Over 300 students, faculty and staff gathered on the steps of MGC on Monday for the “Solidarity with Our Sisters” rally, an event organized by the Black Student Alliance in light of recent racially charged events on campus.
The rally was intended to increase awareness around racial issues on campus to students and faculty members and to call for immediate action from University administrators in regards to recent attacks against black female students and continued accounts of racism at AU.
The rally was a joint effort by BSA and other student organizations on campus, including the African Students’ Organization and AU’s NAACP chapter, who spoke in support of minority students, specifically black women, on campus. Tensions were high as students shared their personal experiences with explicit racism within in the AU community, and their frustrations with the lack of support and accountability from administrators
Following an introduction and speeches by the BSA organizers of the rally, students of color spoke out about how they feel the University is failing them.
“Our community feels unprotected and threatened,” BSA President Ma’at Sargeant said to the crowd. “We pay $60,000 a year to feel threatened on our own campus…American University profits off of [minority students], but fails to support and protect us. American University mistreats people of color at every level.”
Multiple outside media organizations were present, as well as students from Howard University, George Washington University and the University of the District of Columbia. Salimah Shabazz, a 2013 AU graduate, spoke in front of the crowd and said that this issue hit close to home for her, adding that she was disappointed to hear that other AU students were experiencing such issues. She also denounced the administration’s continuous re-iteration of anti-harassment policies as opposed to firm action against students who perpetrate racism on campus.
Jada Bell, Outreach Coordinator for BSA, said that during her freshman year she felt isolated in the campus community and in the classroom, and was often scared to leave her dorm.
“I think back to my experiences as a freshman in Anderson, people used to write [n-----] on my whiteboard, tear down Black Lives Matter posters, knock on my door in the middle of the night and run. I felt not safe on the campus I was paying for,” Bell said.
Sophomore Devan Ogburn spoke during the rally to encourage black women on campus to support one another.
“As a fellow black woman on campus, I feel we need to stand united,” Ogburn said. “I want to support other black women on campus anyway possible. [This rally] shows people that we’re not discouraged and we stand together. It’s everyone out here supporting black women on campus…we’re a united group and that’s what matters.”
The announcement of BSA’s partnership with the new Campus Life Intervention Coalition, initiated by second year Noa Leibowitz, who also spoke at the rally, included an open letter defining seven points of action that the group is hoping the University will fulfill. These points included:
- the suspension of the perpetrators in the Anderson Hall attack
- distribution of AU Alerts when violent attacks or hate crimes occur
- discipline or fire faculty who promote racial violence
- hire more faculty of color in the Office of Student and Campus Life
- create avenues for complaints against Public Safety
- make mental health services more accessible for students of color
- hold a private meeting between Gail Hanson and CLIC leaders before the end of this week.
In response to outcry about the lack of assistance and aid to students who have reported incidents of racism in dorms, Vice President for Campus Life Gail Hanson said that she reads every report that is filed on a daily basis.
“I read every incident report, every day from the residence halls. I don’t question that this isn’t happening, but they aren’t reported. When they are, a residence hall staff is sensitive, responsive, well-trained, in a position to listen to them, to support them and refer them to appropriate services,” Hanson said.“But things are not being reported and that’s something we need to work on, to create easier ways that people feel like they can step up and share what’s happening.”
Othniel Malcolm Andrew Harris, the Vice President of Black Student Alliance, expressed the need for more students of color to report incidents, though he said he felt the administration, particularly the Office of Campus Life, was already aware that racism is a problem on campus.
“We are pushing [black students] to report and telling them that their voices need to be heard and make AU the university that it sells [itself] to be, as a school that promotes diversity and inclusion and prides itself on that,” Harris said. “Any time people throw rotten bananas or put bananas in front of black students’ doors is an obvious sign. [Black people] have been called monkeys for centuries. If [Gail Hanson] thinks that this that is not biased or unintentional, there is a problem.”
Mark Schaefer, the University Chaplain at the Kay Spiritual Life Center, attended the rally to hear student demands.
“I am hear to listen to what the students have to say and to reflect on the ways that I and the Kay Spiritual Life Center can help to make the student voices heard and to make AU the place it is meant to be,” Schaefer said.
After the rally, Sargeant and Bell shared their thoughts on how the event was an opportunity to give black students a voice.
“I am really happy that we made a stage for students of color to come up to to speak about their experiences, because so many white students don’t understand that this is our reality coming to AU,” Sargeant said.
Sargeant’s happiness with the rally’s turnout as well as her own perseverance were echoed in a statement she made during the rally saying that students are prepared to act.
“American University, there is a storm coming, and American University, we will no longer be silent.”