More than 200 Emory University students rallied Wednesday against a controversial column the college’s president wrote and a campus culture they say fails to fully value minority students.
The protest had few chants, posters or banners. Instead the “Rally Against Racism” educated students about recent indignations and challenged them to make the campus — their home — safer and more welcoming.
“We need to better understand our racial problems on campus so we can confront them and solve them,” said Jovonna Jones, the president of Emory’s Black Student Alliance. “I want people to be more comfortable connecting with one another and not be afraid to discuss the differences between us.”
Student uproar focused partly on Emory President James Wagner and his essay that used the Three-Fifths Compromise as an example of how people with opposing viewpoints can work together toward a common goal. The compromise, reached in creating the U.S. Constitution, said three-fifths of the slave population would count toward representation in Congress.
Wagner has apologized, saying slavery is heinous and that it was a mistake to use the “repugnant” compromise as an example. A faculty group censured Wagner last week.
Jones and others said the essay was just the latest in what has been a year of disturbing events.
Students worry that budget cuts announced in September to the College of Arts and Sciences will disproportionately hurt minority students. Administrators say that won’t be the case. About one-third of Emory’s students are minorities.
In December a student anchor on a campus news satire program joked about “lynching, tarring and feathering, and cross burning” while talking about a court case regarding affirmative action. “The Dooley Show” later apologized.
After “The Dooley Show” incident Emory’s Division of Campus Life pulled together students from different parts of campus to address concerns about oppression as it relates to race, gender and other issues. They held forums and will release recommendations this spring, said Ajay Nair, the university’s senior vice president and dean of campus life.
Nair attended the rally, but Wagner was out of town.
Student protesters called on Emory to take a “clear and committed” stance on racism and develop a system so people can report bias. They also want a Black Student Union to serve as a resource and formal gathering space.