Burwell, AU community address racism and police violence

Recent email calls on AU community to ‘combat racism and foster inclusive excellence’

Burwell, AU community address racism and police violence

University President Sylvia Burwell discusses her diversity and inclusion strategy during an interview in January 2018. 

President Sylvia Burwell wrote to the AU community on Sunday afternoon to address the violence against black communities in response to nationwide unrest, as tens of thousands of people across the country have spent several nights protesting the death of George Floyd and other black people at the hands of the police. 

Floyd died in Minneapolis on Monday after a police officer kneeled on his neck for over eight minutes; Floyd was unresponsive for nearly three of those minutes. Since then, protests have erupted in at least 75 cities, including D.C. Many of these protestors clashed violently with the police, which has resulted in injuries, fires, tear gas, destruction and at least two deaths.

“I am usually a measured person, I believe that focus and hard work brings change, but today that is not enough,” President Burwell wrote in her email to the AU community. “I write to you sad, frustrated, and angry. The horrific acts of violence against Black communities break our hearts. I just want to scream STOP!” 

Burwell pointed to resources students can turn to for support, including the Center for Diversity and Inclusion, the Kay Spiritual Life Center, and the Counseling Center. She also pointed to the work of those in the AU community who study issues such as racism, criminal justice reform and societal disparities, and she urged students to educate themselves and others to work toward tackling the structures and issues that perpetuate racism. 

“The anguish in so many communities is the effect of systemic racism that tears at the fabric of our society. We have experienced this pain firsthand on our campus. We know we have more work to do to combat racism and foster inclusive excellence,” Burwell said. “We have to listen, to live our values through active anti-racist practices, and to confront all forms of discrimination, bigotry, and hatred in our society.” 

Organizations including AU’s NAACP chapter, the black student unions of D.C. universities (including AU’s Black Student Union), AU for Biden and AU College Democrats put out statements demanding justice for the lives of Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery. AU’s Asian American Student Union put out a series of links and resources on their Instagram story.

AU NAACP called for AU to end their relationship with the Metropolitan Police Department, and the D.C. Black Student Unions’ joint statement also called for Mayor Muriel Bowser and the MPD to prevent the killings of black residents by law enforcement. The statement included a list of demands such as funding community-based projects for youth, de-escalating training, reducing youth arrests, requiring unconscious bias training and decreasing racial profiling at campus events where MPD is present. 

AU Student Government put out a statement on Sunday with a list of resources for students, and is also calling for AU to end its relationship with MPD. AUSG is pledging to allocate more resources for black affinity groups and implement more diverse programming throughout the year. 

AU’s Muslim Student Association said in a statement on Friday that “it is essential that we remind ourselves of the first step in activism: starting with considering how anti-Blackness shows up in our communities.”

AU’s Panhellenic Council also put out a statement with links to resources and organizations to donate to, saying they are, “long overdue for an exercise in self-examination.” 

Peri Munter, a rising junior in the College of Arts and Sciences and School of Public Affairs, attended a D.C. protest on Sunday in reaction to Floyd’s death.

“If my white skin has given me this privilege for this amount of time, for as long as I’ve been alive, it’s in a lot of ways my duty to use it to help keep other people safe where I can,” Munter said.

Dan Papscun contributed reporting to this story.

This story will be updated as more information becomes available.

nheller@theeagleonline.com, aveitch@theeagleonline.com

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