In the evening the day following a racial slur being painted on the exterior wall of Ford Hall, over 200 students entered Eastern Michigan University's Student Center shortly after 12 a.m. The students congregated and stayed inside the Student Center until after 6 a.m.
“When people that live on campus and people that don’t live on campus see the graffiti it’s going to have an impact,” said Kevin Hillman, President of Resident Housing Association. “If you were to wake up with a racial slur on your wall then you would also ask yourself am I safe being here."
The demonstration started in the Northwest corner of campus in between Hoyt Residence Hall, Hill Residence Hall, and Pittman Residence Hall. The group moved from residence hall to residence hall chanting, “Who’s house, our house,” and other affirmations for the black lives matter movement. The group assembled at each stop while members of the group went up to their room to gather their overnight essentials because the Student Center closes at 1 a.m.Throughout the night they began a hashtag #OurHouseEMU that went national.
Leaders of the demonstration stated that the purpose was to bring greater awareness to the lack of comfort and security that minorities feel on campus. The notion was, “If administration won’t create a safe space for us then we will create one for ourselves,” said an anonymous student leader.
The students entered the Student Center from the Northeast door on the first floor, and remained on the first floor for the duration of the night. They created a wall of chairs in the areas that they wanted to limit outsiders from entering because after the students arrived officers began to congregate on the second floor.
The number of people on the second floor grew as more officers arrived, and in addition Associate Vice President of Student Affairs Calvin Phillips, Director of Public Safety Chief Robert Heighes and Vice President of Communication and Public Relations Communication Water Kraft joined the group. The group of officers and members of the executive team held a meeting to assess and address the ongoing demonstration happening below them.
Following the meeting at around 2 a.m. Calvin Phillips and Chief Heighes went down stairs to address the students.
“I understand how some of you may feel, and I do not negate that what so ever, but you are in violation of University policy,” said Calvin Phillips in his address to the assembly of students. “What I want is to emphasize that you are more than welcome to leave the building now with no concerns of us going into student conduct, but I also want to make sure you all clearly understand where you are about to go by continuing these actions,” he said.
Philips then gave the floor to Chief Heighes. He presented information on the legal proceedings. Chief Heighes informed the students that the officers present had no intention of going “hands on” with any of students and would sit with them throughout the night, but he also cautioned that students were on camera and the department would be pursuing criminal trespassing charges.
Chief Heighes instructed an officer to read a disbursement statement, and after he was finished the students were given 20 minutes to decide if they wanted to leave.
The 200 students that originally entered the building began dwindling, 30 or so students gathered outside the Student Center, and the number inside dropped to under 100 students.
“The fact that it has come to an occupation of the lower floor of our Student Center should send a signal to administration that action is needed. It should send a signal to the Board of Regents that they are needed. Their responsibility is here on campus,” said Sam Jones-Darling, EMU Student Body Senator. “Each one of these students tomorrow morning will have to go to class. They have assignments that are due, and they are still students, but first of all they are human,” he continued.