“More action is required” on racial climate, AU administration says
AU hosts press conference on Monday’s hate crime, denies students access
AU administrators are grappling with new student criticism of AU’s racial climate following a hate crime on Monday that targeted members of the historically African-American Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Incorporated.
The criticism stems from a press conference held by University Communications and Marketing on Wednesday in the SIS Founder’s Room. Students were upset that they were denied access to an event attended by outside media outlets including NBC4, FOX 5, WAMU, WUSA9 and others.
At the press conference, the University made three AU employees available: Celine-Marie Pascale, an associate dean in the College of Arts and Sciences, Robin Adams, the assistant director for the Center for Community Engagement and Service, and Andrea Pearson, an associate professor and vice chair for the Faculty Senate.
Adams said that she did not believe there had been an “absence of action” from the University on racial issues, but that “more action was required.” She said the student demonstration on Tuesday reflected the pain felt by students on campus.
“We’re thankful for the student voice,” Adams said. “We’re thankful for the students when they tell us that something has to change, and that they’re asking for partnership with us.”
Pascale had a heated exchange with student demonstrators during the Tuesday protest, and was asked what she would say to students who feel that AU has not taken enough action to combat racism. Pascale said students had a right to be frustrated with the University’s slow pace of progress on this issue.
“There is a climate that has to shift...It’s not like I can flip a switch and say, ‘Now we’re all going to do this,’ and that was a part of the conversation yesterday that was a little frustrating for students,” Pascale said. “I can say, ‘I completely agree with you, and I can commit to working on these things,’ but that wasn’t enough, and I understand why that wasn’t enough for them.”
Toward the end of the press conference, sophomore Isaiah Young attempted to enter the Founder’s Room, and was told by Camille Lepre, the University’s assistant vice president of communications, to leave and “not make a scene.” Young exited the room, and media outlets who attended the conference immediately conducted interviews with him and other students outside who were unable to enter the meeting.
Romayit Cherinet, a junior in the School of Public Affairs and the College of Arts and Sciences, was denied entrance into the press conference. She was waiting outside of the Founder’s Room in hopes to hear what information was being released about the hate crime. She said administrators and faculty are “mouthpieces” for the University’s policies.
“Overall, they have capitalistic interests in having a job, so they will say what they need to say,” Cherinet said. “The only way we can check them is by being in every single space they’re going to speak. If you’re going to talk about us, we are going to be there.”
Cherinet said that she understands that the administration has a difficult task at hand when confronting “systemic issues” of racism on campus, but believes that they fail to implement courses of action to prevent discrimination or create open spaces for discussion.
Cherinet said that a “silencing mechanism” has been used by AU to erase minority voices on campus.
“We don’t trust the University to speak on behalf of students of color,” Cherinet said.
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