Founders Week explained: A guide to one of the University’s most notable traditions

The celebration will look different this year because of operational and COVID-19 related changes

Founders Week explained: A guide to one of the University’s most notable traditions

As the American University kicks off its annual Founders Week celebration, some underclassmen who spent their first year learning remotely are unfamiliar with the details of the tradition, while older students are uncertain how the week’s typical activities will change within the constraints of the coronavirus pandemic.

AU’s Founders Week celebration has been a long-standing tradition on campus as students gather every February for a week of festivities that celebrates the University.

Past Founders Week’s have featured events like keynote speakers, live music and community activities.

“We work with Jeremy [Ward] to help his vision of an impactful, engaging and fun week of events come to fruition,” said Lauren Pruett, the Founders Week Center for Student Involvement advisor. 

In recent years, the Founders Day Ball has been the main event of the celebration. Around 2,000 students gathered at venues like the National Museum of Natural History, the Newseum and the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture for a formal dance. 

The celebration of AU’s founding has been criticized due to the role that slavery played in the University’s origin story, as the founder and first AU president John Fletcher Hurst owned enslaved people. 

In addition to moving away from the celebration of the University’s beginnings, Founders director Jeremy Ward had to also plan events with coronavirus precautions.

“Starting in fall of 2021, we didn’t know if Founders would be in-person or virtual and they have had to plan for multiple scenarios,” Pruett said.

How to attend events

To attend any Founders week event, students must first register using Engage. Once at the event, students will have the QR code from Engage scanned before they enter. 

“There’s not necessarily a limit, but we don’t want everybody going into a room at once,” Ward said. 

The QR codes will also allow for contact tracing. According to Ward, when the QR code is scanned, it time stamps when a student enters the event. If a student is to test positive for COVID-19 after attending a Founders event, AU’s contract tracing team can use the timestamps to see who might need to get a COVID-19 test.

The Founders team is abiding by all University COVID-19 guidelines, including new guidelines that require an N95, KN95 or KF94 mask indoors. 

“The Founders team is a student organization, and like all other student organizations, they are expected to follow university guidelines concerning COVID-19,” Pruett said. “All of the events taking place during Founders week will follow AU’s health and safety guidelines.”

Ward said he thought about requiring a negative COVID-19 test to enter some of the events but said he trusts the masking, new surveillance testing, contract tracing and the vaccination and booster requirements. 

Additionally, events will be offered online, in-person and in a hybrid style. In-person events will be operating at full capacity. 

Ward says most events will be in a walk-through style, where students can walk through events at their own pace. For example, the historical exhibit at the library will allow students to walk through the archives. 

As there is no Founders Day Ball this year, the main event is the keynote speaker Nikole Hannah-Jones. This event has a capacity limit, with 130 seats available to students, and is the first in-person event that the Kennedy Political Union has put on in two years. The event will also be livestreamed for those who cannot attend in person. 

Though this year’s Founders Week will look different than previous years, the Founders team and the CSI are confident in this year’s celebration to succeed while adapting to the circumstances of the pandemic.

“​​I am incredibly proud of how [the Founders team] have collaborated with various organizations on campus in order to bring impactful programming,” Pruett said. 

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