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In an email to the University on Nov. 17, Acting Provost Peter Starr announced a new initiative to replace spring break: Wellness Week. Between March 7 and March 13, while classes will still meet synchronously, there will be no written assignments, exams, required readings or quizzes. The goal of this is to relieve stress students are feeling due to the ongoing pandemic, especially as spring break was canceled per President Sylvia Burwell’s email announcing the spring semester plan on Oct. 26. According to the email, spring break was canceled in the interest of preventing further spread of the coronavirus from travel. Winter break has also been extended by one week, with spring classes now beginning on Jan. 19.
Even though American University is unable to bring all students back to campus, University plans are still being made for the future. As reported by The Eagle, the University released an updated version of its 10-year plan beginning in 2021. The major changes proposed in the over 200 page document include a sound barrier along Jacobs Field; renovations to MGC, Bender Library and Kay Spiritual Life Center; and a plan to add more and improve housing on campus. This plan has received approval from the AU Neighborhood Partnership, and has generally involved more community stakeholders outside the University.
Editor's Note: This article appeared in The Eagle's October 2020 virtual print edition.
On Oct. 26, American University announced information about AU’s spring 2021 semester operating status. The semester will begin a week late on Jan. 19 and will expand courses in areas like the sciences, arts, media and select others to meet in-person, as reported by The Eagle. The announcement also included the expansion of on-campus housing for students and, notably, the cancellation of spring break. The majority of classes will remain online for the spring 2021 semester, with the University citing the trajectory of the coronavirus and “lessons” from other universities as factors in their decision-making process.
As announced in an email from Acting Provost Peter Starr, undergraduates may now make two classes this fall semester pass/fail, while graduate students may take one class with this option. This action can be taken after final grades are posted for the semester. This announcement comes after the Faculty Senate pushed for this option for students, with the stress of the coronavirus pandemic being a significant factor. Starr too, acknowledged the role of stress in students’ lives right now. This decision also comes after a petition started by AU chapters of the NAACP, Black Student Union and Black Girls Vote gained over 1,100 as reported by The Eagle.
As reported by The Eagle on Sept. 25, a student filed a lawsuit against American University, alleging discrimination based on mental health condition and race after they were forcibly removed from their apartment in fall 2019. The Eagle Editorial Board chose not to name the student in the interest of minimizing harm to that student. The removal occurred at the Frequency Apartments, where AU leases apartments. The lawsuit names Dean of Students Jeffrey Brown, AUPD officers and Metropolitan Police Department officers. The lawsuit alleges that after hours of pressuring the student to commit themselves to go to a hospital, the student was forcibly removed, wrapped in a blanket with handcuffs, and the student spent the next several days in a hospital.
On Monday Sept. 21, American University announced in an email to the AU community that there would be a change to the employee furlough plan. In June, it announced that there would be a week-long furlough of employees making $40,000 or more in January during the winter break. As reported by The Eagle, now employees have between Nov. 1, 2020, and March 12, 2021, for their five-day furlough, which can be on non-consecutive days. There are over 2,500 employees who will be furloughed, according to Matthew Bennett, AU’s vice president and chief communications officer.
After an unprecedented summer of racial justice and anti-racism activism, many students at American University have heeded the call to better support and listen to students of color, particularly Black students. Silence from many organizations echo loudly now, and it is in that silence that our student-athletes decided to bravely demand better. With demands that could change the Patriot League, their unprecedented organizing needs support.
On Aug. 14, American University launched a new Office of Equity and Title IX coinciding with the implementation of new federal regulations regarding Title IX. These changes from the Department of Education are serious, as they have narrowed the definition of what sexual harassment is on campus. The new rules now require a live hearing for students making formal complaints. This is a change from previous years, when universities had a choice between live hearings or single investigator models.
The current climate in the United States is not new. There are many names we know that have died by police hands, and so many more that we do not. For the Black community at AU, each of these instances has represented a fresh pain in an old wound. As outrage spreads across the country from Minneapolis to New York City to Los Angeles to Nashville to Atlanta in the form of mass protests, everyone is forcibly reminded of how our relationships with the police, with each other, and with systematic racism manifests itself. As The Eagle Editorial Board, we believe one of the most obvious places that this systematic, overt and covert, racism manifests itself is within the walls of our own university.
A video featuring a former member of Chi Omega saying a racial slur is just another in the string of racially charged incidents that have punctuated AU’s history. Similar situations seem to arise every few months; the administration sends an email with lukewarm sentiments and the AU community dies down till the next time. The University has repeatedly ignored demands for change and proof of accountability, and the question from the student body seems to be, “What now?”
This article has been updated with a correction. The budget for Founder’s Week increased, not the budget for the Ball itself.
Nine students studying abroad in China were told to come back to AU following the growing effects of the coronavirus. While AU sent emails regarding the outbreak leading up to their decision to bring abroad students back, there have been no updates since. As the global situation surrounding the virus grows, the AU community should be doing more to support those impacted by the crisis.
On Jan. 26, Vice President of Campus Life and Inclusive Excellence Dr. Fanta Aw sent the AU community an email regarding mental health resources on campus. The email, masquerading as an attempt to reach out to students searching for support, had an accusatory tone and was punctuated by statistics that functioned to place blame on students for the state of counseling services on campus. It seemed that rather than taking steps to address students’ requests concerning these resources, the administration chose to place that burden back on the struggling students asking for help.
A report published in November 2019 by the Center for American Progress raised questions about the impact of early decision programs on low-income students and students of color. AU’s active participation in early decision and large gap between ED and RD acceptance rates, 81 percent and 29 percent respectively, according to the U.S. News and World Report, bring it to the forefront of the conversation. As an institution that touts its diversity and inclusivity, the University seems to be willfully unaware of the group of students that are less likely to step foot on campus partly due to AU’s ED policy.
In early November, Terrace Dining Room staff member Anthony Beagle passed away unexpectedly at age 51. After his passing, students created a memorial board to honor his memory after there was no communication about the passing from either food provider Chartwells or the University, according to previous reporting by The Eagle. There was a desire by students to honor his memory, regardless of a formal University notification. We commend these students for their empathy, and creating a tribute to Beagle and the memories that many on campus have with him.
As of March 2019, the University has five open federal investigations from the Office of Civil Rights, a part of the Department of Education, into the Title IX office. This is a record number of complaints for the medium-sized university that AU is categorized as. There are some schools with four complaints, but one of those universities has a population of 40,000 students, a radically different percentage and likelihood of this number of open investigations. Each of the University’s investigations has been opened in the last four years, and notably, we do not know who filed these investigations or why they filed them.
On Oct. 30, a lawsuit was filed in D.C. federal court by David Nakhid accusing the University of racial discrimination in the hiring of the men’s head soccer coach by a former American Univeristy men’s soccer player. He had applied for the open position of men’s soccer head coach, and alleges that his application was not even considered for an interview, even with previous experience playing at AU and internationally, along with coaching.
President Sylvia Burwell announced on Sept. 17 that Board of Trustees member and University alum Jack Cassell had donated $3 million to the University in order to build a new Center for Athletic Performance, or “CAP,” as reported by The Eagle. This center was further funded by another alum donation. The center will serve both student-athletes and students in some capacity on campus. The current plan is to move the strength and conditioning rooms and wrestling room the Center for Athletic Performance, along with providing space for the University's Division 1 athletic teams and the club and intramural teams to compete. There is still a need for fundraising for the center, as this will not be paid by the University’s budget. Currently, it is unknown where the Center will be located or what different amenities will be included.
On October 28, a group of approximately 120 protestors gathered outside of MGC, as previously reported by The Eagle. The protest was in response to the removal of an AU student from her campus apartment at the end of September by AUPD, and students aimed to demand justice for this student. The protest was organized by members of Black Lives Matter DC and The Future is Feminist to draw attention to the student’s conduct hearing that was allegedly happening at the same time. The protest began at MGC, then moved to East Campus, where the hearing was held, and then moved back again to MGC. The protestors occupied the front steps of MGC with the goal of preventing access in order to draw more attention to the incident and the University’s response.