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Civil Rights

Students Outraged Over Racial Slurs Found on EMU Campus

— September 22, 2016

On Tuesday, September 20, in Ypsilanti, Michigan, the campus of Eastern Michigan University was left shocked, frightened and angered after learning one the university’s buildings had been defaced with racial slurs. The school boasts an extremely diverse population of students, leaving many to question what could possibly have been the motive behind the vandalism or whether the responsible party or parties are themselves students at EMU. Though no suspects have been identified yet, campus police are hoping video surveillance will provide them with possible leads. At around 9am, Professor Julie Ann Slack noticed the hateful messages written on the west side of King’s Hall. She immediately alerted campus authorities and by 10:30am, the racist writing was close to being completely removed. Using spray paint, the offenders plastered “KKK” and “Leave N-ggers” on the brick wall.

Students expressed their frustrations over the absence of any statement or appearance by the university’s new president, James Smith. Many students learned of the incident via an all-campus email sent by EMU’s Vice President of Communications Walter Kraft, which read, in part, “A short time ago, we learned that racist graffiti had been spray painted on a wall of King Hall in the courtyard area of the building. The University strongly condemns such a racist and thoughtless act, which runs completely counter to the values and welcoming environment of our highly diverse Eastern Michigan University community. Our Department of Public Safety is undertaking a full and immediate investigation and the graffiti is being quickly removed.”

Justifiably, the student body wanted to know where Smith was. As the day progressed, students began marching in protest, which lasted roughly three hours, across campus and through the streets (stopping traffic along the way) to the steps of the president’s multi-million dollar home to get the answers they deserved regarding their safety on campus or, in this case, the lack thereof. Speaking to the Ann Arbor News, who began covering the story as it developed, EMU junior Degaria Witten said in frustration, “We pay money to go to this school like everybody else, so we’re not having it. It’s sickening and disgusting. We’re tired of it and we’re not taking it anymore. Period.” Upon arriving at the president’s home, the protestors had to wait for an hour before Smith showed up, along with the university’s two vice presidents and chief of EMU police. After listening to students’ concerns for over an hour, Smith responded by telling them, “We understand the situation, the tagging, the painting was horrendous. We reacted as quickly as we could. That doesn’t mean that it reduces the pain, and I’m fully aware of that. I understand that removing something doesn’t mean that somehow it doesn’t exist.” He further added, “I will promise you it will not be swept under the rug. The only thing I can give you is my word. I give you my word.”

EMU students gathering on the steps of university president James Smith's home; image courtesy of The Ann Arbor News
EMU students gathering on the steps of university president James Smith’s home; image courtesy of The Ann Arbor News

The campus’s Department of Public Safety indicated they would be employing extra security to help ease fears over personal safety and said they planned to offer a reward to anyone able to help identify those responsible for the deplorable act.

This strikes a personal chord with me, as I am a proud graduate of Eastern Michigan University, where one of my daughters currently attends. Part of what I appreciated about the school was its inclusive vibe, sense of unity and outstanding academics that were actively made accessible to so many no matter their socio-economic status, age, skin color, religious beliefs, sexual orientation or gender; no one felt discriminated against and the school practiced what it preached about everyone deserving the right to a quality education. While every college campus has its fair share of crime (Eastern being no different), it still hurts my heart when I read stories such as these. We are just three months shy of the year 2017. How is this still happening? Or, more appropriately, WHY is this still happening? How come we can’t seem to get our collective stuff together and work in unison toward a greater goal of embracing instead of erasing our fellow humans? I mean honestly, isn’t it at least time we started to try?


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