The U.S. National Guard presence on Drexel University’s campus has caused another layer of unrest for those in the area amid the protests in Philadelphia following George Floyd’s death.
Governor Tom Wolf and the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency deployed the National Guard to the Armory on Drexel’s campus, which is owned by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, a fact not known by most students. The National Guard’s presence was a response to recent protests, President John Fry said in an email statement to the University community June 2.
Drexel students wrote to Fry, many via social media, to express their thoughts on the matter. Among the messages, students shared that they “feel uncomfortable and unsafe” and “do not condone” the hosting of the National Guard on campus.
“Calling in the [National] Guard is a dangerous overreaction to protesting that will likely lead to more brutality and more bloodshed,” one letter read.
“I acknowledge the anger, frustration, pain and, frankly, fear that was caused by seeing National Guard vehicles on or close to our campus,” Fry responded in a clarifying email. “I appreciate that was a shock to our community and has created concern and distrust.”
The Armory at 32nd Street and Lancaster Avenue lies on Drexel’s campus, but Pennsylvania has ultimate, independent control over the use of the space, Fry explained. Since 2008, Drexel has leased a portion of the space, which has become home to the University’s Army ROTC program.
Since the 1920s, the facility has also been home to the National Guard’s 103rd Engineering Battalion, Fry said. Deploying the National Guard to the Armory to support public safety efforts has also occurred in the past.
“In 2015, more than 500 National Guard members were stationed at the facility to provide services for the visit of Pope Francis,” Fry said. “The National Guard is also assisting with the Commonwealth’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.”
The arrival of the National Guard on Drexel’s campus was not a decision made by the University, Fry reminded. The use of the Armory for a communications and operations command center comes as a preventative measure made by Philadelphia mayor Jim Kenney, who requested the National Guard be deployed to help protect local government buildings.
“Please know that the University is not condoning violence against peaceful protestors or efforts to silence the voices that have risen up against racism in this country,” Fry added.
Even digitally, students who are in need of support can contact the Office of Counseling and Health Services for a teletherapy appointment. Employees should contact the Employee Assistance Program for counseling via phone or online.
“I want to assure you that Drexel remains committed to addressing the deep-rooted history of pain in the African American community,” Fry wrote. “[And to] exploring how we can be active allies in restoring trust, acceptance and inclusivity for everyone.”