Racial advocacy continues with workshop on structural racism

Student-led racial justice movement The Darkening hosted a workshop on structural racism Wednesday night, led by cofounder Tatiana Laing.

“The problem about talking about racism with someone who doesn’t understand this is they’ll always take it personally,” Laing, currently a senior in the School of Public Affairs, said to a group of about 20 students in the Mary Graydon Center. “It doesn’t matter if you personally identify as a racist or not, you can be acting as an instrument of cultural racism.”

This training held on Wednesday was one of six workshops Laing has held since the group’s inception last year. After the the killings of unarmed black men by police in Staten Island, New York and Ferguson, Missouri last year, Laing and four other students, Chante Harris, Shannon Trudge, Angélica Marie Pagán and Fehintola Akinrinade, who all graduated last semester, came together to form the group.

“The Darkening started because me and four other black women were fed up with AU's inaction over racial injustice in the world but more importantly racism here at AU,” Laing said.

Recently, the group has received the a lot of media attention for a social media blast on Oct. 7, where from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. The Darkening’s Facebook page encouraged followers to post screenshots of racially-charged social media posts with the hashtag #TheRealAU. The posts largely came from the app Yik Yak, where smartphone users post anonymously and see other posts from users who are nearby.

The media blast came about after Daniel Marks, a student involved with The Darkening, reached out to the communications department at his internship at the Advancement Project, that suggested The Darkening form a press release and begin the media blast.

Gordon Edwards, head of The Darkening’s Student Life Committee, said that although the group is a grassroots organization, at their core they are organizers and one of their goals is to garner press.

“I’m happy as far as the media coverage because it’s getting people talking and that’s what we want,” Edwards said. “We’re not saying that all students are racist, we are saying that there are some students that are racist and that AU needs to address it.”

In addition to posts on social media, printed copies of the Yaks were posted around campus, but later taken down by Public Safety, according to The Darkening event committee leaders Jake Stone and Emem Obot.

“AU markets itself as diverse and inclusive but is less than welcoming to us once we arrive,” Laing said. “We just wanted to give students a way to express their feelings and frustrations. We wanted people at AU to know how overtly racist people can be, not only on Yik Yak but in every aspect of our lives as students here.”

Laing said that The Darkening’s overall purpose is to work toward ending white supremacy and institutional racism at AU, and to make AU a place where all students feel welcomed and valued.

The group also recently held a “blackout” of the Undergraduate Senate in support of a bill there, which was ultimately passed. The measure will require Student Government members to participate in racial sensitivity training, the Eagle previously reported.

Although demonstrations like the blackout and the social media blast have been successful, education is the group’s principal focus, according to Laing. Through education, members of The Darkening hope to make the group irrelevant by eliminating bigoted behavior, according to Edwards.

“I think people kind of see the Darkening as angry black people when in actuality we’re a united front of multicultural students looking to educate and advocate for better relations here at AU,” Edwards said. “When we do protests the reason we’re protesting is ‘why do these issues continue to occur?’ There is a disappointment in AU, that AU always tries to hold itself to a very high standard but isn’t always meeting that, so there’s anger in AU being hypocritical, but it’s also to educate other students around these things.”

Edward’s Student Life Committee has been reaching out to other student organizations such as SG, the Asian-American Student Association and different fraternities to work with them on this issue.

After the most recent social media plast, the University released a comment to the Washington Post.

“Students and the community have the power to ‘down vote’ any post and get it permanently deleted with just 5 down votes,” Assistant Vice President of Campus Life Fanta Aw said. “As an institution, we are a microcosm of the larger society and we recognize there is important work to be done on race relations.”

According to Laing, the University has not made any positive changes since her group began their activism last year.

“I think we are making progress in changing the culture at AU to be more open to talking about it but it’s hard when the administration and the rules haven’t changed yet,” Laing said. “Student conduct still doesn’t consider racism a legitimate violation of student conduct. There are concrete things that AU hasn’t done that we had asked for last year, so I guess most of the progress that we have seen has been people taking the initiative themselves which is great.”

Though the 2015-2016 Student Conduct Code does not mention race specifically, the University does have a Discrimination and Sexual Harassment Policy, which is mentioned in the conduct code. The discrimination policy, which applies to faculty, staff, students, guests, vendors and contractors, largely deals with admissions and hiring practices. However, it does cover “discriminatory harassment,” which has the effect of “creating an intimidating, hostile, humiliating or offensive working, living or learning environment.”

A change in AU’s curriculum, including a general education requirement focused on diversity, is one of The Darkening’s main goals. According to Laing, several professors from across different departments have already reached out to the group and begun facilitating conversations on race in their classes, according to Laing.

The University’s Honors Program has been holding events centered around racial issues and, according to Edwards, AU had their incoming students talk about race and discrimination for the first time.

The group is also planning other media projects for the future, such as a series of videos explaining how racism acts within different societal structures.

“I think it’s important that 20 years from now when they’re talking about student activism at AU, that they talk about the fact that we took the time to educate people,” Laing said. “That’s our core, that’s what makes us who we are.”


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