Alumni pressure Davidson to respond to NC congressman’s Twitter swipe at Kamala Harris

Alumni pressure Davidson to respond to NC congressman’s Twitter swipe at Kamala Harris
Davidson College is investigating social media posts, a day after an activist group says it connected a Twitter account that posted racist and anti-Semitic statements to a student. (Source: Charlotte Observer file photo)

DAVIDSON, N.C. (The Charlotte Observer) - Some alumni want Davidson College to directly rebuke U.S. Rep. Greg Murphy, after his comment on U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris' race and qualifications to be vice president.

During the vice presidential debate Oct. 7, Murphy tweeted that Harris “is a walking disaster... she was only picked for her color and her race. Is that how we pick our leaders now in America?” The tweet has since been deleted.

Davidson’s administration responded that non-profits are barred from commenting on political candidates.

Murphy is a first-term Republican congressman from Greenville who is running for reelection in North Carolina’s 3rd Congressional District, which encompasses much of Eastern North Carolina. The seat is considered a safe Republican seat.

He also is a prominent Davidson graduate (class of 1985) who has served as president of the alumni association and on the college’s board of trustees.

Murphy has not addressed that tweet. The Observer’s Washington bureau contacted Murphy’s office multiple times without response, as have other North Carolina news outlets.

A petition has circulated online, asking the college to denounce Murphy’s comment on Harris, the Democratic nominee who is of Black and Indian descent. The petition, with 311 signatures as of Monday, asked Davidson to stop celebrating Murphy, a physician who graduated from the college with honors before medical school at UNC-Chapel Hill.

Davidson alumnus Mbye Njie said Murphy’s remark about Harris reminded him how marginalized he and other Black students felt when he attended Davidson in the early 2000s. He understands Davidson’s predicament, but he doesn’t agree that what Murphy said was truly political in nature.

“He mentioned her race. Is that politics?” Njie said. “He didn’t mention her political platforms or her plans. He didn’t mention anything else.”

‘RESPECTFUL DEBATE’

Davidson twice made statements via Twitter that appear to be in reaction to Murphy’s comment, but neither named him directly.

Two days after the vice presidential debate, Davidson’s Office of Alumni and Family engagement tweeted, “Davidson College seeks to develop in our students humane instincts and disciplined and creative minds. We value the exchange of ideas through respectful and civil discourse, free of epithets and racist or derogatory comments.”

Six days later, Davidson President Carol Quillen tweeted:

“To state the obvious: This country abounds with brilliant Black women & women of color in every field of human endeavor. Look around. Read the record. Any suggestion that any of these individuals is where she is only because of her race or gender is demonstrably false.”

Davidson did not make Quillen available for an interview for this story. In an email to the Observer, Davidson spokesman Mark Johnson wrote that as a non-profit, “We are prohibited by federal law from doing anything that could be construed as advocacy for or against a candidate for elected office.”

Davidson has featured stories about Murphy in its publications during his political career (which started in the North Carolina Legislature), including an interview when Murphy came to Congress in 2019. Among the topics in that interview: Diversity, both of background and opinion.

“Attacking somebody personally is never tolerable. Never,” Murphy said in the interview on Davidson’s website.

Murphy also said in the interview, “I do believe that social media has been detrimental to respectful debate.”

This isn’t the first time Murphy has tweeted controversial views: He has said repeatedly that Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden is suffering from dementia and that most Americans believe as much.

VAGUE RESPONSE

Njie, an entrepreneur based in Atlanta, found Davidson’s initial response far too vague.

“If I had turned in a paper as a student at Davidson with this (lack of) context, I would have been given an immediate ‘F’ and told to rewrite it,” said Njie, a 2004 graduate. "We expected a more robust response. ...

“I love the answer President Quillen gave finally,” he added.

Njie, a native of The Gambia in West Africa, attended Davidson on an academic scholarship. He found Davidson’s tepid initial response to Murphy’s comment hurtful, reminding him how marginalized he and other Black students felt at the private liberal-arts college of about 2,000 students.

“When I was at Davidson, they wouldn’t have even thought about addressing it,” said Njie, who has developed a phone app to aid people during police stops.

Njie said racial marginalization "is something that every Black student at Davidson has experienced.

“No matter why you were there — and a lot of (Black students) were like me, with an academic scholarship — a lot of times the first question was, ‘What sport do you play?’ Implying (athletics), or it was some sort of affirmative action — to fill a quota or something like that — and not because of our merit.”

Among the incoming class of 2024 at Davidson this fall, 63.3% of students were white and 5.6% were Black.

Davidson has addressed issues of diversity and inclusion in the past year. It organized a commission on race chaired by alumnus Anthony Foxx, the former secretary of transportation and Charlotte mayor. Among the actions: A formal apology for perpetuating slavery and systemic racism in the past.

“Racism and sexism are anathema to Davidson’s values,” spokesman Johnson wrote in an email to the Observer. “The commission’s work and our initiatives speak to that, as does President Quillen’s recent tweet, past and current programs at the college and messages to our campus community and alumni.”

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