Letter to the DePauw Community from AAAS

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Student activists march down Locust Street in protest of the racist occurrences on campus. BYRON MASON II

To The DePauw Community,

As this semester comes to a close, we, the Association of African American Students (AAAS), write this letter to this DePauw Community to be transparent about our actions following the chain of racial incidents on campus. We -in solidarity with our allies and informed by other University responses to similarly racist events on campus- created a list of demands for the President’s cabinet to respond with a clear action plan. One of our first ‘demands’ was the creation of a clear and truly safe space for students of color generally, and black identified students specifically. We included language that pointed at the need for centering the experiences of marginalized communities in our classrooms -especially in the wake of racist, Islamophobic, homophobic and anti-Semitic language expressed on our campus and in our living spaces.

We would also like to make it clear to our community that this list is more than mere “demands;” it begins to address in a public forum our own President’s multiple requests to help him and his cabinet understand “what they should do,” to respond, to create a safe space and to ensure we limit exposure to biased incidents.  

Throughout our history, there is clear evidence that protesting creates change. Although in the moment we know the response to protest is frustration, confusion and derision, consistent and engaged protests have led to civil and legal rights. In similar fashion to the derision and social commentary that Civil Rights protesters should “stay home” and were “causing disruptions” by peaceably protesting (e.g. walking across a bridge), our student handbook begins to challenge our freedoms and our rights to protest.  On page 74 of the DePauw Student Handbook, it states, “DePauw students, faculty, and staff are free to support causes in any orderly manner, including organized demonstrations that do not disrupt the normal and essential functions of the University” (emphasis ours). It remains unclear what “orderly” protest is, or for that matter how protests can avoid “disrupting” functions considering the purpose of a protest is to disrupt the status quo, to demonstrate a problem and to begin a conversation. To be clear, the definition of a protest is ‘an organized public demonstration of disapproval or display disagreement with an idea or course of action.

Given the language of the handbook, the responses to our protests online and even in conversations on our campus, it is evident that some do not want us to protest. It is perhaps clearer, and chilling so, that some members of our community would prefer marginalized groups to leave. This, however, demonstrates the importance and pertinence of our protest and of our demands.

We, the AAAS, and our allies engaged in intentional protest. We used our voices as a tool to get the administration’s, our community’s and the larger society’s attention. We protested to draw your attention to our need to be safe from racist, hate-filled terroristic threats. This might seem an overstatement to some. If that is the case, please remember the KKK is a terrorist organization with a long and current history of racial violence. They signed their work. But these acts were not alone. We had violent threats to the members of our LGBTQIA+ family, Muslim family and our Jewish family.

As we begin to close our current academic year, with some beginning new chapters away from DePauw, it is imperative that we acknowledge and reflect on our shared history, that we begin to see the pain and terror of our fellow students, and that we continue to use our voices to fight against injustice.  It is our sincere hope that our demands and intentional protests open a space of dialogue and begin to answer the “what should we do” question with clear steps that will make DePauw safe(r). We will remain committed to serving our community as an educational, social and political organization, and will continue to meet the needs and desires of our community. It is our duty, no matter the opposition.

Regards,

The Executive Board of AAAS