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Rally poster at AU
Rally poster at AU
Original photo by Karlee Zolman
Culture > News

How White Saviorism at AU is a Product of Larger Scale Institutional Corruption

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at American chapter.

Located in Washington, D.C., the world’s largest metropolitan area for politics, government, international affairs and the economy, lies American University (AU). American University’s mission statement is “Challenge Accepted,” to “leverage the power and purpose of community to make an impact.” Nationwide, AU is known for being one of the most progressive and liberal campuses, with a proactive student body that works to spark change in the nation’s capital. 

However, recent events on campus have changed students’ outlook son the university’s progressive stereotype. In the past two years, multiple acts of antisemitic graffiti have been found in locations around AU’s campus with little action from the university’s administration. 

College-aged woman speaking with a bullhorn at a protest.
Original photo by Alyssa Toppi

Additionally, students have noticed the university’s disapproval of student organizers and lack of action to create university laws protecting student from sexual assault and violences. Student organizers working to create change to protect survivors of sexual assault were featured in a Washington Post article highlighting the assaults at AU and the administration’s lack of response. Hence, the university’s shortcomings to address these issues have received national attention and have sparked campus-wide conversations about the importance of equitable resources. 

These university tensions reflect larger institutional issues and highlight the long history of white saviorism in the United States and in higher education. 

Due to its location in the nation’s capital, AU is known for its political science, government and international affairs programs. However, students have voiced that many of the university’s classes reflect a narrative of white saviorism while discussing global crises and our privilege living in the U.S., without providing tangible actions to improve these conditions.  

One AU student, Ashley Smith, a sophomore majoring in Communication, Legal Institutions, Economics and Government (CLEG), said that she “has experienced discourse surrounding white saviorism at AU, especially from other students.” 

Smith also said some of her class discussions revolve around ideas such as mission trips, but “usually the class is able to discuss the problematic institution and the larger root of the issue.” 

Evelyn Middleton, a sophomore double majoring in political science and international relations at AU, said many students do not see their privilege of attending a university in the U.S. In one of her courses, the class analyzes “how to determine human rights violations in comparison to western values.” 

Other courses such as Intercultural Communications focused on the effect of white saviorism in intercultural exchanges. Middleton said that “white saviorism is definitely an ongoing and prevalent issue at many higher education and job markets.” She believes white saviorism will be perpetuated with the lack of genuine education provided.

Both Smith and Middleton capture the attitude of many students who attend American University. Their comments and the current discourse surrounding the AU campus spotlights how white saviorism and the issues that surround it – racism, sexism, anti-semitism and xenophobia – become prevalent in higher education institutions. 

These issues that are seeped into the country’s education and job market can best be tackled with the power of education, especially at an early age. With the attack of “woke” education in the county, it is now more pressing than ever that we protect accurate and equitable education to increase tolerance in our future generations and tear down the discourse of white saviorism in institutions. 

Hannah Arthur

American '25

Hannah is a sophomore at American University and is majoring in Public Health, with a minor in International Relations. She plans to focus on global health and women's and children's bodily autonomy. She is the business director of HCAU and is passionate about equal rights and access to equal education.