Staff, faculty release letter supporting tBSU demands

Tess Riley, Staff Reporter

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Only a few days shy of the 53rd anniversary of Tulane’s desegregation, 120 faculty and staff members released a Jan. 19 signed letter in support of the Tulane Black Student Union’s list of demands.

Addressed to Tulane University Board Chairman Darryl Berger, President Michael Fitts, Provost Michael Bernstein and members of the Tulane community, the participating faculty and staff composed this letter as a result of mounting concern over racial issues on campus. These concerns were felt by faculty as well as students, a fact highlighted by both the letter’s contents and its large volume of faculty and staff signatures.

“I hope that Tulane becomes among [those] universities that someone looks back five years from now and says, you know what, instead of doing what they did in the past and kind of talking about it, this is how real change was rendered,” Associate Professor of Africana Studies Laura Rosanne Adderley said.

The chain of events that led to the letter’s composition began in November. In light of the Black Lives Matter movement and the University of Missouri protests, Tulane’s Black Student Union held a Call for Unity in Pocket Park. This event aimed to create dialogue confronting racism and discrimination felt by students of color on Tulane’s campus and present a list of demands to the university’s administration.

“The students felt they needed to speak out about the things they have been concerned about for quite awhile,” said Carolyn Barber-Pierre, assistant vice president for Student Affairs and Intercultural Life. “Things like what happened at Mizzou reminded us that we need to recommit ourselves.”

According to Adderley, the faculty members who signed the letter wanted to express to students that they were aware and deeply empathetic to the problems students had highlighted in their statements. They also wanted students to know the extent of support they had for their concerns.

The demands supported in the letter included recruiting and retaining a more diverse staff, providing service workers with the same benefits as other employees, allocating more resources to the Office of Multicultural Affairs and developing financial aid and scholarship programs for students of color to increase student body diversity.

In an effort to put these changes into motion, President Michael Fitts has created a permanent Presidential Commission on Race and Tulane Values. This group contains students leaders, faculty, staff, administration, alumni and board members.

According to Fitts, the commission will first deal with issues that can be solved most quickly, and then create a plan to address the longer-term issues mentioned in the letter.

“I have begun fundraising for the resources Tulane will need to better recruit and retain faculty of color and provide more financial aid to students,” Fitts said in a statement provided to The Hullabaloo. “I have also begun examining the culture on campus for students, faculty and staff to make sure that we respond to any attacks on the Tulane values of inclusion, community, equality and basic respect.”

As members of a private university, Tulane’s administration can choose to make changes based on its own core values. By effectively addressing the contents of the letter, Adderley believes that Tulane can embrace anti-racism as one of those defining values.

“Being non-racist, that’s the minimum standard,” Adderley said. “Being actively anti-racist, particularly as a private institution, we are entitled to do that and essentially to say to Tulane students, faculty and staff that to be a member of this community the standard is to fight racism and white supremacy.”