Delivering American University's news and views since 1925. | Thursday, February 21, 2019

Letter to the editor: American University should change the Founder's Day Ball venue

Professor Dan Sayers, whose work is represented at NMAAHC, writes why venue is inappropriate

Letter to the editor: American University should change the Founder's Day Ball venue

Dan Sayers, an anthropologist and professor at American University.

As Mr. Nickolaus Mack so convincingly argued in a recent op-ed, the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) is not an appropriate location to hold the 2018 AU Founders Ball. I think everyone would agree that parties and dances are supposed to be fun events. If so, the places they are held should reflect their spirit and intended purpose.

The history behind the development of the NMAAHC is one of people engaging in real social struggle, challenging racism’s barriers and performing quite difficult work across the past several decades. It took a long time and much effort, ingenuity and elbow grease to see the NMAAHC open only a little over a year ago. But, as important, the social histories and artifacts of lived lives—the famous and not so famous—are housed now in this exalted edifice to the power and importance of African-Americans in our country’s past, present and future.

In an era of rekindled boldness of white supremacists and blatant racism across many areas of society and in highest offices of our federal and various state governments, AU can take this opportunity to show its progressive common sense by deciding, simply, to change their plans in this case.

I do not, at all, intend to say there is racism in the decision to hold the Founders Ball. But, there is so much racism being thrown in our collective faces and lives and so many transformative discussions taking place all around us and within our university community. AU can demonstrate its active and sensitive solidarity with the wider anti-racism movement by not holding its fun party, however elegant it will be, at this most powerful and resonating location.

As a contributor to the exhibits of the NMAAHC, I have gone to the museum on several occasions. Always, there are hundreds of people waiting in line, in the building and walking its grounds. It is an amazing thing to witness and experience so many people wanting to learn about their, and our, pasts. Echoing some of Mr. Mack’s ideas, the museum is a kind of secular-sacred place already for so many people because it is a unique location for celebrating African American communities and histories. Somehow, the Founders Ball does not seem to fit the NMAAHC and the peoples it is intended to serve both past and present.

There are many venues in the D.C. area that are in line with the purposes of the Founders Ball. AU should let this idea go, change its plans and let the NMAAHC serve its true purpose: to educate visitors about African-American history and culture, and to empower visitors with knowledge about extremely significant Americans and events.

Professor Sayers is an anthropologist and professor within the College of Arts and Sciences. He is an outside contributor. The opinions expressed by the author are theirs alone, and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Eagle and its staff.

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