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REIMAGINING: Administration and Institutional Change

BY: ISIS AMUSA

Click to read the previous section, Faculty/Staff and Curricular Change.


For President of Student Government Eric Brock, it's impossible to combat AU's cultural and institutional problems without students sitting at the administrative table. 

"Angela Davis has a really good quote where she says that intelligence is not measured by if you're in academia," he said. "Just because [students] don't have a Ph.D...that doesn't mean that that intelligence can't be used for a greater good." 

The Antiracist Research and Policy Center, in particular, has "a very white-centric" conceptualization of institutional organization, research and the ways it can be used, Brock said. 

"If it is truly an antiracist center, it won't create a hierarchical structure that it chooses to dismantle," he said. "That starts essentially by challenging our own perspectives of what research is and what that looks like." 

Despite the center researching Black communities, racial inequity and racism, Brock said they previously made no efforts to create a relationship with the communities these issues affect. Because of this disconnect, Brock said he and his peers have not felt the loss of Dr. Kendi as there "was not a relationship to be had...in the first place." 

With the upcoming release of the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Plan, however, Brock said he hopes the university will create more institutional avenues for faculty and students of color to have community. 

"A lot of times, it's sort of like these scholar programs where we just pick more Black people but we're not actually confronting the issue," he said. "The university is hiring more Black professors but if there's no structural commitments with that it's sort of just an aesthetic fix."  

Once these avenues are created, Brock says the center must begin to look internally and combat the structures that affect faculty and student of color retention. Brock said he believes this structural change is contingent not only on a temporary economic relief fund for students but a university endowment. 

"If there's not enough financial aid, that limits what type of people we can bring here," he said. "My concern is that, in the long run, the university will pat itself on the back, benefit from racial capitalism and not actually confront the structural issues that exist within this institution."

For now, Brock is ensuring his administration has a seat at the administrative table. He has goals to address issues related to Greek life, community oversight in defunding the AUPD and creating an economic relief fund outside of financial aid. He urges all students to put themselves at the table, despite how inaccessible he feels the current structure makes the administration. 

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"That's a constant conflict I think that really doesn't allow things to get done," Brock said. 

In 2018, the student body agreed in surveys conducted for the Inclusive Excellence Plan

The plan revealed the majority of students desired more clarity "about how to navigate institutional policies" and that, "in responding to troubling situations around discrimination or bias, AU was not responsive to student concerns."  

Since then, only more racially charged incidents have occurred. 

As of now, Fanta Aw says the plan is finishing the feedback stage, collecting student, faculty, staff, alumni and parent input for the past two years. This input has reaffirmed the original direction of the plan, emphasizing racial equity and antiracist pedagogy, not diversity. As they move forward, "it becomes a matter of how you bring about some of the structural changes that are needed," Aw said. 

One challenge to this, and one she personally struggles with, is the speed of institutional change. Additionally, Aw says federal actions, like Trump's administration blocking federal funding to institutions conducting antiracism training, can impact their ability to carry out some of their core priorities. 

Aw, however, recognizes the need to "pick up the pace" and "not be silenced by that" when making these changes, as students only attend for three to four years before they're gone. After seeing the @blackatamericanuniversity page, this need has only intensified for Aw. 

"Whenever I see, hear or feel that students are not feeling a sense of belonging, it's heart-wrenching," she said. "It's no secret that, in what I would call historically white institutions, students of color, in particular Black students, their sense of belonging is one of those things that continues to be a challenge. It is built in the structures that we have in universities, it is built-in universities being a reflection of larger society."

In light of national racial tensions and the "tremendous weight particularly for communities of color" of current events, the administration is getting to work. 

A big goal of the administration is to hire a new director for the Antiracist Research and Policy Center. Aw, however, wants to break the cycle of simply filling positions. 

"What the center can do and what the center is beginning to do more of is be a convener," she said. "It's not only getting that research published externally and getting the recognition, it's using some of the learning from that to inform our thinking and the change that needs to happen internally."

Internally, Aw is working to promote access and equity for the student body. The administration recently increased financial aid by $13 million and is maintaining the funds allocated to student wages. Aw said she is sure nothing, including a global pandemic, will affect this and attributes this to generations of careful financial planning on part of the university. 

Aw said the university is also committed to forgoing funding to nonurgent areas to allocate resources to and to promote antiracist work.

"The piece around diversity, equity and inclusion and the student experience are foundational to the work that we need to do so we are not envisioning any kinds of cuts to those things," she said. "If anything we understand that we may actually need to do more investment in those areas." 

This funding will also be utilized to promote a sense of community for students of color, like Black affinity housing, an initiative Aw's team was a large proponent of and is working to complete. 

Finally, besides physical spaces, Aw hopes to make space for more students of color involvement and for their voices to be heard. 

"I see you, I hear you in these very very challenging times," she said. "Part of our work is to make sure that we're listening to the multiple voices at the table...I wake up every day with this in mind and I go to bed every day with this in mind. For those of us who were here and came before, we are still here, but this is your time. You belong here and don't you ever doubt that." 

She calls upon communities of color to share this burden with white allies, form multicultural coalitions and take time to care for one another because "you can't give what you don't have." 

Amid the exodus of Black faculty, AU is working to promote a "sense of belonging" for both Black faculty and students through cultural, curricular and institutional changes. But the prevailing theme between all of these areas has never been more clear: there is much work to be done.


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