The AU community gathered on the steps of the Mary Graydon Center Friday afternoon for a rally in response to the Confederate flag incident on campus late Tuesday night. AU Student Government and the newly launched Antiracist Research and Policy Center co-sponsored the event.
Taylor Dumpson, AU Student Government president, opened the rally, addressing students, faculty, staff, alumni, university cabinet members and President Sylvia M. Burwell, who stood amid the crowd.
"The purpose of this rally is to send a strong message to those who wish to inflict harm," Dumpson said. "Enough is enough."
Dumpson added that while there is work to be done on campus, "there are no limits to what we achieve when we unite in solidarity."
In institutions of higher learning, she said, diversity should be embraced and uplifted.
"This speech is not to tell you how to think or what to believe, but one that encourages you to be open-minded," Dumpson said. "AU is a place where we can come to grow mentally, physically, and emotionally. It is not a place for attacks on people's gender, faith, sexual orientation, or ability."
She finished her remarks by leading the crowd in chanting, "Enough is enough," and calling University Chaplain Rev. Mark A. Schaefer to take the megaphone.
Schaefer read from the pastoral letter he wrote to the AU community after the incident. "These acts were perpetrated against American University precisely because we are a community that stands against racism, injustice, and bigotry. But the very reason we were targeted, is the very reason that we will prevail in that task."
Following a prayer led by Schaefer, Baltimore poet Kondwani Fidel shared his experiences dealing with systemic racism while growing up in Baltimore. "It is vital that we continue to speak up about injustice in this country," Fidel said, encouraging students to, "keep learning, keep growing, and just keep fighting."
After Fidel read one of his poems, Mollie Feldman, assistant director of AU Hillel, reflected on the meaning of Yom Kippur, which began at sundown. The holiest day of the Jewish calendar inspires Feldman to "hold myself and our community accountable to sacred standards of justice and love."
Feldman called students to "live with love and compassion, fighting terror in all its forms." Then, she handed the megaphone to Professor Ibram X. Kendi, founding director of the new Antiracist Research and Policy Center at American University.
What the perpetrators of Tuesday's incident want, Kendi told the crowd, is to inspire fear, slow down progress, and impede success.
"We have to ask ourselves, are we going to let them win?" he asked. "If they're doing this that means we're winning. We're building this antiracist university, we're building this antiracist nation, we're building this antiracist world. This nation has a long way to go, this world has a long way to go. But we're building. We want you to offer constructive things that we can do here at AU, just like we want you to do constructive things wherever you go from here to create a nation of freedom and equality."
Kendi added that he hopes instead of spreading fear, the incident motivates students to keep striving and pushing for change. "It is in those moments of adversity that you become a better person," he said. "I just have a feeling. You are the people who are going to change this world." Kendi passed the megaphone to Imad-ad-Dean Ahmad, AU's Muslim chaplain, who also spoke of fear.
"I've got a secret to tell you. I don't feel afraid, and you don't look afraid. Am I right?" he said, as the crowd responded with applause.
Ahmad also addressed the perpetrator of the incident, saying, "It's fear that causes people to mistreat other people. Don't be afraid. Come on out and engage me. … I want to talk to you about what you're afraid of."
Dumpson ended the rally with a call for a minute of silence in solidarity with people who have been or are oppressed. Then, she led the crowd in a last resounding chant of "enough is enough."
To read other university communications about this incident, visit the Confederate Flag Incident website.
For more information on AU's work to create a more diverse and inclusive environment, visit our Diversity and Inclusion website.