old brutally murdered in the Jim Crow era. Students will stumble about shrines dedicated to families who were hurt by the social realities of police brutality, segregation, redlining, discrimination and racism. Who thought this was a good idea?
The University’s charter was approved in 1893. By 1900, Washington, D.C. had the highest percentage of African-Americans of any city in the nation. 400 African-Americans attended the University during segregation, according to the school’s website. The Founder’s Day venue choice makes me question whether American University, as an institution, is aware of the racial realities that those African-American students faced and how this venue choice dishonors their memory. Because, for a self-proclaimed “leader for a changing world,” it sure doesn’t feel like much has changed since they were enrolled.
Nickolaus Mack is a junior in the School of International Service and The Eagle’s managing editor for opinion.