An open letter detailing thoughts of a portion of East Carolina University Alumni was formulated on Friday in response to the university’s official statement in the aftermath of President Donald Trump’s campaign rally held in Minges Coliseum.
As of Monday morning, the letter titled “Open Letter to the Pirate Nation” was formally signed by nearly 200 ECU Alumni. The letter is not endorsed or sponsored by the ECU Alumni Association.
The open letter from ECU Alumni was created following a press release from ECU News Services containing the university’s official response to Trump’s campaign rally. A reminder the event fell under federal, state and University of North Carolina (UNC) System free speech guidelines and the ECU creed was additionally included.
“We encourage and welcome civil discourse on our campus. The U.S. Constitution allows the intellectual and individual freedom of expression that enables us to live our mission,” according to the press release. “These freedoms do not protect the right to hear and listen to only what is convenient and agreeable but do protect the right to be able to respond and express one’s own views.”
The university’s press release did not sit well with the ECU Alumni members who came together to organize, write and sign the open letter.
The open letter was authored by Tremayne B. Smith, Student Body President and Board of Trustees from 2010 to 2011. Organizers of the letter include Melissa Hege Lopez, Creed Award for Responsibility 2009 recipient, 2009-2010 Class President Walter Burks and 2009 EC Scholar and Business Senator Heather Burks.
“As former student body leaders and proud alumni allow us to unequivocally express what the university’s official statement did not: we categorically denounce the expression of racism on our campus,” the open letter said in its first paragraph.
The ECU alumni who came forward with the open letter said they are appalled by the racist chant which took place during the rally on the campus of their “beloved alma mater.” The racist chant being “Send her back” directed toward Representative Ilhan Omar. The letter acknowledged the fact that ECU did not endorse Trump’s rally.
According to the open letter, ECU has welcomed candidates of various affiliations to speak on campus and share their plans in the past. The letter stated what was heard last week was not consistent with the university’s “values of inclusion, diversity nor the essence of its creed.”
The open letter said Omar is a woman of color, an immigrant to our country, war refugee and elected member of Congress, and the “racist tweet” from Trump which told her to “go back to where she came from” is a racist smear which is “all too familiar for many people of color.”
“‘Send her (Omar) back’ is not inclusive. ‘Send her back’ is not American. ‘Send her back’ is not East Carolina University,’” the open letter stated.
ECU Alumni are devoted to the university and committed to it being seen positively, and the open letter addressed to those who were offended by “that horrid display of vitriol,” being the “send her back chant,” that it is not who the ECU community is.
The open letter said “y’all means all” at ECU, and the university that the alumni know is inclusive and welcoming.
“Silence by anyone in the face of blatant bigotry and racism is complicity. So, fellow Pirates, University administration, and all citizens for that matter, continue standing up and speaking out against hate in all forms,” the open letter said.
Walter Burks, one of the organizers of the open letter said it had been decided to release a statement separating ECU from the chants because ECU had not done so.
Burks said the organizers were wondering what they could do to show that these chants aren’t ECU.
“This isn’t what represents us and this isn’t what our campus believes and what the people believe there and show that we are against the racist chants that took place,” Burks said.
Burks said the letter was shared on Facebook because that was the easiest way for past alumni to view the letter, sign it and share it.
Burks said this was not supposed to be representative of the alumni association and was a group of alumni that came out against Trump’s racist chants that took place at ECU’s campus.
Heather Burks, one of the organizers of the letter, said nearly 200 alumni and past leaders have signed the letter as of July 22. Burks said “we’re really proud that 200 people have already signed on to stand up because we really do believe ECU is a place of inclusion and diversity.”
Burks said she wanted to make sure all current students, potential students and everyone was aware that ECU is inclusive and diverse and “what happened was not reflective of our university.”
“We didn’t really think that their statement really condemned the racist chants that took place. We totally understand that there’s free speech and we welcome anyone on campus to be able to talk but what took place was something that didn’t reflect the university,” Burks said.
Tremayne Smith, author and organizer of the open letter, said as former student body president and member of the board of trustees it is the alumni’s job to stay involved with ECU. Smith said when something bad happens it is the alumni’s job to stand up and speak out.
Smith said hundreds of alumni reached out to him because they felt the statement released by ECU regarding Trump’s visit did not speak out strongly enough against racism and bigotry.
Smith said he appreciates the university releasing a statement but it wasn’t as forceful as it could’ve been in rebuking racism and bigotry. Smith said that’s what the alumni’s letter did.
Smith said he didn’t contact the ECU Alumni Association before writing the letter. “I wanted to be separate as an active and involved alumni in the hundreds and thousands of us out there who wanted just to say our peace,” Smith said.
“What I was disappointed in and honestly sickened by was not only the fact people were chanting that racists chant but the fact that he, in the highest office in the world, sat there for fourteen seconds and let it go on, on my campus where we are inclusive and we are diverse and accepting and welcoming. It was the absolute opposite of who and what we are,” Smith said.
Amanda Shingleton Robles, ECU English Graduate Student also wrote a letter to ECU Officials criticizing them for not separating themselves from the chants during Trump's rally. Robles letter said she was “deeply concerned” about ECU’s position regarding the chants that took place during Trump's rally. Robles' letter was sent to The East Carolinian.
At the rally, Trump supporters chanted “send her back.” Roble compared this to how in the past free African American citizens were told to “go back” to their communities which created separateness in communities
Robles said ECU should be a place of inclusion and “We are either host to one who embodies and spreads a spirit of racism and hostility, or we are not, and we will go down in history as such.”
“If there is anyone who believes in and promotes the inclusion of a country’s citizens, it should be that country’s leader. If that leader falls short in that political, ethical, and social duty, it is time for that country to say so. As an institution of academia, higher learning, and elevated thinking, our university is exactly the sort of institution that need expect more, from our people and from ourselves,” Robles’ letter said.