Actively Anti-Racist Changes Needed at Drexel | The Triangle

Actively Anti-Racist Changes Needed at Drexel

At an institution that so often promotes the inclusion and safety of all students, the realities of these students seem to contradict those alleged values. Racism, sexism and other forms of prejudice are undermined and ignored at Drexel. The administration cultivates an environment that allows misconduct to occur and reiterates inequalities with no repercussion.

When the protests and riots for the Black Lives Matter movement weighed heavy on the city of Philadelphia, the National Guard was brought into the Armory. The armory is located on Drexel’s campus, right next to a residential building where some students currently reside. The community was uninformed about the National Guard’s presence on campus beforehand.

With uproar from students, faculty, staff, alumni, etc., select members of Drexel’s community banded together to fight for the implementation of actively anti-racist policies on campus — a reality that has never existed, despite the image the university attempts to project. A letter was written and emailed to the administration on Wednesday, June 10. The letter addressed the safety issues regarding the National Guard’s presence as well as outlined necessary policies to prevent racial injustice on campus. The letter calls for reparative justice, taking accountability for faculty diversity and changing the current policing strategies, as well as clarification on the National Guard’s occupancy of the armory. It currently has 274 signatures. The letter was sent out via email and is still being shared among Drexel-related individuals. Unfortunately, the authors were not granted access to the faculty senate or email lists. It had to be distributed and passed along to others by the individuals themselves.

The authors of this letter and its signatories do not speak on behalf of all the faculty at this institution. Some are content with the current policies, some are not content but disagree with the letter and others agree but refuse to sign because they are fearful for the security of their job. Letter writing is a learning process, as is creating change for issues that are systemic. The authors of the letter did extensive research, reached out to faulty abroad and aimed to draft up policies designed specifically for Drexel. Title IX has failed us, without question, and is aimed to prevent liability. Therefore, the policies laid out and the needs addressed in this letter are drafted in a way that aims to fix what happens to students, faculty and staff — not just protect the institution. There needs to be reckoning, not just protecting the institution’s liability.

The letter and the faculty’s intention, at the foundation, is to invite more productive forms of conversation. Those who wrote and signed the letter do not claim to know all of the answers, and the letter is not meant to be an attack on the administration. We are seeking perspectives among a broader audience, not just perspectives from the people in power. There are no quick fixes to institutionalized racism and prejudice; no one who supports these changes is looking for a quick fix. However, there needs to be a conversation and a transformation for all persons involved.

Some of the individuals who support the letter have formed a coalition: Drexel’s Anti-Racist Coalition. A follow-up email was sent to President Fry after he addressed the social injustice issues on campus. In the response, the coalition urged for further action while also acknowledging and respecting the administration’s devotion to combatting structural racism. The email stated: “We are heartened to read that Drexel is beginning the first step towards defunding campus policing through review. It is critical that the review process builds trust with our students and campus community, as well as neighbors in Powelton Village and Mantua, which is why we urgently ask you to reconsider appointing Charles H. Ramsay as the consultant in charge of this process. Ramsay’s record of intensive policing in Chicago and Washington DC, and the well-documented increase in civilian shootings by Philadelphia police while he was in charge of the city’s department would not augur the kind of trust and partnership such a review process is meant to establish. We urge you instead to consider partnering with organizations like NCBI (National Coalition Building Institute) to conduct an independent review of campus policing and take the necessary actions that would enrich Drexel and our communities.”

Drexel has failed the larger community for years in terms of gentrification, profiling, failed student opportunities in West Philadelphia and other cases. This community is not just made up of Drexel affiliated individuals, but of all those who reside and work in the areas surrounding our campus. Time and time again these conversations are had at a metaphorical table where Drexel sets the plates and determines who is invited.

Things have gone too far. Change is needed, and the dynamic needs to switch for that to happen. Drexel needs to come to the table set by the community, and not vice versa. We all have a voice on this campus. Students are the biggest advocates and have the opportunity to ensure the safety and well-being of the minorities on this campus who have been failed by the system. College is supposed to be the best time of your life, but for some, it is not. Be the change you wish to see in the world. Sign petitions, advocate for justice and be kind. It is the least you can do.

The letter is as follows:

June 4, 2020

Dear Members of the Drexel University Community:

As faculty, staff, students and alumni of Drexel University, an urban campus whose civic engagement mission we proudly embrace, we are writing to express concern about the University’s response to the wave of civil action against systemic racism sweeping the nation. We are glad that President Fry and our University’s leadership have denounced the police lynching of George Floyd and have made a commitment to address the racial disparities and systemic racism that cause grievous harm to the Drexel, as well as to the larger West Philadelphia community. In line with the University’s expression of support for anti-racist principles and spaces for dialogue and reflection, we suggest that Drexel also adopt the following steps, as part of a much longer and sustained process to repair racial and social injustices:


  1. We demand that Drexel show commitment to its anti-racist principles by defunding or disarming campus police and by severing ties with Philadelphia Police. Recent studies demonstrate that increased policing on campuses rarely prevents crime and, in many cases, exacerbates long-standing tensions between a university and the wider community that it serves. Other universities and schools have moved quickly and decisively to sever ties with police forces that have undermined racial justice or moved to disarm campus police.
  2. Defunding our campus police would allow us to redistribute costs into academic programs such as Africana Studies, Women’s and Gender and Sexuality Studies and build new Ethnic and Disability Studies programs. Projects to relocate funds from the  police to community needs are already underway, and we ask that, in this time of budgetary crisis of a $90 million deficit, whether Drexel can reinforce its commitment to racial justice on campus and to its pedagogical mission.
  3. We also demand that future decisions about the hiring of campus police (should they continue to exist), and their duties and responsibilities, especially in their engagement with the neighborhoods surrounding campus, should be led by a panel of community leaders and residents of those neighborhoods. Drexel, with its Dornsife Center for Neighborhood Partnerships, is well positioned to host these conversations and learn from the communities we reside in.
  4. Police officers should not be the first responders for mental health crises on campus, nor for students who live off-campus.

Accountability for Faculty Diversity:

We call on the University to stand by its commitment to racial justice by holding the Deans and Department Heads accountable for diversity in their departments and schools. The hiring, promotion, and retention of Black, Indigenous and People of Color faculty and staff is an important part of these administrators’ jobs, and they should have to account in systematic ways (including in their performance reviews) for the breadth of racial and gender representation in their respective departments. The current low number of Black and Latinx faculty demonstrates that institutional accountability is needed.

Reparative Justice and Campus Racism:

We also ask that the University develop a more transparent process for handling incidents of racism against Black, Latinx, Queer students of color and students from minority backgrounds. Incidents of racist attacks between students, between students and faculty and between administration and students should not simply be seen as a code violation, but should be treated and acknowledged as a breakdown of a relationship of trust. Justice should not be about protecting the University’s liability, creating task forces and expanding administrative hiring. It should be grounded in a process of healing within the community as outlined by scholars working on reparative justice in higher education. A transparent process should be developed in consultation with experts on harm-reduction practices, and should include modes of accountability at the department and college level when such incidents take place. The University should develop methods to recognize and acknowledge patterns of racist behaviors through restorative justice practices, instead of implementing punitive and disciplinary actions. Too often our students, who suffer racism at the hands of faculty, are terrified to report it and the onus should be on the university faculty, administrators and leadership to create an atmosphere of zero tolerance for racism and bias. Spaces should be created to accommodate the trauma and allow for healing if a student suffers a racist incident on campus. Jorge Fortin, a 2019 Drexel graduate, writes about his experience at Drexel as a moment when he stood alone and voiceless against a professor’s racism.

National Guard

We are also seeking clarification on certain points in President Fry’s June 3, 2020 email regarding the presence of Armory on Drexel’s campus about which there remain questions and concerns within the community:

  1. While it may be true that the Armory is the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania property and access to it is not controlled by Drexel, the University has also placed parking spaces at the National Guard’s disposal. This point was made in a letter to President Fry drafted by concerned Drexel students at Drexel on June 2, 2020. Why has the University decided to take this extraordinary action, in the face of so many of our students potentially at risk by this same military intervention?
  2. President Fry mentioned Drexel’s lease of the Armory. What is the Armory being used for, and how does this use fit into the University’s educational mission? During the May 26, 2020 Town Hall with faculty, CFO Helen Bowman noted that our leadership is renegotiating leases with outside entities.
  3. Are ICE and CBP agents among the forces stationed at the Armory? If so, we urge you to think of the negative message we are sending to our DACA students. Drexel should end its lease of the Armory, sending a clear message to the Black, Latinix, DACA students and students from underrepresented communities who are affected in larger numbers from police violence.

We urge the administration for a commitment to a process that ensures a more racially just and equitable campus —with wide, diverse representation by all relevant stakeholders—to study the issue and report to the community in a manner that is informed by expertise within the next six months.