Nearly 60 AU faculty and staff members sign letter supporting students protesting after election
Signatories call on others to join them, will adjust course expectations if necessary
Update: This story has been updated with comments from President Sylvia Burwell's Monday email to the AU community and the number of letter signatories as of Wednesday around noon.
In a letter released to the American University student body on Tuesday, nearly 60 AU faculty and staff members expressed their support for students to protest following the presidential election.
The faculty and staff wrote that they would consider providing assignment extensions, excused absences and other adjustments for students involved in demonstrations.
“Faculty among us commit to adjusting course expectations as necessary if student activities in urgent defense of democracy interfere with coursework,” the letter said. “We encourage other faculty to join us in supporting our students’ social justice work in these and other ways.”
The signatories said that there is a significant chance that protests will occur in the days and weeks following the election, and they expect AU students will participate or lead in many cases.
“In the spirit of AU’s longstanding commitment to political engagement, the undersigned faculty, staff, and administrators pledge to deepen our support for students engaged in social justice activism and organizing after the election,” the letter said. “We understand that there are times when events and issues outside the classroom are more important than work inside the classroom. This is clearly such a time.”
The signatories called on other faculty and staff to do the same, asking that they do everything in their power to support students “at this critical moment in U.S. history.”
College of Arts and Sciences professor David Vine, an author of the letter, said that conversations with students in the Department of Anthropology made him and his colleagues realize the need to publicly support them and offer space and accommodations for those protesting after the election.
In 2016, Vine said, AU didn’t do enough to prepare faculty for the reaction to the election results, so the letter is part of a wider effort to allow students to discuss the election in classes and with professors.
Following the 2016 election, hundreds of students protested and some burned flags in front of Mary Graydon Center in reaction to Donald Trump’s victory. In the days following the protests, a swastika with the words “Go Trump,” written under it was found in Kerwin Hall, prompting nearly 200 faculty and staff to write a letter in support of vulnerable students on campus.
“Given the things that President Trump has said about not leaving office, about not believing the results of the election, and the long litany of things President Trump has said that call into question the outcome and how he’s going to react to the outcome, we anticipate AU students being deeply involved in any protests that emerge,” Vine said.
Vine said that President Sylvia Burwell’s decision to suspend classes on Election Day is a good sign that the administration cares about students and their civic engagement. He expects more faculty and staff to sign on to the letter in the next few days.
According to AU’s student activism policy, students face no disciplinary action or threat to their financial aid for being arrested off-campus during peaceful protests.
"There will be strong feelings about the outcome of the election. Seeking to understand and respect others’ feelings will be important to our progress as a nation, as will be staying grounded in the facts and the law," Burwell wrote. "We have the opportunity and obligation to shape where America goes from here, no matter who is elected."