Racial slurs written on dorm door name tags

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Emma Richter/Daily
Sunday, September 17, 2017 - 3:22pm

Update: This article has been updated to include statements from LSA sophomore Travon Stearns, one of the victims of the writing. 

Update: University President Mark Schlissel has tweeted a response to the incident. 

Update: Spokesperson Diane Brown stated DPSS is now investigating the incident and is increasing patrols in West Quad.

Update: This story has been updated to include a statement from MCSP Director David Schoem. 

Three Black students’ room doors in Michigan Community Scholars Program, located in West Quad Residence Hall, were vandalized with racial slurs over the weekend. The hate speech, including “N-----,” was written underneath their name tags placed on their dorm room doors.

LSA sophomore Travon Stearns, one of the students whose door was vandalized, said he did not see the nametag when he first woke up — it was around 1 p.m., when he came back from the dining hall. His nametag bore the racial slur. His roommate’s also had slurs, but were not racially charged. Strens said he notified his RA, where he noticed her nametag had scribbles on it. She contacted DPSS.

“When I got up this morning, I was ready to focus and get ready to do my studies and my homework. I planned on dedicating this whole day to prepare for the week and get homework done...like a regular Sunday,” he said. “But when I saw that, it kind of messed me up a little bit. From there, I had to take other steps to really try to get to the bottom of this and report it.”

Stearns said he posted a picture on Snapchat, which his friends screenshotted and posted on Twitter.

“Everybody was, of course, especially in the Black community and even my friends who are not part of the Black community, was pretty outraged and really concerned. But they really were there for me and let me know that if I needed any help with support, they’re there was me. They were really upset with what had occurred. Very outraged.”

Stearns met with DPSS Sunday afternoon. He said they were “very concerned” and pointed him to resources he can use on campus. He also said security took the nametags as evidence and to look for fingerprints.

Stearns said this is the first time he had faced direct racism before. However, despite this, he said he was appreciative of how the University came together. There will also be a MCSP meeting Sunday night to discuss the incident, he explained.

“Just this afternoon, I already had people reach out to me. President Schissel took to Twitter and said it’s unacceptable,” he said. “Campus security talked to me to get the full story. I think the campus is handling the situation really well...action is definitely being taken. The University is really putting effort to get to the bottom of this.”

What caught Stearns off guard, he said, was that MCSP is considered to be one of the most inclusive spaces on campus. He said he hopes people will take the situation seriously.

“Because it’s not (a joke). Maybe people do those things as a joke but they don’t realize what psychologically impact that can have on a person,” he said. “Especially since I am at the University to study and get an education. But then I have to worry about the feeling of oppression and not being accepted. I have to watch my back at all times. And that just puts extra pressure on me on top of regular college life.” 

LSA junior Sydney Whack is a friend of one of the students whose door was marked — she initially saw the photo on Snapchat.

“I made sure he was good,” she said. “He said he was going to report it to the RA. I know he was pretty upset.”

Pictures of the incidents were spread by angered students across Twitter.

“Everyone’s pretty upset,” Whack said. “I know some people have made tweets and stuff addressing the University. A lot of people have reposted on their Snapchat and stuff and they’re just really really upset because that’s vile.”

The University of Michigan’s chapter of the Black Student Union released a statement on the incident later Sunday afternoon, standing in solidarity with the three students.

"We expect an appropriate response from The University, including an investigation and consequences for those involved in the vandalism," it read. "In times like these, it is important that we do not act solely out of the frustration, anger, and sadness we may be feeling. We have to channel these emotions into productive action, in an attempt to leave the campus better than we found it."

The University of Michigan’s College Democrats social justice committee also made a statement on Twitter, quoting BSU’s original tweet.

Michigan Community Scholars Program is a living learning community in West Quad centered around intercultural dialogue, social justice, and civic engagement. 

Sociology professor David Schoem has served as the director of the program since its formation in 1999. Schoem sent a statement to the MCSP community Sunday afternoon denouncing the vandalism.

Schoem wrote in the statement; “On behalf of our entire MCSP staff and community, I want to extend our support and express our profound regret that some of our students experienced today a disgraceful, disgusting, cowardly, racist act. Our first concern is for the safety, security and well-being of the students involved and the safety, security and well-being of all of our students.’

Division of Public Safety and Security spokeswoman Diane Brown originally said if the incident happened this morning, security is still processing the report, adding it was too early to comment about the situation.  However, she later confirmed DPSS was investigating the incident.

Incidents such as these reveal what some people think and feel on campus, in the eyes of students such as Whack.

“The other day, there was a guy who goes here and he put on Snapchat, ‘If black people could be an element, their symbol would be KFC,’” she said. “It’s kind of like microaggressions and direct stuff too that’s happened before, so it’s not a new thing at all. It definitely makes me really upset that people feel the need to discriminate against people or do really rude things just because we’re Black. It’s just very frustrating.”

Whack said she wanted to see action from the administration on racially charged incidents on campus.

“In my opinion, the University needs to make a statement of some sort, especially Mark Schlissel,” she said. “In the past, there hasn’t been any type of direct message going out to students. They’ve just kind of pushed it under the rug. So I think a statement of some sort, whether it be an email or some kind of in-person thing, but something needs to be done.”

Whack’s statement echo previous remarks made by students on campus, arguing the University has not done enough in response to racist incidents on campus.

LSA senior Lakyrra McGee said in a protest last year the University should focus on immediate action and the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion plan, which is the five-year plan tackling diversity in the school

“It’s possible to do both, but they’re not doing it,” she said. “We want Schlissel to address us … about 2017, not 2025.” 

At the beginning of the semester, the Rock had anti-Latino and pro-Trump graffiti, including phrases such as “F--- Latinos” and “MAGA”, which is short for “Make American Great Again.” The graffiti was later covered by Jewish organization Hillel and then by the LSA Dean’s Office in collaboration with more than 20 other groups the following day. Last year, racist, anti-immigrant, anti-LGBTQ and anti-Semitic posters were hung through the year.

In Ann Arbor, racist and anti-Semitic graffiti were found in the skate park at Veterans Memorial Park. At Eastern Michigan University, racist graffiti were sprayed on student and academic buildings.  

Whack said it was being a student at the University that gave her her first immediate contact with racism.

“Before I came here I definitely didn’t have anything like that happen, and then I came here and it was like a completely different thing,” she said. “Michigan was my first experience with direct racism.” 

Sunday evening University President Mark Schlissel tweeted a response to the incident, quoting BSU's initial statement.