The headlines you need to know going into the 2017-2018 school year
Last year was a whirlwind; Catch up on what happened here
Frequent protests, the selection of a new university president and a hate crime that shook the student body to its core made last year a whirlwind for AU students, faculty and employees.
For incoming freshmen and returning students who need a refresher on the biggest news of 2016-17, consider this your guide.
Racist incidents rock campus in the fall
Rumors of racist incidents in a freshman residence hall were confirmed by administrators on Sept. 16, only a few weeks into the fall semester. Two black female freshmen living in Anderson Hall told Residence Life staff on Sept. 9 that white male students had placed a rotten banana outside one of their rooms and written obscenities on her whiteboard. Another black female student reported that a banana was thrown at her.
Days after the news spread, hundred of students gathered on the steps of the Mary Graydon Center on Sept. 19 to protest racism at AU, with one organizer stating that students felt “unprotected and threatened.” Protesters demanded that the University suspend the accused students; AU did not release how the students were disciplined. Following a contentious town hall, the University released 11 steps they hoped would show their “commitment” to diversity and inclusion on campus.
The season of protests: Trump, Westboro Baptist Church and AU trustee
Protests on campus did not let up as the semester continued. A large group of students protested President Trump’s election on Nov. 9, during which some students burned American flags outside the Mary Graydon Center.
The demonstration provoked a strong response from then-University President Neil Kerwin and featured a confrontation between a student and an AU staff member. The employee, Scott O’Beirne, was suspended but later returned to his position.
In the same week, hundreds of students turned out to counter-protest members of the Westboro Baptist Church, who were on campus protesting AU’s policies toward transgender students. In December, a small group of students turned out to protest then-AU trustee Gary Cohn’s meeting with Trump. Cohn resigned from the Board of Trustees in January after accepting a position in the Trump administration.
Swastika, racist epithets found on whiteboards
In the days following President Trump’s election, a drawing of a swastika alongside the words “Go Trump” was found in a Ward Circle Building classroom (Ward is now known as Kerwin Hall). On Nov. 21, students living in Anderson and Letts residence halls discovered racial epithets on whiteboards on their dorm room doors. One of the whiteboards had the words “Trump n-----” written on it. The incidents were investigated by Public Safety, but the results of those investigations were not released.
Burwell becomes first female AU president
Following a months-long national search, the Board of Trustees announced in January that Sylvia Mathews Burwell would take over as president for the retiring Neil Kerwin in June. Prior to coming to AU, Burwell worked in the Clinton and Obama administrations, most recently serving as Secretary of Health and Human Services from 2015-17. Students greeted her selection with hope that she would take the University in a positive direction and make diversity and inclusion a priority.
Board votes to increase tuition
The Board of Trustees continued to make its mark on AU’s future in March by voting to increase tuition by 4 percent for the fiscal years 2018 and 2019. The board also voted to increase costs for on-campus housing and meal plans, increasing overall student attendance cost by 3.3 percent. To address this rise, financial aid funding will go up by 4 percent. Students who had advocated for a tuition freeze expressed frustration with the decision.
University faces third Title IX complaint
After facing Title IX complaints in 2015 and 2016, the University announced in April that they had received notice of a third complaint, this time from a student accused of sexual misconduct. The student filed the complaint in August 2016 and accused AU of not promptly and equitably investigating a sexual misconduct complaint filed against him in March 2016. The announcement of the third complaint came shortly after Heather Pratt stepped down from her position as Title IX officer in March.
Hate crime targeting Dumpson prompts national media firestorm
On May 1, Student Government President Taylor Dumpson’s first day in office, bananas hanging from string in the shape of nooses were found across campus. Some of the bananas were marked with the words “Harambe Bait” and “AKA,” the letters of the historically African-American sorority Alpha Kappa Alpha. Dumpson, a member of the sorority, was elected in March and is AU’s first black female SG president.
The incident, which is being investigated as a hate crime by the FBI, sparked outrage from students, alumni and Alpha Kappa Alpha members across the country. Hundreds of students staged a walk-out of an administrator-led town hall and requested withdrawal forms in an act of protest. Later in the week, student protesters blocked traffic in the Bender tunnel and demanded that the University respond to their concerns about students of color. Provost Scott Bass came to the demonstration site and agreed to their demands.
AU police officers were dispatched to protect Dumpson after white supremacist Andrew Anglin encouraged his followers to troll Dumpson. In the wake of a media firestorm about the crime, Dumpson held a two-hour town hall to discuss potential actions that will address the hate crime and racism on campus.
Public Safety released videos depicting a person of interest in the crime, but the investigation into the hate crime remains open.