The president of Eastern Michigan University notified the campus Wednesday evening that another racial slur had been found on campus, the day after students protested offensive graffiti spray-painted on the outside of a building.
On Tuesday morning, a wall was found with “KKK” sprayed in large red, white and blue letters, and underneath in black, “LEAVE [racial slur].”
“I was shocked and hurt that something like this could happen on such a diverse and open campus,” said Tanasia Morton, a senior from Cleveland who is president of the student body.
On Wednesday evening, student government leaders, the city of Ypsilanti’s leaders and the local NAACP plan to hold a candlelight vigil at the university’s Martin Luther King Gardens to send a message that they won’t stand for injustice in their community, Morton said, with the vigil intended to address not only the graffiti but also other events nationally.
The president, James Smith, told the campus community Wednesday evening that in searching the campus, school officials had found another racial slur written on the stairwell of a residence hall, and it has been removed.
“However, removal of these racist messages does not eliminate the impact of such hateful and intentional actions,” he wrote in a statement. “I want to reiterate that I, along with hundreds of people in the University community whom I have heard from, strongly condemn these criminal acts, which are completely counter to the values and welcoming environment of our highly diverse campus.”
He announced a $2,500 reward for information leading to the arrest of the person or people responsible, increased police presence on campus, and continuing efforts to ensure that students are able to talk with university leaders about their concerns. “We are committed to continuing to take tangible actions to ensure a safe, inclusive and welcoming campus environment,” he wrote.
The racist message came amid national tensions over police shootings, most recently of black men in Charlotte and Tulsa this week. A number of incidents have occurred on college campuses as a new school year begins.
At American University on Monday, hundreds of students protested racism on campus after incidents including one in which a black student said a banana was thrown at her. At Kansas State University last week, students gathered to urge change after a Snapchat photo circulated on social media of a former student with her face blackened and a racial slur.
The graffiti at Eastern Michigan, in Ypsilanti, Mich., first reported by the student newspaper the Eastern Echo, was power-washed away Tuesday morning, but the paper reported that students gathered at the site throughout the day, some holding signs demanding answers.
The building houses the dean of students’ office and the campus women’s center, according to a university website.
Students shared their messages, and images from their protest, on social media.
More than 100 students gathered at the university president’s house late Tuesday afternoon, and Smith spoke with them at length, along with the chief of police and other university leaders, according to a spokesman for the school. University leaders also met privately with student leaders that afternoon and evening.
“We listened to students’ concerns and shared with them the utmost priority with which we investigate and address these matters,” Smith wrote Wednesday evening. “We were asked directly if this would be ‘swept under the rug’ and we assured those who attended, and I assure all of you reading this message, that it will not.”
Smith had told the campus community Tuesday, in a written statement:
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.
Smith told the campus community Wednesday that they could use an anonymous online form to express questions, concerns or information about the incident, and that the university would host a forum soon to discuss the issues.
On Wednesday evening, the Black Student Union president, Jaren Johnson, issued a joint statement with the student government leader Tanasia Morton that read, in part,
“In distressing times such as this, it is imperative that the student body, faculty, staff, and administration coalesce together in a show of solidarity. Despite the strife we may encounter, we will remain resilient and overcome vitriolic acts of prejudice. The utilization of fear-inducing mechanisms such as those displayed today will not deter the members of Black Student Union from exhibiting our pride in the mission, values, and overarching purpose of our organization to bring about unity to the entire campus.”
It urged students to contact public safety if they had concerns, but said: “Please refrain from living in fear. Combat injustice when you see it and feel free to reach out to other entities on campus when you are in distress. We cannot emphasize enough to remain conscious at all times and use the resources that are available to you. Black Student Union stands with you and supports you.”