Powerful ‘Black Lives Matter’ Protest at Eastern Mich. University to Protest Racist Graffiti, Toxic Campus Culture

Students and supporters gathered to protest racist graffiti painted on the side of a women’s center on campus and a pervasive culture of white privilege. 

Scene from the protest Sept. 20, 2016, at Eastern Michigan University
Scene from the protest Sept. 20, 2016, at Eastern Michigan University Darius Simpson via Twitter via The Warehouse

Editor’s note: This article contains social media posts that some may find offensive.

Eastern Michigan University students and protesters gathered to protest racist graffiti painted on the side of an EMU women’s center Tuesday morning.

According to Eastern Echo staff writer Shayler Barnes Jr., the words “KKK,” in red, white and blue, and “Leave [N—gers]” were discovered at approximately 9 a.m. by EMU professor Julie Ann Slack on the side of Julie Anne King Hall, which also serves as a human resources center.

Public Safety was called to the scene, and graffiti removal began at approximately 10:30 a.m.

More from the Eastern Echo:

Students gathered at the scene of the incident. There were some students that voiced and held signs to display their frustration. Throughout the day faculty, students and other campus patrons visited the scene to get more information, and to show their support against the negative message sprayed on the wall.

“I am highly upset about the actions that took place on this wall. I want answers. I want to know what EMU is going to do outside of just removing the writing. These are the type of hate crimes we are just sick of. I want to know how is EMU going to make me feel comfortable to be at this institution,” said Zachary Badger-House, EMU student, Media Studies and Journalism major.

“We need answers! The people in power know how we feel, so at this point it doesn’t matter who did it, or if there is a reward for information regarding this incident. What matters is the fact that this happened on our campus, and that covering it up was the only solution they could think of at the time. It isn’t enough. It’s one thing for these actions to happen somewhere in the world, but it is happening right here on our campus,” said Armani Davis, EMU student, Social Work major.

Scenes from the protest can be seen below:

EMU President James Smith issued the following statement:

To Students, Faculty and Staff:

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 has been quickly removed. We are hopeful that security cameras in the nearby area will help provide evidence pointing to who may have perpetrated this action. We also are seeking any information from individuals who may have spotted anything unusual in the overnight or early morning hours in that area.

Rest assured, we will investigate this criminal act to our fullest abilities and will advise our campus community on our progress. Let me reiterate, we condemn this act in the strongest of terms and stand strong in our determination to identify the individual or individuals responsible, and then beyond this to address the broader issues in our community that such an action highlights. If you have any information about this incident, please contact our Department of Public Safety at 734-487-1222.

Smith, joined by Chiara Hensley, assistant vice president for student affairs, also addressed the student body on campus:

Students spoke about a culture of racism, administrative negligence and cultural insensitivity. Hensley tried to reassure students that it was a new day at Eastern Michigan.

“It’s a new age to address issues of race and white privilege at Eastern,” Hensley said. “[One student] suggested that [students] be taught more explicitly about intersectionality, about privilege and about racism in our general education curriculum. … We’re talking about systemically … what the university can practically do.”

EMU is located in Ypsilanti, Mich., a city 35 miles west of Detroit and 8 miles east of Ann Arbor. According to CollegeFactual, the university serves approximately 18,000 students. The racial makeup of EMU is 66.1 percent white and 19.3 percent black, with Latino, Asian and multiracial students making up 14.6 of the student population.

According to a video circulating on Facebook uploaded by Michael Taylor, an SUV attempted to plow through students while they were protesting. The Root has not been able to confirm the authenticity of the video.

If there, in fact, were attempts to silence the revolutionary action on campus, they were unsuccessful. The students of Eastern Michigan University remained resolved and finished the day in solidarity.

Throughout the protests, one refrain could be heard clearly:

It is our duty to fight for our freedom.
It is our duty to win.
We must love each other and support each other.
We have nothing to lose but our chains.

Follow #TeamEMU on Twitter for updates.

Kirsten West Savali is a cultural critic and an associate editor at The Root. She was named to Ebony magazine’s 2015 “Power 100” list and awarded a 2015 Harry Frank Guggenheim Fellowship. Her provocative commentary explores the intersections of race, social justice, religion, feminism, politics and pop culture. Follow her on Twitter. 

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