In response to the disturbing placement of Confederate flag posters on campus, the American University community addressed the act of hatred at a town hall meeting in Kay Spiritual Life Center. Here is a summary of what was discussed:
AU President Sylvia Burwell
President Burwell gave an emotional introductory speech. "An attack on one of us is an attack on all of us," she said, as she expressed having difficulty understanding this kind of hate. She added that the incident confirms the importance of AU's new Antiracist Research and Policy Center.
From her conversations with students, Burwell said she's learned that this is a passionate community, and she hopes people can channel that passion toward change. "Do not let this incident divide and define us," Burwell said, "but instead unite us on a path forward for American University, forward for our nation, and forward for our world."
Phillip Morse, Assistant Vice President, University Police and Emergency Management
Morse said his department worked through the night to interview witnesses, review video, and collect pieces of physical evidence related to the Confederate posters in an effort to track down the perpetrator. "This is not a person of interest," Morse said. "The person you see in the photographs, the person you see in the video is the suspect who committed this crime." He said University Police are working with DC's Metropolitan Police Department on the matter, and asked that anyone with information or tips contact 202-885-2527, or report them here.
Professor Ibram X. Kendi
Professor Kendi discovered the posters on the same night he presented his vision for the new Antiracist Research and Policy Center. In response to the hateful act, he posted a moving message on Twitter-which has since gone viral-and he read that statement at the town hall meeting.
It said, in part, "Courage is not the absence of fear. It is the strength to do what is right in the face of it. In the coming days and weeks and months, no matter what happens, let's gather that strength together." Kendi later added that he specifically mentioned support for Jewish students in his Twitter statement, because the Confederate posters were put up near the Center for Israel Studies' signage.
Finally, Kendi said racists target minority students and minority professors precisely because they are doing great work. He credited AU for empowering him to launch his innovative antiracist center, noting that bigots often express hatred when they feel threatened.
Campus safety was a major issue of concern during the town hall discussion. While students called for changes regarding campus security, Kendi cautioned that more police presence on campus could come at a cost. He described the need for balance, enabling people to feel safe without potentially burdensome security. Vice President of Campus Life Fanta Aw also noted the downside to having law enforcement inundate every corner of campus.
Part of a Growing Trend
Vice President Aw put the events on the AU campus in the larger context of contemporary racism around the world, noting limitations of what can be done to prevent hateful incidents.
Doron Ezickson, Washington regional director of the Anti-Defamation League, said in the past year alone, 142 college campuses have found racist flyers posted. "I'm here to deliver a difficult message," he said, "that the incident that AU has experienced is a part of an unfortunately growing trend on college campuses across the US."
Ezickson added that the perpetrators focus on college campuses because "they want to disrupt your life, your education, they want to intimidate and create fear. We cannot let them win. The way we defy them is to take the fear and convert it to resilience, to convert it to allyship."
Students Express Concerns
Students were given the opportunity to express their thoughts regarding the incident. Many expressed frustration as they pushed for more action by the university. One student spoke of the need for a designated gathering space for black students on campus. AUSG President Taylor Dumpson explained that, in the coming weeks, a multicultural space will open in Mary Graydon Center.
Some students decried various microaggressions that they have endured on campus, as they spoke of the need for more minorities in AU faculty and leadership positions. Burwell stated that 44 percent of this year's new tenure-line professors are people of color, and building an inclusive environment is a top AU priority. Burwell also pointed out that Aw recently had been appointed vice president of campus life.
As the town hall proceedings concluded, one student implored, "It's not just the black students' responsibility. It's not just LGBTQA students' responsibility. It's all of our responsibility." Burwell re-affirmed the university's commitment to this issue: "We are taking action. We are taking steps," she said. "But most of all, we need to stand as one community."
For more information about AU's progress, visit our Diversity and Inclusion website.
Other university communications about the incident: