EMU faculty and hundreds of students rally to protest racism on campus


Hundreds of people gathered outside of Ford Hall at Eastern Michigan University on Wednesday, Nov. 2, to unite against racism and the racial graffiti incidents occurring on campus.

The large crowd gathered to hold an open forum that comprised of both EMU faculty and students, taking turns with a bullhorn to vent their frustration regarding the racial graffiti. The rally followed after more racial graffiti was discovered on EMU's campus on Monday morning. Students also organized a sit-in at the Student Center that began at 10 p.m. on Tuesday night and lasted until 6 a.m. on Wednesday.

Faculty members who spoke at the rally echoed the sentiment that EMU is a diverse campus and the university needs to come together and embrace its diversity.

"This is a very diverse campus. It's rich, it's a blessing, it's a gift to all of us. Get it together," said Sandy Norton, a retired EMU professor. "We have to talk to each other. We have to be with each other. I may sound really stupid to say Eastern Michigan University is a family, but it is a family because it's my family."

Andrew Maniotes, professor of graphic design, condemned the actions of those responsible for the graffiti.

"Propaganda gets a very bad rap. Propaganda also has good uses when you want to protest or combat something," Maniotes said. "The underlying theme of propaganda is, 'We are right, they are wrong.' There is a time for a safe place. There is a time for nice language. When someone [paints] graffiti on our house though, they crap on your door. We are right, they are wrong."

Judith Kullberg, Faculty Senate representative, called for the university to be more aware of social injustice and embrace its diversity. According to collegefactual.com EMU's student body is 19.3 percent black.

"It's time for this university to embrace its diversity and for all of us to let one another tell our stories and for the university to begin to pay attention to serious problems with social injustice in American society," Kullberg said.

The EMU faculty also discussed what they were doing to promote diversity on campus.

The Faculty Senate is planning a teach-in that will discuss racism, social justice and other topics on Nov. 14. The School of Social Work will be hosting a social justice series starting on Wednesday, Nov. 9. A diversity mural is also being designed and painted in McKenny Hall by the art department.

"I see a lot of diversity inclusion everywhere I go on this campus. A lot of my friends know that I am an activist and I speak up for everyone," said Daivon Taylor, member of EMU Greek Life. "Don't be afraid to speak up and say something. In fact, I was afraid to speak up because I didn't feel comfortable, but y'know what, I'm stepping out of my comfort zone. I'm going to say something, I'm going to be a fighter, I'm going to be here. This is my university, you can't take it away from me and I'm going to be here."

Students felt that the EMU administration isn't doing enough to find those responsible for the racial graffiti.

EMU student Dequann Harrison said that no change will take place on campus after the rally because "it's the same conversation over and over again."

"We need a new administration. We have a corrupt administration," Harrison said. "They are not for the students and they're more invested in athletics, who are terrible, than the students on campus. "

Harrison said that many black students come from violent neighborhoods and attend EMU for a second chance at life.

"We can't even get that because we're always looking over our shoulders in the classroom and as we're walking to make sure that we aren't getting killed because we're being targeted by white students and police officers on a daily basis," Harrison said.

Harrison said students were yelling "white power" from the windows in Putnam Hall as protesters walked to the Student Center for the sit-in protest on Tuesday. He also questioned the lack of security cameras covering the areas where the racial graffiti was spray painted.

"Ford [Hall] is right next to the Board of Regents office, which is the most important people on campus. So why in the hell are there no cameras around here?" Harrison said. "I feel like some inside stuff is going on, like an intern working on the inside and knowing where cameras are at and where they're not at."

Partway into the rally faculty members turned the discussion over to the students in attendance. Several students at the rally called for faculty support, asking faculty what they're doing specifically in the classroom to promote diversity on campus. EMU senior Jessica Jackson said, "If I'm mandated to take a math class, I feel like other people should be mandated to have to learn about people's reality."

One part of the The Black Students 10-Point Plan is for black studies to be built into the curriculum of every major to inform students about racism and diversity. Another part is for all students to take a general education course on race, ethnicity and racism.

"What I am doing in class is telling my white students and my students who appear to be white, regardless of how they identify, that if they don't make themselves visibly known as an ally, they will be seen as not an ally," said Perry Silverschanz, an EMU social work faculty member. "Why black lives matter is because when we're in a neighborhood, we care about everyone in the neighborhood. But if one house is on fire, we go put that fire out."

At one point in the rally Biyi Akinlude, coordinator of Upward Bound at EMU, asked for all the black participants in attendance to step forward and for white allies to stand behind them as a visual representation to show support.

"There you go, you stand behind them as your brothers and sisters and you back them up," Akinlude said. "The reality is that whoever's doing this thing [racial graffiti] guess what: They might be listening right now. So let's give them a message. Because they want to tear us apart, they want to aggravate us and they're doing this intentionally. Well here's what they need to know, whoever's doing it: As much times as it happens, we will rise."

As the rally continued more students than faculty members remained to carry on the dialogue. Toward the end of the rally 16-year-old Devin Gissendaner was questioned by participants for wearing a "Make America Great Again" hat; participants asked why he would wear it to an event that is protesting racism.

Participants felt that it stood against the message of an event protesting racism, while others disagreed with participants asking Gissendaner to explain why he was wearing the hat. Gissendaner, who is part of the Early College Alliance at EMU, had no knowledge of the rally and wanted to see what it was about.

The $5,000 reward for any information leading to the arrest of the person or persons who painted the racial graffiti has been raised to $10,000. Several students at the rally said that the $10,000 reward should be funding classes at EMU as well as additional security cameras.

Students voiced that they are afraid to go to class and are unable to perform well academically in the face of hate speech on campus. They also referenced the Student Center sit-in and the threat of expulsion from EMU's Department of Public Safety. EMU student Darius Simpson declined to interview, but said during his speech at the rally that "the protests will continue indefinitely."

"Until action is taken, nothing's gonna change," Simpson said during the rally. "Students right now are afraid to go to class, afraid to walk past DPS [Department of Public Safety]; DPS is supposed to protect the students but last night DPS was tellin' folks that they're about to be expelled. How can they trust these people to fight for them when they was fightin' against them last night?"

Following the overnight occupation of the Student Center, EMU President James Smith stated that no legal charges have been filed against the students and wouldn’t comment on if legal charges will eventually be filed.

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