Four students who took part in the overnight occupation of the Student Center to protest the racial graffiti spray painted on several Eastern Michigan University buildings are currently facing possible one-year suspensions for their involvement in the sit-in.
Three of the students have met with EMU's Office of Student Conduct and Community Standards while a fourth was summoned by the EMU administration on Tuesday, Nov. 8. Michael Wood, acting president of the Black Student Union, was one of the students to receive a disciplinary letter from the Office of Student Conduct and Community Standards.
In an e-mail Wood said that he faces charges of disruptive behavior, failure to comply and violating policies regarding to the use of campus facilities. The other three students received similar letters and are awaiting their punishment.
Wood noted six instances of racially charged vandalism and hate speech:
- "KKK, Go Home N*****rs" spray painted on King Hall
- "Hands Up, Harambe" written on the painting block at EMU
- Phone calls to student residence halls "asking how it feels to be on campus with gorillas"
- "Leave N*****rs" spray painted on Ford Hall
- "N*****rs" spray painted in the Hoyt residence hall elevator
- "N*****rs" spray painted in the stairwell of Wise Hall
Wood described the racial graffiti as vandalism, hate speech and terrorism, calling for everyone on campus to rally and support the black community.
"These messages are not directed only at black students, but at faculty, staff, alumni, parents and visitors," Wood wrote. "These intolerant, discriminatory and offensive messages are attacking each and every demographic, community and human occupying this campus."
In response to these incidents students staged a peaceful sit-in protest in the Student Center between 10 p.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 1 and 6 a.m. on Wednesday, Nov. 2. 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. In the violations section disruptive conduct includes, "Actions that impair, interfere with, or obstruct the normal operations of the University and/or interfere with the rights of other members of the University community or visitors. This includes intentional occupation of or blocking the entry or exit of University facilities, including but not limited to, buildings, classrooms, offices, hallways, entryways, conference rooms and campus grounds."
Half of the students chose to leave after the initial warning and many stayed outside of the Student Center to continue the protest.
While a large number of students gathered in the Student Center EMU faculty and students question the University's decision to suspend four specific students, who are perceived as leaders of the protests that have taken place on campus.
Geoff Larcom, EMU Executive Director of Media Relations, said 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 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.
Wood questioned in his e-mail if the University actually supports peaceful protest because of disciplinary action.
"The attempts to instill fear in the student body to not protest or act against the University has completely disillusioned many students," Wood wrote. "How can Eastern both support student’s peaceful protests while simultaneously discouraging and sanctioning them for doing so?"
While nearly 20 percent of EMU students are black, Wood detailed the lack of a Diversity Officer, Diversity Community & Involvement Director, Multicultural Center, increased funding for the Center of Multicultural Affairs, as well as designated spaces for black students.
"Eastern Michigan University has failed to complete one demand of the Black Student 10 Point Plan that was presented in Nov. 2015 at the Institutional Racism Forum," Wood wrote. "So this begs the question, does Eastern truly value and respect its black students?"
In response to the University's decision to punish the sit-in protesters EMU faculty published an open letter to University administration and started a petition urging EMU to drop its cases against the protesters; the petition has received more than 1,100 signatures as of Nov. 9.
Faculty Senate listed several points in their open letter regarding the University disciplining black student protesters:
- Objective 3.1 in EMU's Strategic Theme for Student Engagement and Success is to "support students in becoming actively engaged global citizens with strong cultural awareness."
- Recent acts of racist aggression on campus and heightened racial tension produced by the current presidential election should be taken into consideration by judicial officers in assessing the disorderly conduct of students.
- The University no longer provides students with a 24 hour facility to gather relating to protesters' "inappropriate use of a University facility."
- Misuse of University resources on the disciplining of peaceful student activists
According to Judy Kullberg, president of the Faculty Senate, EMU President James Smith hasn't personally responded to emails that faculty members sent him regarding disciplinary action. Faculty have received responses about the need to apply the student code of conduct evenly and fairly.
The University is taking steps to improve safety on campus, including the creation of the President’s Commission of Diversity and Inclusion to address issues related to diversity and inclusion. The University doubled the reward leading to the arrest of those responsible 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.
Wood called for any students currently attending EMU to transfer to another university that can "ensure the safety and value of black lives." He ended his e-mail by stating that the protests will continue indefinitely.
"I strongly discourage any person of color to attend this university," Wood wrote. "Any incoming or transfer student in hopes of attending a university that values, respects and ensures the safety of their students should not come to Eastern Michigan University."