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A spirit that is not afraid

LETTER TO THE EDITOR | Our work is not for you.

<p>Sights from Toomer's Corner protest for justice for George Floyd on May 31, 2020.</p>

Sights from Toomer's Corner protest for justice for George Floyd on May 31, 2020.

To President Gogue, Lt. Gen. Burgess, and Provost Hardgrave: 

We recognize your tactics, your willful ignorance and your failures. We have organized as a group of students — many of us involved in other on-campus and off-campus organizations — with anti-discrimination and care for our communities at the forefront of our minds. We have sat in meetings with administrators including Provost Hargrave, Lt. Gen. Burgess, and President Gogue, honestly shared our experiences and offered solutions backed up by research. 

We have voiced our pain and concern when experiencing discrimination, dismissal and disrespect. We have amplified calls for transparency and respect. And we have watched our peers, including alumni, do the same for years and years. Many of us have even done all of this while also experiencing racism, sexism, misogynoir, xenophobia and homophobia within the various Auburn organizations we have joined in an attempt to feel a part of the ever-elusive “Auburn Family” you so deceptively promote. 

Enough has been enough for far too long. 

As we start to approach nearly a year since students first began having the conversations which resulted in the founding of our organization, we leave you these demands. We make these demands with the understanding that Auburn University has exemplified and will continue to exemplify white supremacy in its tactics for stalling, exploiting and abusing its Black and POC students, staff, faculty and alumni. We have heard your excuses: refusing to offer transparency, lest the public hear your harmful words; refusing to listen to Black students because you disbelieve their personal experiences; refusing to create an inclusive culture of justice and anti-racism because "it would take too long." 

We know it all too well, and we are unsurprised and unfazed. 

Our work is not for you. Rather, all of it — our organizing since May 2020 as well as all the demands within this document — is for future Black and POC students who find themselves on this campus without a home, and without any administrators who will listen to their pain and utilize their power to heal it. 

May they avoid being exploited by the allure of your diversity initiatives, and being given false hope in your “Listening Groups” and “Task Forces.” Instead, may they carry on our documented work and continue to resist your white supremacist tactics at every turn.  

To present and future Black students at Auburn University: 

Since May 2020, we have organized with the clear purpose of opposing injustice in our local community and beyond. Though our organization’s membership and council has included students and non-students of various identities, we have been and remain primarily Black student-led. From our own experiences — and from the valuable experiences of other Black students from whom we have sought guidance — we have learned much about how Auburn treats Black students. 

Many of us come to this campus knowing vaguely what we’re getting into: a predominantly white institution with unimpressive and even disheartening numbers of Black students. But we come here regardless, and seek community where we can. For some, that home may be in athletics, in Student Involvement organizations like Black Student Union, in Greek Life like NPHC or even in a group of friends. But for many of us, it is impossible to ignore that the proverbial “Auburn Family” does not include us. 

Initiatives like President Gogue’s Listening Sessions, Student Involvement’s “Breaking Barriers” events and the Presidential Task Force for Opportunity & Equity promise to meet students’ concerns but instead have wasted time and even directly disrespected students on the basis of their identities and experiences. We could try to offer some comprehensive list of all the aggressions, violence and disrespect Auburn University has shown to its Black population over the years, but it would go on forever. Besides, you’ve likely heard it all before, and it is not the point of our message to you. 

Whether you feel hopeful for Auburn and its future or disheartened and angry at this institution and its leaders, you deserve a sense of community and safety. You deserve to be heard and valued. 

Auburn administrators’ message to us has been consistent and clear for years: that we will not be guaranteed community, safety, or real change through the avenues they provide. Student Involvement has not been the answer. Auburn’s diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives have not been the answer. 

But there is hope still. For us, community organizing has been an answer. Since May 2020, we have built collective power independent of the University. We have built relationships with folks from alumni whose decades-ago experiences mirrored our own, to ACLU lawyers, NAACP members and Harvard graduates who have informed our advocacy. Together, we have engaged in eye-opening education about the histories of Auburn, Black student advocacy and Black revolutionary efforts. Furthermore, we have learned how to practically apply that education. 

Our message to you is that you have power. 

Auburn administrators would not like you to be aware of this power, as it threatens the culture of complacency that their careers and comfort depend upon. We can wield this power through engaging with off-campus community organizing, whether by joining a change-making organization or by founding your own. With this power of organizing our collective voice independent of the oppressive structures that Auburn has built, we can carve a space for ourselves. 

In this space, we can be affirmed by others who have similar experiences. We can learn the truths which Auburn chooses to hide. We can feel loved even while attending an institution which refuses to love us. Furthermore, we can challenge this institution at its core to create a home for future Auburn students to come. 

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Whether you are new to this campus or you have long held titles in several organizations, please remember that you are loved, and that your time, energy and experiences are valuable. Please remember that you have power which the University cannot control or stifle. We encourage you to use it. 

View our full Demands for Racial Equity at Auburn University. 

With the unwavering power of our collective voice, 

The Black students of Auburn Students & Community for Change 

Auburn Students and Community for Change is a community organization dedicated to ending police brutality and racial injustice in the Auburn community and nationwide. 

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