Student posts blackface Snapchat mocking #BlackLivesMatter
A racist Snapchat sent by University of Michigan student Lauren Fokken, an LSA sophomore, went viral early Friday morning. In the picture shared on Twitter, GroupMe chats and Facebook, Fokken is with another student wearing a blackface mask with the caption #BlackLivesMatter.
Fokken is employed through both University Housing and Dining, and works as a student manager at Victors cafe in Mosher-Jordan Residence Hall. She did not respond to requests for comment at the time of publication.
LSA senior Jordan Jackson, a Black student, also works as a student coordinator at Victors. She saw the Snapchat stay up for more than a few hours — though she also said Fokken blocked many students of color from seeing the image. To Jackson, the post was an affront to not just the students of color Fokken oversees at work, but the University’s Black community at large.
“Victors is predominantly people of color, and we all felt threatened,” she said. “She’s been ignoring us, even in the chat we’re all in together. Victors is a community, and (Fokken) disrupted it with what (she) did.”
The Black Student Union released a statement via Twitter calling for “actual punishment.”
“We've tried conflict resolution meetings and round-table discussions,” the tweet reads. “We've tried things the University's way and here we are again not even a year later. … Only through example will students stop exhibiting this behavior.”
The BSU went on to note: “Students have filed bias incident reports to several departments. Listen to us. This is racist. This is harmful. If racism truly has no place on this campus prove it.”
Many students employed at Victors told Jackson they feel uncomfortable working with Fokken. Jackson went on to file multiple reports with her supervisors at Mosher-Jordan, University Housing and the Dean of Students’ Bias Response Team. So far, she said, responses have been slow-moving — many staff members and fellow students she’s spoken to refuse to see the picture as racist.
“To brush this under the rug is to contrast those values of diversity and inclusion,” she said. “If (students) don’t feel safe to work in this environment, I don’t know what we’re going to do. As a Black woman, I’ve dealt with harassment and discrimination, but this is very new to some of my staff of freshmen and sophomores.”
Victors manager Gerry Heiden confirmed the incident occured, but said he could not provide details, including Fokken’s current employment status.
“The Bias Response team and … Human Resources have really taken this off my hands,” he said.
“This image has been reported to the university’s Bias Response Team and that team is actively engaging the students involved and those affected,” University spokeman Rick Fitzgerald said. “Incidents of bias have no place at the University of Michgian. The university is committed to creating and maintaining a respectful and welcoming environment for everyone.”
Fokken is also listed as a University Housing employee on MCommunity — a position Jackson confirmed — but Housing communications director Amir Baghdadchi said he could not confirm Fokken’s employment.
“I don’t have the facts at my disposal, but perhaps there were some wires crossed there,” he said. “In situations like this, the campus-wide bias response team comes together and works with the unit — in this case Dining — to look into what’s been done. That’s where they are right now.”
This incident is the latest of a series of viral racist incidents attacking students of color at the University. In the last two years students have responded to racist flyering and postings on and around campus, anti-Latinx and pro-Trump vandalism on the Rock, white supremacist postings online, anti-Islam chalk on the Diag, writing found in dorms such as West Quad Residence Hall and Stockwell Residence Hall, have been happening more recently since early 2016. Students and faculty have voiced their opposition to these messages and the administration’s response, calling University President Mark Schlissel’s statements and actions — which often consist of email or Twitter statements — inadequate.
There has also been an increase in hate on campus as disseminated by “Bell Curve” social scientist Charles Murray’s speech last semester and the pending possibility of white supremacist Richard Spencer coming to campus sometime after the current semester ends.
“This further cements how we feel and that this campus does not care about people of color,” Jackson said. “We have a long way to go and people say they’re progressive, but we have a long way to go.”
Alpha Gamma Delta, the Panhellenic sorority Fokken was an alleged member of, released an online statement Friday night. AGD wrote it suspended Fokken's membership last summer.
“We do not condone the behavior of the Michigan student who recently posted racist behavior and extremely insensitive content on social media. . .our chapter is proud to consist of a diverse group of women that follow our values and live with purpose,” the statement reads. “We do not associate with anyone who does not support these same ideals.”
Though the Dean of Students office has launched the Response, Education and Awareness Community Taskforce (REACT) with Respect initiative — to work alongside the Expect Respect campaign and Bias Response Team — students still feel there is much work to be done. During the fall 2017 semester, University community members reported 80 bias incidents on campus. University Housing was the second-most reported location.
“We do know there has been heightened sensitivity that many students are feeling in the last months,” Baghdadchi said. They’re looking to Housing and the University for some guidance. Whether there was an incident or not, Housing staff are going to be there to have conversations, listen to people, give extra attention.”
As recently as Thursday an anti-racism event was held at the University — an informal gathering of students, faculty and local residents collaborated for the “Reclaiming Our Campus” teach-in, aiming to discuss approaches to anti-white supremacy and anti-racism activism.
This story has been updated to include statements from University spokeman Rick Fitzgerald and Alpha Gamma Delta