BY: ZSHEKINAH COLLIER
The most recent race incident before American University closed due to the global pandemic involved a new sorority member of Chi Omega Eta Lambda Chapter saying the N-word while being recorded. In response to the incident on Feb.19 First-Year Advisors at American University collaborated and held a Black Circle in Clark Hall to provide a space for Black students and allies to discuss the incident. Aja Simpson Zulfiqar, Camille Clark and Sarah Jones, also wrote a letter of solidarity and support to Black women first-year students, which reads:
To all of our beautiful Black sisters,
We see you and we appreciate you. After coming together due to yet another anti-black incident happened on campus, it was apparent, as is often the case with injustices, that you continue to hold the torch, to speak up for yourselves and others, and to demand that we all do better - even when it shouldn't fall so heavily on your shoulders. We also know that this historically, and to this day, often goes unseen, unrecognized, and uncelebrated. We don't know what will happen going forward, but know that we are with you, we are advocating for you, and we are also pushing for change. Even in the act of just being present here, You. Are. Everything. Again, we are with you. We support you.
In love and solidarity,
Black Female First-Year Advisors
The Blackprint had the chance to speak with the writers to discuss why they wrote the letter and next steps for supporting Black first-year students.
On the motivation behind writing the letter
The idea to specifically address the letter to Black women came from mainly hearing the voices of Black female students' and expressing their needs during the Black Circle. While acknowledging the general lack of Black males and men of color at AU, Simpson Zulfiqar said, "It was very apparent that Black women were showing up and showing up big time. And there were very few males that were not staff, or identified folks who were not staff who were in the room."
She expressed that historically Black women are at the forefront of issues and movements centered around Black people, " We recognize and we understand that this is a heavy lift, and to be in that space and not feel like people have your back is really hard," Simpson Zulfiqar said.
"I just really wanted to make sure that Black women knew that we see them and that they felt seen as well, because I don't think that is ever really named," said Clark.
Because of the continuous racist incidents at AU, when the letter idea was introduced by Simpson Zulfiqar, Jones felt it was important for them to do for Black women on campus. "The more Black people specifically Black women working on campus respond to this and make sure we are reinforcing the fact that you know we're here for you, hopefully that kind of sinks in a little bit more and there's more community on campus between students and faculty or students and staff and not just like them going through it by themselves," Jones said.
On not down talking others and advice they would add to the letter
Many of the women at the Black Circle communicated that they felt there is a lack of support and solidarity Black men on campus. Jones advised reinforcing empowerment within the Black female community. She said, "I don't know how you would even pin this in a letter but just kind of being like, Yes, we should all be working together, but you don't need to lean on them. You can be your own source and drive."
"Your voice has weight, and your voice has power. I feel like we are spoken over a lot. And so, I want to put that out there, you know, your voice really does hold weight, and we see that," Clark added.
When deciding to focus the letter on Black female first years that came to the session, the advisors recognized that there are a range of reasons why people did not attend, such as being tired of talking about the incident, having personal things going on, not feeling welcomed etc. So the writers questioned "how do we address it in a way that it's not down talking other folks," Simpson Zulfiqar said.
She went on to say, "I don't know if the wording will ever be sort of perfect to capture all those things [reasons for not attending], but I think it's important just to recognize and to celebrate. Black women showing up and historically doing that job."
On supporting Black Students during the pandemic
Shortly after the incident and session, American University closed in response to the COVID-19 The three advisors felt they could have continued creating spaces and support systems for Black students but the pandemic happened.
Jones said. "We could have done more after that, had we had space and time and resources, but the semester was cut short and almost felt like, unfortunately, this [support and spaces] was something that was almost on the back burner as we scrambled to get our courses online and to make sure our students were okay and everyone was safe. It wasn't something that was readily available or almost accessible at the time."
On plans to continue to support Black First-Year students
Clark, Jones and Simpson Zulfiqar believe there is a need and want for consistent programming that supports students. Many of the plans and conversations in their department are in early brainstorming stages, especially with the uncertainty of a physical fall semester. They hope to partner and build relationships with other offices at the university, to create long-term support for Black students.
Thumbnail by Aaron Burden ï»¿