Founders Day Ball, Student Government’s most renowned event, was removed from the Founders Week programming this year. The Ball has been historically criticized by the student population due to its expensive nature and celebration of John Fletcher, AU’s founder who was a slave owner. Getting rid of Founders Ball is a positive step in reworking Founders Week.
Jeremy Ward, American University’s first Black Founders director, told The Eagle that both the event’s meaning and COVID-19 policies are the reasoning behind the Ball’s absence. Ward hopes that the student body will reflect on the true meaning behind Founders, especially through the inclusion of affinity groups in the celebration. This Founders Day focused on the current AU community with open mic night, acapella, food events, a keynote speaker and more open attendance — the Ball typically has limited tickets — for the entire AU student body.
These events, which proved a commitment to better engage the AU community in Founders Week, deserved a bigger platform. In past years, the hype over Founders Ball was enough to garner student awareness. With the absence of the Ball, many students were unaware of Founders events leading up to the week. This may suggest a lack of communication between SG, the student body and the University. SG could have utilized physical flyers, decorations around the main center of campus or used social media more effectively.
While the decision to remove the Ball is one The Eagle’s editorial board commends, SG has the opportunity to come up with another keynote event that draws in students toward the celebration that is less costly and engages more of the student body. Perhaps a casual outdoor gathering on the quad similar to Welcome Week events where students can celebrate together could be a model for future Founders weeks.
Founders Week has come under fire in the past for climbing budgets. In 2019, SG spent a record high at approximately $140,000. This year, the budget for Founders Week was approximately $106,000. The budget for Founders Week have traditionally been explained by high costs for the Ball. Still, without a Ball, the student body deserves clarity on where and how this money is being spent. A breakdown of how this money was spent would help alleviate student concerns regarding this matter. So far, SG has not released how much money was actually spent on Founders Day.
Ward’s commitment to recenter Founders traditions on clubs is promising. Many argue that the famed Founders Day Ball’s purpose was to form community, but that ignores the AU community that already exists on campus every day. This Founders provided student organizations with funds for events, meaning that clubs did not have to dip into their own budgets to participate. This should continue as a guide for SG to support the existing organizations on campus when looking to strengthen the community at AU past Founders Week.
The absence of Founders Day Ball may have changed a decades long tradition of Founders Week, but it opened up the doors for better, more inclusive events at AU. Events like Embracing Change, which discussed the history of AU, are welcome modifications to Founders Week. Moving away from the “founder” part of Founders Week is a positive change that changes the spotlight to present-day AU, not the past.
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