Auburn changes one year after George Floyd’s death

May 25, 2021, marks a year since the murder of George Floyd, who sent an already agitated nation into quarantine on the streets to protest and riot, putting issues of racial injustice at the forefront of American dialogue.

College campuses have seen young people fill the streets, clenched fists raised to the sky, demanding local change. At Auburn University, new committees were formed, buildings were renamed, and conversations began.

Student and community activism

Shortly after the video of George Floyd’s murder was posted on social media, the protests began. On May 31, 2020, at Toomer’s Corner, hundreds of people from the University and the community populated the busy intersection, singing, slogans and picketing with placards fighting racism and police brutality.

These community-wide protests went on for days. Auburn graduate Asia Myers showed up that day, enduring the heat and crowds of June in her mask.

“It was an important day for me,” Myers said. “Seeing community support for something that I have lived my whole life has given me so much optimism for the future that I feel like I have missed out my whole life.”

Myers said she was surprised by the turnout at the protests but also by the diversity of the crowd.

“At least in my experience, in my community, blacks and whites are generally left alone,” Myers said. “To see us all together… I don’t think that has ever happened here, certainly not in Alabama.”

Jaylin Spears, a friend of Myers, showed up at Toomer’s Corner that day not knowing what to expect. As a precaution, he put a filtered respirator in his backpack and goggles slung around his neck.

“I was seeing some of these protests turn into something else in other cities on the news,” Spears said. “I didn’t want it to turn into this, and I was going to do whatever I could to prevent it from turning into this, but sometimes people with bad intentions come, or the police drop the draw hammer. go.

Spears did not have to replace his COVID-19 mask for the respirator, as the protests remained entirely peaceful.

“I was very proud of my community that day,” he said.

He went on to refer to a quote from Martin Luther King Jr.

“Yes, ‘riots are the voice of strangers,’ but I think we’re more effective by being constructive,” Spears said. “It’s a lot more sophisticated than throwing bricks at businesses in our community, which doesn’t help anyone.”

Spears said he believes the community has welcomed the protests.

“The biggest confrontation I had with anyone was with a man who didn’t agree with me on some things about the police, but look, it was a civilian conversation,” he said. -he declares. “It’s as good as it gets, man. These are difficult things to tackle, so of course the discussions will be heated. ”

Although the large-scale protests ended for the most part on June 6, a sit-in was staged soon after, and it is still continuing on that date, almost a year later.

The University revises the names

Until the end of 2020, of Auburn’s more than 75 buildings, none were named after any of Auburn’s black alumni. It wasn’t until after the protests that followed George Floyd’s murder that this happened.

In November 2020, the Student Center became the Harold D. Melton Student Center, named after Auburn’s first Black SGA president and the current Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Georgia. The denomination was not dependent on any donations or gifts to the University, according to the Presidential Opportunities and Fairness Task Force that suggested the building’s name change.

Later, in March 2021, two campus residents’ rooms were renamed in honor of former black students. Eagle Hall was renamed in honor of Josetta Brittain Matthews, the first black student to graduate from Auburn. Tiger Hall was renamed in honor of Bessie Mae Holloway, an Auburn graduate who was the first black appointed to the board of directors, where she served from 1985 to 2000.

In addition to adding the names of Auburn’s black pioneers, the University has removed some names.

In November 2020, the Auburn University Board of Trustees voted unanimously to remove the last name of the 38th Governor of Alabama, David Bibb Graves, from Graves Amphitheater and Graves Drive. Graves was a member of the Montgomery Chapter of the Ku Klux Klan and of the “Exalted Cyclops,” or leader, of the chapter in the 1920s, according to the Encyclopedia of Alabama.

“Keeping Governor Graves’ name on the amphitheater and on the road would divert rather than encourage large-scale use of facilities which are meant to be enjoyed for the engagement of the campus community,” he said. Board member Elizabeth Huntley said in an interview. with The Plainsman in November 2020.

Although the University assembled a task force to examine the evolution of problematic homonyms in 2016, it was not until after the protests after Floyd’s death that action was taken.

An interactive map by Kate Craig, associate professor of history at Auburn University, details structures on the Auburn campus that are named after white supremacists or Confederate veterans.

While some believe these name changes are a step in the right direction, other critics say it is only incumbent, that the real change has yet to come from university or community administrators. from Auburn.

“It’s nice to see Auburn dedicating some of its buildings to its former black students, but I don’t see these changes as more than an insincere political compromise,” said Jediael Fraser, senior in software engineering and member of ‘Auburn Students and Community for Change. “Although you have to start somewhere, let’s face it – we have a long way to go. Changing the name of one or two residences is great, but it doesn’t do much to address the culture here which, if we’re being honest, is extremely seamless and marginalizing.

Fraser questioned the effectiveness of symbolic gestures in bringing about change.

“Change has to come from within as it does from without, and we have to center the most marginalized voices,” he said.

Presidential Task Force on Opportunities and Equity

On June 17, 2020, Auburn University President Jay Gogue announced the establishment of the Presidential Task Force on Opportunities and Equity. The committee’s goal is to “make recommendations to address disparities in recruitment and retention” and to offer topic-specific outreach programs, according to the university’s website.

One of those disparities, Gogue said, is with faculty. According to the University’s Office of Institutional Research, as of fall 2019, of Auburn’s 1,426 professors, 65 were black. White professors made up the majority with 1,044 members.

Vini Nathan, dean of the College of Architecture, Design and Construction, is the leader of the task force’s Black Faculty Recruitment and Retention subcommittee.

“Because distance learning has just come to fruition on a massive scale, we immediately increased our black faculty, primarily through adjunct positions, guest lecturers, and collaborative teaching,” Nathan said. “Our hires here have been great and we hope to integrate them full time in the coming semesters.”

Nathan said the task force’s efforts are also focused on increasing and retaining the number of black students. As of fall 2020, of Auburn’s 30,737 students, 1,624 were Black students; 23,805 of those students were white, according to the Office of Institutional Research.

“Part of the goal is to enroll more black students and keep them here,” Nathan said. “Part of how we’re going to do that is redirect 10% of our scholarship funds to black students, and we have a plan underway to lower tuition fees for [Black] students whose needs are not being met. “

To enter this final installment, students would not have to qualify for merit-based scholarships. Instead, they should have proof of financial hardship. The working group has not yet decided on the parameters defining the difficulties.

The task force has ambitions to begin a major in African American Studies at the College of Liberal Arts. A school-wide online diversity, equity and inclusion course, often referred to as DCI, is also on the table.

“We have deliberated on a DCI training program for Auburn students, faculty and staff,” Nathan said. “It would most likely be online, through a service called EverFi.”

If approved, Nathan expects the course to run in time for the fall semester 2021.

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