Man wearing Confederate Flag sweatshirt seen at TDR

Image captured via Snapchat by Gabriel Diamond.

Image captured via Snapchat by Gabriel Diamond.

by Maaz Qureshi

On Thursday, January 31st, between the hours of 7 and 8 pm, a man donning a Confederate flag print sweatshirt walked onto campus. He walked through Mary Graydon Center and made his way into the Terrace Dining Room, where he was served by several black employees before sitting at a table with another unidentified man.

The pair, who are not American University students, were visiting their girlfriends on campus, according to Yemane Charles, an American University sophomore, who sat down with the individuals to “have a dialogue with people who can have such opposing beliefs.”

The man allegedly defended his choice of the garment as a Southern flag “representing the power and pride of the south.” Charles said the man claimed to have Mexican and Black ancestry, and that it was his right under the first amendment to wear the flag.

“It’s very rare that you get to see a person who still holds such beliefs that the amount of melanin you have makes you superior or inferior,” said Charles on why he sat down with the man. “I wanted to understand how someone could be so fundamentally opposite to who you are and what you stand for.” When Yemane told the man that the Confederate flag represents slavery, he responded with “the winners of the media has dictated what the Confederate flag means today.”

Gabe Hultberg and Jonah Peterson, friends of Charles, joined him a the table to be allies and confront the man about his choice of clothing. They quickly realized that “after a few talking points the man didn’t know what to say” and was “very misinformed about the meaning of the flag and the Civil War.” The man began questioning Yemane on definitions of slavery and freedom when he ran out of things to say, according to Jonah. When Jonah said that the man was “doing this for attention”, the man replied with: “If I wanted to do this for attention I would be running around and screaming.”

A first-hand account of the incident was posted to Facebook by Francis Hernandez, another American University student. The post details the events that followed and her reactions as she witnessed this student’s actions.

Hernandez details how she approached an AU representative who was in TDR in conjunction with a planned “Spanish Night”, an event celebrating the food and culture of Hispanic people. According to Hernandez, she was met with no action from AU after voicing her concern about the student. An AUPD officer entered TDR shortly after to speak with the student. After a brief interaction, during which the officer sat at the table and talked with the individual, the officer exited and the student remained seated.

The immediate reaction from students was confusion and anger, but the incident raises larger questions about American University’s policies on diversity and inclusion. Fanta Aw, in a statement from Campus Life and Inclusive Excellence, said: “As a university that values inclusion, freedom of expression and a culture of openness, we recognize that resolving the tensions that can arise between these issues is challenging.”

This incident occurred a year and a half after cotton balls and confederate flags were found across campus on the beginning of Black History Month and on the anniversary of President Burwell’s Plan For Inclusive Excellence that states that only 33% of African American students feel included on campus as opposed to 71% of white students. Additionally, it comes on the heels of a roundtable providing findings on American University’s connections with slavery that occurred the day before. At the time this article was completed there has been no further word from AU administration.

Editor’s note: Unfortunately, when incidents similar to this one happen, there are more questions than answers, more administration backlog and less transparency. We will work on continually updating this story as more information comes out.