Opinion: Change can’t wait, but according to administrative actions, justice for survivors can
It’s time for us to reconsider whether current AU leadership is fit for the job description
Integrity, excellence and human dignity are the core tenets of American University’s mission statement, but they are upheld by none of the upper-level administrators. Maybe it’s time we consider a change.
I’ve been a student survivor advocate on campus since 2019. At every point in my career here at AU, I have been disgusted by the University’s response — or lack thereof — to sexual violence on campus. Most recently, after I co-led a 500 person walkout and co-created demands signed by 1,400 community members, the administration has shown me their true colors: willful ignorance disguised by the veneer of ivory tower academia.
The demands were sent to seven administrators: President Sylvia Burwell; Leslie Annexstein, assistant vice president of Title IX and Equity; Fanta Aw, vice president of undergraduate enrollment and campus life and inclusive excellence; Phil Morse, assistant vice president of University Police; Provost Peter Starr; Jeffrey Brown, dean of students; and Jeffrey Volkmann, executive director of the Counseling Center. The demands were sent via email, physical copies were delivered to each office and I was able to give Starr his copy in person outside his office.
We received one response. From President Burwell: she said thanks for the “recommendations.” She reminded us the “appropriate place” to present these is in the Community Working Group on Preventing and Responding to Sexual Harassment and Violence, which was created in response to widespread unrest on campus due to administrative inaction. It’s been radio silence from the other administrators and Burwell since. I saw some of these administrators at the working group meeting that was held on Nov. 30, but none of them made any effort to connect with me.
Instead, I was told this “isn’t a fight” by one of Burwell’s staff, the administration wants to go further than the demands and they’re working with the students, not against us. I don’t want to fight. But I also refuse to stand idly by while administrators stonewall students from making actual impactful change, all because it will threaten the status quo. They’re choosing to make this into a fight and have been since the beginning.
Throughout my time at American University, it has become abundantly clear the student body thrives in opposition to our administrators, not in concert with them. The class of 2026 walked out of Burwell’s commencement speech in solidarity with the staff union, but all photos of the speech on her social media disguised that, while she took the credit for the union’s win. The University acted like it was doing us a favor by creating a working group. At the same time, I can tell you firsthand the meeting was one of the most mentally draining I have ever attended in my nearly 10-year history of fighting for survivors. Is it right that the students constantly feel at odds with our administration, the very people who are meant to take care of us?
I have no faith in the current administration because they’ve done nothing to show students we should trust them, feel safe with them or believe they have our best interests at heart. We deserve better, and we deserve more. We’ll keep fighting for the change this university has turned into their slogan, even when they fight against it. We’ll keep picking up the pieces of the student body they’ve left behind, doing their jobs for them and taking care of each other because they refuse to. But we can never forget that they choose to ignore us, and they should be held accountable.
So, to the administrators reading this, let me remind you that your students are watching. You are failing us. Maybe it’s time to reconsider your career path.
Lillian Frame is a senior in the School of Public Affairs.