Monday, May 1 was Taylor Dumpson’s first day as student government president. Just hours after taking office, her excitement turned to heartache. Sleepy-eyed students, drained from a pre-finals all nighter in Bender Library, spotted bananas hanging from nooses on campus. The bananas targeted her and her historically African-American sorority, Alpha Kappa Alpha.
Now, she’s working to create a space for students of color, develop a protocol for hate crimes and increase campus security.
“I feel like I’ve grown so much in the past month because I’ve learned so many new things,” Dumpson said. “I’ve learned a lot about myself and I’ve learned how to make the best of difficult situations.”
More than 24 hours after the initial discovery of the bananas, Dumpson and hundreds of other students attended a University-wide town hall in Kay Spiritual Life Center. The next day, she hosted her own town hall. University officials later assigned her police protection because a white supremacist group encouraged its followers to troll her online.
That week, Dumpson faced a challenge as both a target of the hate crime and a student leader. Looking back, Dumpson wished that she had more time to listen to the concerns of students.
“I didn’t really have time to meet with as many students as I would have liked to,” Dumpson said. “I didn’t actually have time to process anything myself, so I was really interested to see how students were processing it at the same time.”
While setting up the town hall was a challenge because it was so last minute, the experience was all the more rewarding when she saw the AU community come together to show their support, Dumpson said.
“There have been extreme highs and extreme lows, the high definitely being the town hall and just seeing everyone there and having an outpouring of support from alumni, faculty, staff and students,” Dumpson said.
Dumpson plans to combat hate through the power of conversation. She said that bringing discussions about racism to the students that continue to perpetuate it rather than talking in silos will lead to progress in the way that students treat each other on campus.
She is currently working on drafting a project proposal with the University Center and Student Activities to create a community space on MGC’s third floor in the fall semester. The space would be open to all students, but would be specifically geared towards students from multicultural communities. In the space, students and student organizations will be able to to study, organize, collaborate and discuss their ideas in a secure and open environment, she said.
“I’m really looking forward to being able to help continue those kinds of dialogues in an open forum where students feel comfortable to raise their concerns, but also students feel comfortable being in that space and listening,” Dumpson said.
While Dumpson acknowledged that administrators worked diligently with her to set up the town hall and provide security for her when she was harassed online, they should still be held accountable for allowing hate crimes to happen on campus, Dumpson said. Administrators followed the established protocol on how to deal with hate crimes, but she hoped that they would put more effort into protecting the rights and dignity of the students that the crime targeted, mainly black women.
Additionally, she plans to work with University President Sylvia Burwell to develop a procedural protocol if another threatening incident occurs on campus so students, parents and faculty can stay informed and protected.
“As a student first, I’m definitely frustrated that this had to be the situation where AU decided that they were going to put all the power behind it,” Dumpson said. “I wish that AU would be more consistent and work to develop a protocol.”
In addition to new hate crime initiatives, Dumpson also plans on launching new major efforts to keep students informed on campus. Beginning in the fall semester, she’ll send out a newsletter each month via email to the student body. Each newsletter will include her cabinet’s and administration’s goals that she hopes to accomplish each month. This will allow her to keep track of her progress while remaining transparent.
Dumpson created this initiative as a result of the May 1 hate crime. Many students came to her that week with questions because they felt uninformed by the administration, she said.
“I think the best way for us to work together and really change the AU experience is if we are holding all of ourselves accountable and being as transparent as possible,” Dumpson said.