BY: BLACKPRINT HQ
By now we all know Founder's Day, the annual celebration of American University's founding, will be hosted Mar. 3 at the National Museum of African American History and Culture. The event's location has garnered its share of controversy; students' reactions have reflected praise, threats of boycotting and everything in between.
The Blackprint sat down to discuss Founder's Day: the location, the timing and if a PWI should even hold the event there in the first place. Joining us is Lauren Lumpkin, editor-in-chief; Jenna Caldwell, president; Devontae Torriente, opinion editor; Thery Sanon, culture editor; and Zariyah Morvan, events coordinator.
Lauren: Okay, so what was your initial reaction to the news that we're going to be having Founder's Day at the NMAAHC?
Jenna: My first reaction was pretty negative. I instantly remembered all the students taking pictures in front of the Berlin Wall last year when we had Founder's Day at the Newseum. And then I immediately thought about that happening [at this museum],and then it kind of just took on this whole new meaning for me. [I thought about what it what be like if I saw a student] taking a picture, posing and dolled up, [in front of the] Atlantic Slave Trade exhibit or even near Emmett Till's exhibit or anything like that. I just thought about how problematic that would be, and how that could take away a lot of the good stuff [about having Founder's Day at the NMAAHC].
Lauren: Part of me is saying, this is a beautiful museum and it celebrates our culture, and I think it's cool that we're having this big event there. But at the same time, do we as a PWI even deserve to be in this space, having this type of event? Although it celebrates our culture it is also filled with a lot of pain and trauma caused by white people.
Zariyah: I've seen a lot of non-Black students trying to validate or police how Black people feel about this event happening, and I'm just like, it's just not your place, it's not your history. I feel like it speaks more, again, to how the black experience at AU is just always being overshadowed by other voices.
Thery: Everyone just wants to get on their soapbox when a serious issue happens on this campus, like I'm just thinking back to last year when we had all the protests and how it got to a point where everybody ended up yelling about their individual issues, as opposed to the reason [we gathered in the first place]. Let the students who would be the most impacted by this be the ones to speak and have a voice about this.
Jenna: And I think this kind of speaks to privilege and how, often, people feel like they should have a voice, and that they should always be heard no matter whether or not the issue is about them.
Devontae: Yeah I have no problem with non-Black students amplifying the voices of Black students - that's not really the problem. I think the larger issue is entitlement among young non-Black students in these discussions. And I think that sort of entitlement and, quite honestly selfishness, is what is also part of the problem with having the event at this location. Students are going to go to this event, celebrate themselves and then leave.
Zariyah: I think it's just kind of unfair to expect students to have to learn about something so profound, and so deep, at an event where they're just meant to have fun. [That ]kind of like trivializes the museum and it just places undue stress on all students.
Lauren: Do you think that maybe having it here will give people, who otherwise would not go to this museum, the opportunity to go around look at these exhibits? What if this gives people the chance to learn something?
Devontae: Well I've actually heard white students saying that they're not going. It just puts everyone in a really weird space. But I just think about, like being at the event and - what you were mentioning about walking around and seeing all these white students in this space and you're like, I really hope I don't see anyone do X, Y and Z. So the event becomes less about me enjoying it. And it becomes more about me being hyper-vigilant of what the white students are doing. For the white students I know who aren't attending, it puts them in a weird space, too. Like you go to this event to have fun, to take pictures, to be silly with your friends and enjoy the university, but you can't really do that at this museum.
Jenna: [I remember after Founder's Day at the Newseum] someone asked me if I went to the Newseum and I was like, not really. Because I didn't. I had to go back again. And also, I know a lot of students pregame before they go to this event, and you're not going to be in your right mind to really take in all of the exhibits [at the NMAAHC.]
Lauren: So y'all think it's like, because of the nature of the event, it can't be a meaningful experience for people?
Thery: Pretty much. I mean, granted, I don't really think the [National Museum of African American History and Culture] is really a Founders-y kind of spot, just for like the subject material. I had a friend put it to me like this the other day - he's one of my friends who was really on the fence about going - he's Jewish he said it would be like if they tried to have [an event] like this like the Holocaust museum.
Devontae: I don't agree with the current location, but I understand the principal of it. Again, Founder's should happen. It's something that we obviously should have. I don't think that's necessarily the point of contention, but it just runs counter to the purpose of this specific museum.
Lauren: So do you all think that we should have Founder's at this museum? I mean, we know they're not going to cancel it, but where would you prefer we have the event?
Thery: I don't know, honestly. Personally I wouldn't mind having it there. It would just be a dope experience to have something like [Founder's Day] at the [National Museum of African American History and Culture]. But at the same time, I don't think [the way the rest of the student body] reacts or handles themselves should impact whether or not we have fun.
Lauren: I mean, I deal with white bull***t every day. I'm not going to let that ruin my experience.
Lauren: Why do y'all think this location was chosen?
Zariyah: It's new. I mean it's an amazing museum.
Devontae: Yeah, it's beautiful.
Jenna: I feel like [after Student Government announced the event location] we tried to turn into this whole, Oh we're going to celebrate black excellence,' but that was never the intention.
Thery: It's a very opportunistic kind of move.
Zariyah: For me, it goes back to the ticket thing. If there was some way to give priority to black students...that would be better. And then even like maybe you know yeah and then feel free to talk to a director who's also an AU alum, who's also an ebony eagle. There could have been more that could have been done. You know, I think because I think it is a great way to showcase Black excellence within white spaces because, even when you look at the location of the museum itself, it speaks to the experience of Black students at AU.
Lauren: Do you think would be more appropriate if Howard University or another HBCU had an event like this at the museum?
Zariyah: I mean, do you want to swag surf next to Harriet Tubman? I think that would be weird, too.
Devontae: It would fundamentally be a different problem. But I mean, it's just really unfortunate because I understand the amount of time, effort and work that goes into planning this kind of event. And you want to see this event - that you literally put your heart and soul into - become a success and something people are going to enjoy.
Lauren: Do you think there's any way this event could be a reflective experience for people? I don't want to be overly simplistic, but is there any way this could be framed differently? Framed in a way that changes the nature of the event or encourages people to take it more seriously?
Thery: I don't think so.
Zariyah: It's Founder's. You want to ask a bunch of drunk kids to go stand by the reflection pool? No bueno.
Lauren: What about another type of event there? So not a dance, not a Founders?
Zariyah: I think if Founder's Day was less of a prom and more like a banquet or like a gala, or something of that nature.
Lauren: Any last thoughts?
Jenna: Are you going to go to Founder's?
Zariyah: I'm going to go. I'm going to wear a jumpsuit. Y'all not ready.
Jenna: I have a dress in my closet, so I might as well.
These photos were taken of exhibits inside the National Museum of African American History and Culture.