American University student protesters block traffic in Bender tunnel to demand support for students of color (University grants them a "sanctuary space" in which no White people are allowed)
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Student demonstrators blocked traffic in the tunnel of Bender Arena on Friday to demand that the University take specific actions to support people of color after the May 1 hate crime that targeted Taylor Dumpson and AU’s chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Incorporated.
The demonstrators demanded three key actions from AU administrators, according to a flyer distributed at the protest:
- the creation of a “sanctuary” space for people of color in the Bridge Cafe for the remainder of the spring semester
- extensions for students of color on their final exams and no penalties for finals taken after the racist incident
- a separate investigation team of “non-biased expert contractors” that can investigate cases of racism and discrimination brought against AU
Provost Scott Bass arrived at the scene of the protest about 90 minutes after it began. He accepted the three demands and said he would meet with student leaders on Monday.
The exchange between Bass and protesters came just hours after the University announced it had deployed AU police officers to protect Dumpson, the student government president, after a white supremacist group encouraged its followers to troll her online.
Demonstrators march from Katzen Arts Center to Bender tunnel
Protesters said they would “occupy all space” and not leave until all demands were met. Freshman Jaha Knight read the list of demands after leading a call-and-response with the crowd gathered in the tunnel, chanting “we can’t breathe,” a reference to the death of Eric Garner at the hands of police.
“These are the things that we have demanded from the University because of the oppression and discrimination and the hate we have faced, not just in these current events, but every day on this campus,” Knight said.
Students gathered at Katzen Arts Center at 2 p.m. and started marching to the Bender tunnel around 2:30 p.m. Once the demonstrators arrived, students split up into two groups, one of which sat down in a line to block the road in front of the UPS store. The other group stood in front of the entrance to the Bender Arena parking garage. Public Safety cars arrived within an hour to block off the road.
Some students held posters that read “This is a peaceful protest” and “Allies protect Black and Brown Bodies, especially Black women!” Other protesters wore tape on their mouths bearing the hashtag #ItsInTheAir, a reference to the racism they feel is prevalent on campus.
“Nooses are enough. And we need to be tired,” sophomore and Black Student Alliance president Ma’at Sargeant said at the demonstration. “We need to be tired and we need to know that we are valued and that we value ourselves enough to stand up for this.”
Students chanted, “This tunnel is closed!” and “Call Kerwin!” Several demonstrators expressed anger at the University’s response to acts of racism on campus.
“Do I not pay? Do I not pay for tuition?” junior Romayit Cherinet said to the crowd. “Do I come here and try as best as possible to ignore these racist ass white people? To ignore the microaggressions every single day?”
Provost Scott Bass arrives at scene of protest
Over 90 minutes after the demonstration began, Bass arrived and addressed the students gathered in the tunnel. At first, Bass was unaware of the students’ demands, but said he had come from a meeting with other administrators where they had been planning a “number of responses” to previous student requests.
“There are a number of things that we can do in the administration, both in terms of the curriculum, in terms of the faculty, in terms of the kinds of centers that exist on campus,” Bass said.
Bass announced that the University had signed a contract with Ibram X. Kendi, an author and historian at the University of Florida, to establish an anti-racism center at AU. Kendi is the author of the New York Times best-selling book, “Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America.”
“There’s nothing more important, in terms of my administration, than being a multicultural campus,” Bass told the crowd.
Following his remarks, Bass was given a list of the demonstrators’ demands and returned to address the crowd minutes later. He agreed to establish the Bridge Cafe as a “sanctuary space” for students of color, to give students support in asking for extensions on their final exams and to allow other groups, such as the NAACP, to investigate the hate crime and other racist acts at AU.
“We are interested in getting to the bottom of the issue, and the sooner we can do that, the better,” Bass said. “But I will also say that that doesn’t stop our commitment to do more. This is just a minimum...This is not just one incident. It’s a deeper issue in our community.”
Bass said he looked forward to meeting with black student leaders on Monday to discuss more student concerns about racism at AU.
As a student organizer announced that Bass had met their demands, students began to move away from the entrance of the Bender parking garage, allowing cars to leave for the first time in over an hour. The demonstrators’ celebrations echoed off the walls of the tunnel as they chanted, “We are AU! We are AU!”