On Monday, Nov. 14 Eastern Michigan University’s Faculty Senate hosted a racial relations teach-in titled “Know Justice, Know Peace,” an all-day event at McKenny Hall.
The teach-in featured smaller, break-out sessions on a wide range of topics.
The last presentation of the day was called Black Lives Matter, presented by EMU alumni Darius Simpson, social organizer and poetry writer.
He took the audience through the recent events on campus, including the racist hate graffiti spray painted on King, Wise, and Ford Hall, as well as messages that continue to be found in buildings across campus.
“The way that the University is handling these peaceful protesters who sat in the Student Center is egregious, it’s heinous, and it’s an extremely militarized response, the same way that the world is responding to peaceful protestors who just want justice and freedom," Simpson said.
He showed narrated photos of protesters marching to President James Smith’s home, the protest at the Wyoming football game and the sit-in at the Student Center.
“Before the football field protest even happened, EMU got word that something might happen, and rather than try and trying to understand students and what was happening, they prepared for war,” Simpson said. “It wasn’t just the police from campus, there were Washtenaw County sheriffs, Ypsilanti Police, Michigan State police patrolling the area. It was like they thought something was going to happen based on them finding out that a protest was going to happen. And that’s how things have always been treated with protest here—a violent thing to stamp out rather than trying to understand and stop the reason for the protests.”
Simpson also said that all the students who sat in at the Student Center wanted was a safe space, yet they are being targeted.
“These four students, those who were ‘quote-on-quote’ leaders of the action They’re actually targeting the entire black community, not just at EMU but in the broader community by saying it’s “a crime to try to find a safe space’, where that shouldn’t be the case,” Simpson said. “The protests will continue indefinitely.”
Geoff Larcom, EMU Executive Director of Media Relations, said after the sit-in that EMU strongly supports the right of students to protest and that the University echoes their concerns over the racist vandalism.
Larcom also said that the University has worked to ensure peaceful outcomes during previous protests, including the Sept. 23 night football game and the sit-in on the University House driveway and porch area waiting for the EMU President James Smith to speak on Sept. 20.
The Student Center closes at 1 a.m. and while campus police didn't arrest those who stayed past 1 a.m., EMU officials representing the administration warned of disciplinary action. Protesters in the Student Center were twice warned that occupying a closed building violated the EMU Student Conduct Code.
Disciplinary action ranges from a verbal warning to expulsion under the EMU Student Conduct Code.
"The distinguishing factor here is not that students protested, but that they chose to remain in the Student Center Building long after its closure which is a violation of the student code of conduct," Larcom said.
Simpson also discussed the Black Student 10 Point Plan, referring to it as 10 seeds to plant in the ground to prevent racism from growing.
“There’s a daily fight to push these and get them implemented, because there is a process. The goal is to raise these issues in and outside of the boardroom.”
Simpson told the audience there are times when it’s necessary to have conversations with those in power.
“There’s also a time when you need to stand outside the door and refuse to leave that space until certain things are done,” Simpson said. “There’s a spectrum of actions needed, but we need to go as a unit to get these changes.”
EMU sophomore Mercedes Bergande was in attendance for the event and was disappointed that none of the requests on the 10 Point Plan have been realized.
“The black community was trying to be proactive with the issues of racism on campus,” she said. “However, faculty decided to be reactive. But this is a solution for everything we’ve talked about today, this is an action plan for it."
EMU senior Shaniqua Gaines, physical education major, attended several sessions at the teach-in.
“As far as them explaining everything, it’s repetitive. I’m not saying it doesn’t need to be repetitive, but it’s exhausting me,” she said.
Gaines found the Teach-In day exhausting, not so much being involved, but from being on the sidelines and being a witness to it, acknowledging it from being a black student at EMU.
“I’m doing as much as I have a platform to, but it’s a lot on me and I don’t have a platform."
As for where the teach-in fits in, Gaines thinks it is a first step.
“I think it’s introducing students to the platform, just from opening their eyes for the first time. I mean, this is a fraction of the student population here today. So we can only hope our advocacy work.”
Gaines called for total campus support, noting that inclusion shouldn't fall on one specific department.
“I need to see total campus support. There should be policy for inclusion, not necessarily only one department's job to feed the need. It shouldn’t be one person’s responsibility to cover up a giant topic when more people could also do it,” she said.
Gaines didn't feel as though this should have gotten to the point of needing a petition or letters to the Administration.
“They gave a lottery ticket to the people that did right, then accuse them of doing something wrong. I don’t support it at all.”
Desmine Robinson calls for change
Desmine Robinson is a Peer Educator at EMU’s Women’s Resource Center, as well as an English Tutor and Mentor at EMU’s Upward Bound.
“We need to talk about this. We want dialogue,” Robinson said. “We’re here because we see that a change is happening. But we’re so afraid to admit that the change has to come from us.”
Robinson called for students to speak instead of staying quiet, and to ask questions.
“If you are around black people and they’re crying, they’re hurt and you don’t know what’s going on, you want to know why? You have to ask the question. You have to talk. You can’t sit here and be quiet,” Robinson said. “We want you to say something. We need you to say something, very very badly. We are the ones out there yelling—we’re the ones getting prosecuted for sitting inside of a friggin’ ‘Student Center’,” Robinson said.
Robinson continued to call for students to speak instead of staying quiet, referencing the lynching and burning of black people in the past.
“You have to say something now. If we don’t, it’s going to be too late. White people were cool with black people being lynched. They were cool while they were burned alive. They were completely cool with that. Guess what? Today there are a lot that are not cool with that right now, but they’re shutting up,” Robinson said. “Say something NOW because you care! Or it’ll be too late. You have the opportunity right now. I want you to say something. It’s too late already! Trump is our president and there are millions of people supporting him right now.”
Robinson also referenced Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin and Sandra Bland, calling for those in attendance to speak out against police brutality and show support for why black lives matter.
“Everywhere I see why black lives don’t matter. And I want white people to see that, so they can tell me why we say black lives matter. I don’t want to say black lives matter—I know my life matters,” Robinson said. “But what about the boy who’s afraid to walk home out of fear of someone attacking him? What about the mother and father who said ‘I don’t want my son getting in trouble at all, I’m afraid he might get killed?’”
Robinson told the audience that they each have something in them that others don’t like, yet despite of that, they need to help one another.
“Because I want you to help me to. We’ve given up on people loving each other,” he said. “I want you guys to start saying stuff, even if you have to argue with people on Facebook like I do all the time—I am tired of seeing ‘All Lives Matter’—because darn it, then why am I saying ‘Black Lives Matter’ then? I shouldn’t have to say that!”
Simpson was asked about the wearing of a safety pin as a symbol for white allies. The trend began in England after the Brexit vote to show they stand with ethnic groups who are targets of racist hatred. It has picked up in the U.S. since Trump became the President Elect.
“To me, it’s a cop-out. It allows you to act covertly and keeps you away from any ownership. When we walk outside, our skin is this aggressive thing that brings people toward us. We don’t have to wear a shirt, not tattoo, no pin that says ‘I’m this person’,” Simpson said. “In order to be a good ally, always question yourself. Alleviate yourself of your ego, ask questions and learn.”
Despite students feeling that the University hasn't dealt with the vandalism appropriately, EMU has taken steps to improve safety on campus. The University doubled the reward leading to the arrest of those responsible for the racist graffiti to $10,000. Though no arrests have been made particles and evidence have been collected from the graffiti sites and are being analyzed at a crime lab. The University has also performed the following actions in response to these graffiti incidents:
- Increased EMU police patrols near the student residence halls
- Increased contracted security presence near the student residence halls
- Hired 15 security guards to patrol the campus during the evening
- Participated in community forums to learn of concerns from the campus community
- Installed security cameras and lighting near the King Hall courtyard
- Took a survey of the exterior of every building on EMU's main campus
- Reviewed hundreds of hours of video footage
- Consideration of increased lighting and additional security cameras
There are currently 800 security cameras on campus and the university plans on providing funding for a total of 2,000 security cameras. EMU also created the President’s Commission of Diversity and Inclusion to address issues related to diversity and inclusion.