Anti-Racist Policies at Elon
Dear President Connie Book, Dr. Jon Dooley, and Dr. Amy Johnson
Given the current political climate, we are sure that you are all thinking of strategies to make Elon a stronger community. As Elon students and alumni, we are too. We care deeply about Elon as it has shaped us into the global citizens we are today. In light of the murders of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, and countless other Black Americans, we believe that the time for change is now. When thinking about change, we realized that it must start with the education of United States citizens. This change must start with anti-Blackness education and educating white students on white supremacy. Therefore, we are asking that our institution take swift action to begin tackling these racial disparities and injustices. Good intentions are not enough. As a community that prides itself on inclusion and diversity, Elon has a responsibility to be a leader in disrupting the white privilege and white supremacy on campus while encouraging other historically white institutions to do the same.
The many “-ism’s” plaguing our nation stem far beyond the classroom, however, for some, the classroom serves as a doctor’s office: the first place they even realize they are ill. In her 2019 article, “Flashback: College Students Should Take Mandatory Course on Black History, White Privilege,” Dr. Emily Dalton, professor of Sociology at Dartmouth, argues that, “For many white students, by the time they get to college and elect to take a race and ethnicity class, it is the first time they have questioned their advantages: how their grandparents likely benefited from affirmative action as part of the GI Bill, how the federal government kept the suburbs white — which allowed their parents to accrue the wealth that sent them to college, and how mass incarceration and felon disenfranchisement give their white voices more say in our democracy.” We feel that to begin treating racism, anti-Blackness, and subconscious biases, we must first be able to identify them, and the knowledge required to do so lies in the unspoken conversations between future classmates. Let us remember that Black history is American history. When we ignore this fact, we are erasing 400+ years of history bound to repeat itself. The current systems in place in higher education allow those who choose to be racist to hide in plain sight. We must construct new systems that not only make it impossible for them to hide, but impossible for them to thrive. We understand that change takes time, but time’s up. We are not asking for change. As the students who pay thousands of dollars to attend this university, we are demanding change. There can no longer be bliss in ignorance, especially at a university that, according to its inclusion statement, prides itself on “an inclusive environment wherein differences are valued and integrated into every aspect of campus in order to prepare globally engaged citizens.” If the university wishes to uphold the different components of its inclusion statement, it must seek active ways to foster engagement in "every aspect of campus," beginning in the classroom.
In its mission statement, Elon claims to be “a rich intellectual community characterized by active student engagement with a faculty dedicated to excellent teaching and scholarly accomplishment.” In other words, Elon, like many campuses across the U.S., works hard to foster an active learning environment. Drs. Arthur W. Chickering and Stephen C. Ehrmann, authors of “Seven Principles for Good Practice in Undergraduate Education,” remind us that “Learning is not a spectator sport. Students do not learn much just by sitting in classes listening to teachers, memorizing pre-packaged assignments, and spitting out answers. They must talk about what they are learning, write about it, relate it to past experiences, apply it to their daily lives. They must make what they learn part of themselves.” On a broad scale this sounds like any class at Elon. However, the reality is that many conversations surrounding race at Elon are passive. It is expected that students and a handful of faculty of color be the sole educators on this topic, and while Elon encourages the concept of active learning, there has been little action taken in terms of curricula around race. We understand that passive and personal education regarding race is an essential step that we must take on the long journey forward; however, it is only one step. Taking one step, no matter how big, is only one step. We must aggressively attack the sickness that has plagued our nation for hundreds of years from every angle possible. In order for us to do that, we have to “get in where we fit in.” For some, that’s protesting. For others, it’s passively educating themselves and others. For the Elon student body, we believe it has to be implementing anti-racist curricula in an active learning environment.
While we feel that anti-racism education should begin in the classroom, the conversation regarding anti-racism cannot stop there. We must examine how learning goes beyond the classroom and the university’s responsibility to reinforce anti-racist practices in every aspect of campus. You can’t preach diversity, inclusion, and equity without being actively anti-racist in your actions and institutional policies. Therefore, we feel it is crucial that this institution analyzes the many ways that anti-racist practices can be used in and outside of the classroom in order to create a more equitable campus. How are we, a historically white institution, taking honest accountability for our legacy of racism? How are we educating non-black students about racism? How are we preparing faculty to facilitate an environment that fosters engaged learning and protects students from microaggressive and biased behavior? How are we protecting our faculty, staff, and students of color from carrying the burden of anti-racist education that often falls on their shoulders? How are we properly educating our Black students on their own history in this country and beyond? How are we as an institution preparing our marginalized students to fulfill Elon requirements when they do not have the resources or social capital to do so? While spending a semester in New York City, I (Arianne Payne) was required by my degree program to complete an internship. The internship I attained was unpaid. Therefore, I not only had to complete 20 hours a week at my internship site, but I also had to take a full academic course load and find a part-time job in order to survive in the city and complete the program. This made a semester that was supposed to be about exploration and personal development extremely difficult. This story is one of many and through active anti-racist practices, these stressors could be alleviated so that all Elon students are able to not only succeed but thrive.
We pay tuition in order to receive the higher education necessary for our particular field. No matter the field, every student should be presented with anti-racist training if the school claims to ally with its students of color. Not only that, but this world is increasingly globalizing, and it’s crucial we accurately prepare our students to enter it. We do not believe that Elon can currently say it's doing everything in its power to prepare its students to succeed in a globalized world. The purpose of the pursuit of higher education is to make you more competitive on the job market by becoming more competent in your field. If a professor's way of guiding a student to competency doesn’t include anti-racism, there is a glaring issue. On their website, Elon makes it clear that their faculty is “world-class,” however many faculty members are unequipped to facilitate discussions regarding race. How can any professor be deemed “world-class” if they are not actively anti-racist in their teachings?
In their mission statement, Elon also notes its ability to “integrate learning across the disciplines and put knowledge into practice, thus preparing students to be global citizens and informed leaders motivated by concern for the common good.” The “common good” is bound to change from generation to generation, however, given the current state of the country and world at large, the greater good must apply to protecting the Black community through active anti-Blackness education. The global citizens produced by Elon, who are said to be the informed leaders this generation needs, must truly be informed. The jaws of racism may be gnawing away at the American people, but systemic racism is not exclusive to the land of the free and the home of the brave. Racism exists everywhere in the globalized world we live in. It may not be as prominent or the foundation on which other nations were built, but, as we have seen in recent weeks, there is a need to remind countries across the globe that Black Lives Matter. Therefore, in order to cultivate informed leaders who will be responsible for the promotion of the common good, Black history, anti-Blackness, critical race theory, and anti-racism must become a significant aspect of the culture and community standards on Elon’s campus.
Our demands are listed below.
- All students at Elon are required to take an accessible course with a social justice lens on white supremacy, anti-Blackness, critical race theory, and Black history in the United States in order to graduate. You cannot stop what you do not see. This class would help educate all Elon students about this country’s history of racism in an effort to end racism in our community and beyond. This could take the place of the Global Experience as Anti-blackness and racism are a global issue.
- Elon 101’s goal is to equip students with the basic tools they need to navigate Elon. This needs to include diverse issues and experiences as Elon is a diverse community. This should include but not be limited to education on:
- Diverse student organizations (APSA, LHU, NPHC, LUL, CUS, BSU, etc.)
- Microaggressions and racism that may be experienced at Elon as well as during study abroad experiences
- Varying degrees of privilege (not just white privilege) and how they can show up in academic settings
- As internships are required by many academic departments in order to graduate, it is crucial we make them more accessible to low-income students. Elon needs to create a database of funded internships applicable to academic programs that require them to graduate. Additionally, Elon needs to create an internship grant fund for low-income students. This fund and database should be well-publicized so that students know these resources exist and are able to utilize them.
- Drastically increase funding and resources for the Center for Race, Ethnicity, and Diversity Education (CREDE) and its satellite offices. This office is and will continue to be crucial in educating the Elon community on issues surrounding race, but they are currently underfunded and understaffed. This should include, but not be limited to,
- Increasing the CREDE’s yearly budget
- Hiring two associate directors per identity cluster (A-L-ANAM).
- Expanding the size of the office as it is has not expanded in size, but Elon’s diverse student population continues to grow
- Relocating the CREDE to a more visible location as it is currently hidden on the second floor, in the corner of Moseley
- The Spanish learning center should be separated from El Centro and El Centro should be combined with the CREDE in the same location
- Require all Elon faculty and administrators to participate in two trainings on diversity and race a year. It is no secret that students have experienced microaggressions and instances of racism in the classroom. How can we expect students to learn when they do not have a safe environment in which to do so? These trainings would equip professors with basic tools to tackle their own racism and protect our students. These trainings should be outsourced to the Racial Equity Institute or another organization the CREDE deems fit.
- A new bias reporting system needs to be put in place. There have been too many times where incidents have been reported with repercussions that were not satisfactory. Discrimination from faculty, staff, and students should be taken as seriously as Elon takes parking in the wrong lot or drinking underage.
- All materials and policies to be revised should be done through an equity lens in order to be anti-racist. Elon’s Center for Equity and Inclusive Excellence should produce an annual report of updates on racist incidents, bias reports submitted, actions taken, and comprehensive plans to address racism and discrimination within the institution.
- The CEIE staff currently sits at 3 and we recommend expanding this staff to 5 in order to fully support the work that needs to be done at Elon
- Finally, although Dr. Dooley sent out an email acknowledging Black students and supporting us during this difficult time, we feel that, as the president of our university, Dr. Book needs to release a new statement on behalf of Elon University supporting the Black Lives Matter Movement as well as Black students. It is not enough to say you support us behind closed doors without making it public. Along with a statement of standing with the Black community there should be a detailed plan of action based off of these demands. Not just because it will look good, but because it will do good for our community and everyone within Elon.
Elon University is a historically white university founded in 1889. Therefore, from its inception, this space has been anti-Black. Although race is a social construct, it has very real consequences that are oftentimes swept under the rug. Black students have been feeling these consequences since its integration in 1963, which is why we feel these demands are long overdue. We understand that Elon might not be equipped to handle these demands at this point in time. However, as maintaining a diverse, equitable, and inclusive community is the second goal of Elon’s next 10-year plan, we believe it is your duty to your students to get equipped. Elon has an opportunity here to not just be a leader in study abroad participation or undergraduate teaching, but in an arena in which it is currently failing—anti-racist practices. We are more than willing to continue the dialogue around these issues and continue to investigate avenues for change at Elon. However, our goal in writing this letter is to see swift change within the Elon Community. We encourage any students at other universities to use this as a template to demand similar action items from their institutions. Thank you for your time and we look forward to hearing from you.
Arianne Payne ’20, Kevin Lacey ’21, and The Black Student Union