Campus Activists Demand Free Tuition and Reparations

Tulane's Black Student Union presses administration to compensate the descendants of slaves who worked on campus grounds

Tulane University / Screenshot from Twitter
July 28, 2020

Tulane University activists are demanding that the school offer reparations to the descendants of slaves who worked on the plantation that became campus grounds nearly 200 years ago.

Before the school's establishment in 1834—created as a medical university in response to the cholera, yellow fever, and smallpox epidemics—the land was used as a plantation. The school's Black Student Union (BSU) asked administrators to identify the descendants of the enslaved people who once worked on the plantation and offer them full tuition and more, according to a list of demands posted online.

"We demand that Tulane allocates funding to track down the descendants of the enslaved people who labored at the Tulane plantation and offer them full tuition and room and board scholarships that include a living stipend each semester of attendance at Tulane," the post reads. "Tulane must first acknowledge the trauma it has inflicted on black community members. It is Tulane's responsibility to recognize their longstanding history of racism and take actionable steps to reconcile those practices."

The Black Student Union did not return a request for comment.

The demands were not limited to the descendants of slaves. The group also said the university must offer financial assistance to students who suffered "emotional damage and trauma" by the on-campus presence of the "Victory Bell" after the university discovered in February that it was used to direct the movement of enslaved Africans in 1825. The 1960s-era campus landmark—dubbed the McAlister slave bell by activists—was removed after the university discovered its ties to slavery. The group now demands reparations and apologies from past Tulane presidents—dead or alive—who allowed the bell to represent the campus.

"We demand reparations for the emotional damage and trauma of the McAlister slave bell due to racist tradition of touching the bell for 'good luck' for generations," the post reads. "We demand every living president of Tulane University since the bell was obtained, or a relative of the presidents if deceased, apologize to their black alumni and current student body for their negligence in addressing the slave bell's history."

The activist's demands do not include suggestions for how to quantify "emotional damage and trauma" or for what reparations for students would look like. Rachel Altman, a rising senior at Tulane and a libertarian activist, told the Washington Free Beacon these demands, specifically asking relatives of deceased Tulane presidents to apologize, are indicative of authoritarian behavior.

"I think it would be very hard to find a consistent policy for offering reparations to the students for emotional trauma because it is so easy to falsify and it is so hard to quantify," Altman said. "Personally, I don't think that it's reasonable to expect the relatives of people who apparently were complicit in something to apologize for it. That's what's done in North Korea, not the United States. That is absolutely a culture of authoritarianism."

Within the long list of demands, Altman found agreement with student activists over the university's registered-protest policy. Tulane requires student groups to register protests with the university at least two days in advance. BSU's Instagram post claims the policy is "a form of censorship" and creates an unnecessary presence of police on campus.

"We should not need approval from the university nor TUPD presence to protest," the demands read. "It defeats the purpose, it is unnecessary policing, and it is a form of censorship. It should be up to the discretion of the organization whether TUPD presence is necessary." Altman agrees that universities should encourage more speech and activism, not less.

The group's demands include speech-censorship provisions. The student activists want the university to investigate current and incoming students who post "hate speech" on social media. The group also demands a zero-tolerance policy for "racist, sexist, misogynistic, or bigoted language." Altman fears left-wing groups that view capitalism as bigoted will use these terms for political benefit to silence conservatives and libertarians.

"We know that the left has a habit of calling things bigoted that is very subjective ... and what they consider 'bigoted' can change day to day," Altman said. "So, unless there's a consistent policy for how they're going to enforce that or how they're going to define bigotry, it can be used to suppress the speech of conservative and libertarian students. I've seen many of my peers sharing these graphics from social media saying that capitalism itself is racist and patriarchal and bigoted. I refuse to accept a policy that will shut down my speech if I'm advocating for capitalism."

Tulane University did not respond to a request for comment.