Sharing a communal bathroom. Buying twin XL sheets. Eating late-night pizza. Leaving messages on a friend’s dorm-room whiteboard down the hall.
All could be considered quintessential experiences when it comes to life inside a college dorm. But starting this fall, Michigan State University will no longer allow students to hang whiteboards outside their dorm-room doors, saying the ubiquitous dry-erase boards have become too much of an outlet for anonymous, hateful messages.
“It had become more of a distraction than a helpful tool,” MSU residential services spokeswoman Kat Cooper told WLNS News. “You know, once in a while, someone writes something that isn’t very nice.”
Cooper told the Detroit News that “in any given month, there are several incidents” of negative messages, some racial and others sexual.
Whiteboards have also been decreasing in popularity with the rise of social media and smartphones, MSU spokesman Jason Cody told The Washington Post in an email.
“Basically, whiteboards are no longer an essential communication tool for today’s college students,” he said. “They are an attractive nuisance whose utility no longer outweighs their abuse.”
For those reasons, the university decided to remove whiteboards from the list of items allowed on dorm doors next semester, Cody said.
Though university officials said there was no single incident that led to the ban, the Lansing chapter of the NAACP hailed the decision on Facebook as a response to a recent case in which someone allegedly wrote the n-word on a whiteboard belonging to an African American honors student at MSU.
“It’s been a while but MSU Police have informed us that ALL dormatory [sic] white boards will be removed asap,” the group wrote. “Victory!!!”
Several people decried the ban and the NAACP’s response to it. (It is incorrect that the whiteboards will be removed as soon as possible.) Many felt it would do little to curb racism.
“How is this a victory when every dorm resident will be punished because of one racist idiot? What does this accomplish exactly?” one Facebook user wrote in response to the NAACP chapter’s post. “It seems to me you’re giving more power to the racist. Should we have limited skyscrapers to only 10 stories after 9/11 in an effort to end terrorism? Help me to understand the reasoning and logic.”
Another user wrote that the university should have done more to find the student who left the racial slur, rather than “limiting everyones self expression and freedom of speech because one a–hole wrote the n-word.” Another person, he posited, could just as easily write something derogatory directly on the door in permanent marker.
The Lansing NAACP did not respond to a request for comment Wednesday.
Michigan State is one of the largest public universities in the United States, with about 50,000 students, according to fall 2016 enrollment figures. About 39,000 of those students are undergraduates. About 18.7 percent of the students enrolled at MSU are students of color, according to the university.
Like other large public schools, MSU has seen its share of controversial incidents centered on race. Last fall, an MSU freshman came under fire after she posed with a gorilla mascot at a football game and compared it to an African American girl in an Instagram post, WILX News reported. Her post, which went viral, prompted the student’s sorority to announce that she was no longer a member and for the university itself to issue a statement about the school’s commitment to inclusion.
“One of the university’s core values is inclusion, and we are committed to fostering a campus climate that does not condone racial harassment or bullying,” Cody, the MSU spokesman, said at the time. “The university is aware of the recent posting connected to an MSU student. This posting is deeply troubling and is clearly not aligned with our core values. We are addressing this situation in a responsible manner through multiple channels.”
Whiteboards at MSU are not provided by the university but are the personal property of students, Cody said Wednesday. Next year, the ban on whiteboards will be enforced by residence hall staff. The university is still working on a more detailed implementation plan, he said.
In a letter to the editor of the State News, the MSU campus newspaper, sophomore Jack Kellett said a part of him was relieved when he heard about the whiteboard ban, since he has “witnessed firsthand” hate speech left on students’ doors as a resident assistant.
“Whiteboards on doors, especially with markers attached, are easy ways for anyone to anonymously communicate hostile, divisive rhetoric, some of which threatens the safety of students and contributes to a negative campus environment,” Kellett wrote. “Fewer incident reports for me to make, right?”
Unfortunately, the ban would not deter bullies or “make hateful students less hateful,” he said.
“Rather than asking, ‘what can we do to make it harder for residents to bully/harass other residents,’ the university should be asking, ‘how can we get residents to not bully/harass in the first place?’ ” Kellett wrote. “… I’d encourage the university’s administrators to do a careful reevaluation regarding whether they expect this ban to actually reduce instances of harassment or bullying. What they will hopefully discover is that the problem is a little more complicated than $7 whiteboards.”
University officials have said they do not expect the whiteboard ban to eliminate wholesale the problem of harassment on campus. Cody said Michigan State does “extensive things on campus around race, diversity and inclusion,” and pointed a reporter to a website outlining the university’s inclusion and intercultural initiatives.