I thought it was the train coming.
I was directing one of the School of Communications’ student television shows Under the Oaks on Saturday, Sept. 19. I heard a loud noise in the background of the audio and I quickly realized it wasn’t a train. It was a convoy of trucks adorned with Confederate flags and Trump 2020 paraphernalia.
This isn’t an uncommon sight to see on our campus; trucks circle Elon University constantly and harass women and people of color. Usually there’s only one at a time. That Saturday, there were well over 200 — and it was terrifying.
The people in the convoy — which was born out of a Facebook event supporting the reelection campaign of President Donald Trump — screamed that “black lives don’t matter,” used white power hand gestures, threw milkshakes at people’s cars and even threatened to rape several people who were simply walking across the street. The worst part is how Elon University Police Department prevented students from crossing the street to stop the convoy, telling them that it was a “permitted parade” when it was not.
I tweeted about the convoy several times in the hours afterward, asking why we hadn’t received an E-alert about the event and why it was taking so long for an official response from the university. Later that night, I received an email from Vice President and Associate Provost for Inclusive Excellence Randy Williams. He said he had heard of a “bias incident” from my tweets that day and asked me to file a report. The minimization of what had happened to just a “bias incident” was insulting, and I wrote that back in my response.
Williams then gave me the most honest response I have gotten from any administrator: he showed not just compassion for me as a student, but empathy as a Black person.
It took the university 28 hours to officially respond to the rest of the student body, and the response we got was lackluster. While they had issued no-trespass orders to the people who harassed students, students were encouraged to send Campus Police any videos of the events from Saturday and the school increased the number of EUPD officers patrolling campus at any given time. It was insulting to see more EUPD officers on campus than before the incident since they effectively sat by doing nothing. I was hurt to see our administrators so far removed from what had happened to think that increasing police was the best way to keep students safe, but it wasn’t nearly as hurtful as President Connie Book’s video response on Wednesday.
The message starts with Book comparing the convoy to a motorcycle or vintage car drive as if those are at all similar to what we experienced Saturday. What was worse to hear was that there was going to be a task force that included safety officers, the very officers who sat back and did nothing to stop Saturday’s events.
Book then claims that most of the people were respectful, as if shouts of “black lives don’t matter” and threatening people with rape is respectful. The convoy was planned well in advance and came through campus as a way to scare and intimidate students, especially those of color. That is the most disrespectful thing the people in the convoy could have done and for Book to downplay it is negligent and ignorant.
I tweeted several times after the message was sent out, angry that the pain minority students were feeling was actively being ignored. I tweeted about how EUPD has followed me around campus like I don’t belong here, how I have never gotten help from them and how round tables involving them will solve nothing. Later that night, I actually received a call from Book herself. She wanted to know what she could do better for the student body and we had a conversation about the university’s response. But none of what we talked about was mentioned in the town hall Book held Friday as she danced around the topics people really wanted to hear more about.
I want to be clear: I love Elon. I am so happy to be here, and I wouldn’t want to spend my college experience anywhere else, but I am so incredibly frustrated by the lack of care and compassion this university has shown toward students of color.
It has been a traumatic summer for people of color, from the deaths of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and George Floyd to the protests worldwide. Time and time again, Elon has had a chance to get it right and somehow, they fail every single time. Whether it be posting photos from white photojournalists on Juneteenth or taking weeks to say “Black Lives Matter,” it has been an infuriating and painful summer. I am critical because I care and because I know Elon can do so much better.