By Emma Campbell
One of President Kurt Landgraf’s final influential acts was the email he sent on July 21 titled “On WC’s Racial Climate.” The email, which was sent to all students, parents, staff, and faculty, covered its bases in terms of promises and implied apologies — the former of which included the installation of new campus-wide security cameras, a new WAC Alert System set up to inform students of on-campus racial bias incidents, a safe space in Minta Martin, and a Diversity Pledge. The email also listed changes made to the Student Handbook and the Bias Incident Response Protocol.
These assurances came after several reported incidents of racially motivated attacks on students last year, as well as a peaceful student-led protest at George Washington’s Birthday Convocation on Feb. 21. In a year which has seen police officers murder a black woman in her front hallway and a black man over a $20 bill, WC students have risen to join the better part of America in revolution. And WC higher-ups were not prepared.
As trite as it sounds, credit must be given where credit is due. Action, however slow, seems to have been discussed. Landgraf did write the email. Relatedly, the Beta Omega chapter of Kappa Alpha has disbanded “for the time being” due to the order’s glorified depiction of Confederate General Robert E. Lee. Still, this decision was reportedly made by the Kappa Alpha brothers, once again suggesting that when it comes to racial injustice, WC students appear more ready to be held accountable than the larger administration.
“I think WAC is lacking in multiple ways when it comes to supporting its black and minority students not only in the classroom but outside of the classroom,” senior Destiny Harris, President of WC’s Black Student Union, said in an email. “Administration needs to collaborate not only with themselves or among themselves, but also students…to make greater changes for black and minority students.”
Landgraf’s email is an incredible start. The promises listed are tangible and precise. The tone throughout appears genuinely sincere, especially with phrases such as, “Difficult and necessary conversations regarding race and equity are long overdue in our country and at Washington College.” But it is easy to be against racism. It is harder, particularly for those in positions of power, to be active in their anti-racism — especially in a virtual setting.
“With [Landgraf’s] email I really care about action,” sophomore Shalis Hunt, member of WC’s Black Student Union, said. “He said good things but that doesn’t mean anything if the school isn’t going to follow through.”
Follow-through is perhaps what WC is lacking. Students have heard administrators like Landgraf make promises before. The “safe space” slated to open in Minta Martin has been on the table for months, though it was set on the back burner due to the dorm’s ongoing mold crisis. The broken security cameras scattered around campus have seemed to be in the repair process since my freshman year two years ago.
The plan of action described in Landgraf’s email is thorough and productive. But in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, will it be forgotten?
WC students want change. They have decided to seek it out themselves.
“It’s just frustrating because we shouldn’t have to be going out of our way to do this,” Hunt said. “We have school and other activities we have to do…If anything I feel like administration should do something every month to ask students how we’re doing and what we want.”
Since Landgraf’s email on July 21, WC administrators have yet to reach out to students with any updates, apart from the one about KA disbanding. The silence is deafening, and it is telling. If they are truly serious about eradicating racial injustice at WC, then maybe they should continue to remind us of the fact.