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Most universities follow a predictable pattern in dealing with racist incidents: officials identify and investigate infractions before they intervene to punish the guilty. However, one has created a prevention plan to protect the innocent.

American University in Washington, D.C. has introduced an anti-racism plan, requiring all freshmen to take a diversity course as a protective effort after a Black sorority was targeted with bananas hanging from nooses last year. African-American students have reported that they feel alienated and unsafe, with only one-third saying they find the campus to be inclusive, compared to 70 percent of their White peers, officials announced Tuesday (Jan. 30).

“We’re transparent about the fact that a number of our students of color don’t feel like they belong,” Sylvia Mathews Burwell, the university’s president, said to NBC Washington. “That’s a cultural issue that we need to work on.”

At first glance, the plan appears to be a multi-pronged, collective action. The school is pouring $121 million over the next two years into teaching campus community members about equality, officials said. They will hire more professors of color, change processes for reporting hate incidents, offer grants for “inclusion-promoting” community projects and scholarships for underrepresented groups and veterans.

At the center of the effort will be a required one semester class entitled “American University Experience 2,” which is already offered but will be revamped around AU’s diversity-driven core curriculum for Spring 2019.

With the plan, officials are seemingly acknowledging that racism is an imminent problem. They also recognize that several students of color don’t feel like they have a place at AU.

“Students reported feeling happier about their transition to the university and that AU was a place where they belonged,” the school said.

It’s unclear whether the university will specifically address its past racist incidents with the plan. Confederate flag posters decorated with cotton were posted on bulletin boards in September, and most recently, anti-immigration posters that linked to a white supremacist website were posted around campus, The Eagle, the university’s newspaper, reported.

For the anti-racism plan to have a significant chance at success, the university will need full participation from faculty and students, and it will have to decry blistering past incidents. University officials must treat racism as a disease, not just as a symptom.

Officials want to monitor, evaluate and further develop the plan until the 2020 academic year before turning their attention to other long-term objectives, they said.


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