The Vietnamese Student Association painted the Rock — a University of Michigan tradition — with their names and the name of their organization on Thursday night . On Friday, VSA students found their organization’s name on the Rock defaced with lewd graffiti and expletives directed toward the police.
“We’re saying, we’re here, we’re here on this campus, and we’re here and we exist,” VSA co-president Khang Huynh, a Public Health senior, said. “So when someone vandalized it, it left a sour taste in our mouth. If you want me to blunt, it just felt like a middle finger to our student org. To have your name literally vandalized over.”
In a statement shared by the VSA on Facebook, which received over 300 shares as of Sunday night, the organization referred to the incident not just as vandalism, but as a “hate crime.”
“This incident is one of many vandalizations targeting people and student organizations of color at the University of Michigan,” the statement said.
VSA held an event Friday evening to “Reclaim the Rock” and asked other members of the Asian-American Pacific Islander community to attend in solidarity. Organizations such as the Filipino American Student Association canceled events in order to show support.
“In times like these, it is important that we can find solidarity, support, and presence from those within our own community as well as outside of it,” the event read. “VSA does not and will not tolerate these hate crimes or any actions that threaten the sense of community and family that we have built for each other.”
The language used in the statement prompted some backlash from student organizations, especially over what constitutes a “hate crime.” The term “hate crime” is generally used for bias-motivated acts — a qualification some feared this act lacked, considering the graffiti seemed to target the police, not the Vietnamese community.
In response to the backlash, VSA released a statement Sunday claiming the use of “hate crime” was inaccurate and offered an apology to anyone who felt disrespected.
“We acknowledge that the phrase, ‘FUCK 12’, is slang directed at the police, therefore it is not evident that the Vietnamese community was being specifically targeted by these messages. We recognize the impact of language and appreciate those who have encouraged us to think more critically,” the statement said.
VSA also thanked the A/PIA community for their support in navigating the incident.
“On Friday evening, it was remarkable to see the backing we received from the A/PIA community, along with many others, both on and beyond campus, come together and stand with us. Through this incident, we now have a clearer realization of the incredible amount of support that exists here at the University of Michigan.”
VSA co-president Tiffany Huynh, an Education senior, said the VSA e-board quickly wrote their initial statement with the term “hate crime” in order to share what happened and start a conversation. However, Tiffany Huynh said it did not accurately reflect their sentiments.
“Honestly, hate crime was thrown in there, and to be quite frank with you, I think we just glossed over it,” Tiffany Huynh said. “We’re not using that as an excuse, and we were even talking about this at the Rock. This is not a hate crime. It was disrespectful at most, and it hurt us, but it’s not even comparable to what we think is a hate crime.”
Khang Huynh expressed the response received was overwhelming, with University administrators from Multi-Ethnic Student Affairs and Campus Involvement reaching out to the University’s chapter of VSA, along with other Vietnamese Student Associations throughout the country.
“A lot of people came up to support us. (The Filipino American Student Association) moved their whole event to the Rock,” Khang Huynh said. “I literally walked to the Rock thinking there would be 10 people. We published within an hour, and I expected to see 10 people there, and I expected to be there for a while painting the Rock. But when I got there, there were just so many people. And seeing that overwhelming amount of support … It was very sentimental and it brought out a lot of emotions.”
Khang Huynh said this event has shown him the amount of support in the U-M community and hopes that he can reciprocate the solidarity.
“This campus is so big, you don’t really get a sense of who or what is out there to support you,” Khang Huynh said. “But this event really opened our eyes and made us realize the amount of support out there and we want to be able to reciprocate exactly what we received to other student orgs. Something bad doesn’t happen for us to do that, that support can happen through showing up to events, getting to know them.”