This article was prepared by the Eastern Echo team: Editor-in-Chief Malaya Elgarico and Digital Editor Arica Frisbey. It was written by Frisbey.
YPSILANTI, Mich. -- Frustrated Eastern Michigan University students gathered at Best Hall on February 12, one day after a student staff member discovered a black baby doll hanging from a noose in his shower. The rally was hastily put together by the Michigan Student Power Network via Facebook, with a crowd of about 30 to 40 people coming together to show solidarity and demand action be taken in the latest of racist acts on campus.
In attendance was Christopher Casillas, the resident advisor who found the doll hanging in his shower. He said that he found the doll at 4 a.m. on Feb. 11, after he returned to his room from making bulletin boards. The shower is a shared one between him and two suitemates. However, Casillas said that it was the girlfriend of one of the suitemates who hung the doll up from the showerhead using a belt, with the hair cut up. The girl, while merely a guest in the room, does live within Best Residence Hall as well.
While Casillas hasn’t talked personally to her, he said that his suitemates’ statements to police, as well as the girl’s confession, doesn’t quite ring true. “They kept saying it was meant to be a joke; it wasn’t something that they were trying to seem as racist, but I don’t see why that would be such a joke, especially on a month like this [Black History Month],” he said.
Casillas added the doll had been in his suitemates’ possession as of fall semester room checks, allegedly accompanied by a hatchet. There is no explanation as to why the doll seemingly belonged to the suitemates, only that it was available for the display. The suspect hung the doll, despite being asked not to by the room’s other residents.
“At the end of the day, regardless if you put [the doll] up or not, you condone this behavior...If you felt that it needed to be taken down, you would have done it yourself,” Casillas said.
He, along with the students gathered in front of the residence hall, hope that the suspect is punished beyond being moved out of the building. As it currently stands, allegedly she will not be moved from the premises until the police investigation finishes and is handed over to the Office of Wellness and Community Responsibility (OWCR). Still, that did not stop the students from expressing what they think should be done.
“She should be expelled--nothing less,” one of the students said. “That was a threat on his life. Nothing is funny about that. No one is laughing.”
“I personally think that they should expel not only the suitemates but also the friend, their guest, who they said did the action,” another resident advisor from Best said. “Because the guest definitely still lives in Best, still is here, so if they have to be removed from Best, the other person should also be removed from Best.”
Student Colton Ray thinks removing the student from Best Hall is the very least that should be done.
“If they don’t get expelled, they need to face some sort of action,” Ray said. “The fact that they would even call it a prank is disgusting. There is this mentality around racism like it’s just a joking matter and that people don’t actually lose their life over acts of racial hatred.”
Also at the rally were higher up members of Housing and Residence Life, such as Director Jeanette Zalba and Assistant Director Jeff Kortman, as well as Calvin Phillips, associate vice president of student affairs. Phillips and Kortman alike made it clear that they, as well as the university, was taking the matter seriously.
“It definitely comes across to me--and I don’t think anyone is going to argue--racist. If you understand the history of black people in this country, something hanging on up is a definite no,” Phillips said.
Director Zalba was open to students at the rally expressing their concerns directly to her, which student LaTerricka Osborne made sure to do.
Addressing both Zalba and the gathered crowd, Osborne said: “How come I ain’t never seen nothing happen my freshman year? Ever since then, I’ve been seeing things back to back to back. Like, I’m on the verge of crying right now because it’s so sad. And it’s like we all live here--we all live here. We shouldn’t need to deal with this...We’re always trying to do things on campus to make sure everyone feels included, but even still, stuff like this is going on.”
“What gives you the inclination to spend money on a doll and call it a prank? You know it was not a prank,” she said. “I don’t know how in the world they expect this thing to get better if they do not take care of us.”
Towards the end of the rally, EMU’s NAACP President Kya Fordham read a list of demands for university and housing officials alike to heed. These demands are as follows:
- The Housing Residence Life Department needs to acknowledge this issue as a hate crime/racial incident and not a bias incident. They need to make a statement.
- Demand to speak with the director of Housing to see what is being implemented to [rectify] this.
- The girl needs to be banned from living in residential dorms/the “visitor” will be banned from the campus of Eastern Michigan. (Fordham gave a deadline of Tuesday, Feb. 19 for this demand to be carried out.)
- We [affected students] want to be kept in the loop through the process of the punishment implemented.
- We [affected students] want the President to make a personal statement to show solidarity.
- Organize specific punishments for those that commit hate crimes on campus.
University Spokesman Geoff Larcom made clear that Eastern Michigan University is taking the incident seriously.
“The Department of Public Safety, as well as the Office of Wellness and Community [Responsibility] is investigating the incident,” Larcom said. “The Department of Public Safety will turn over the results of investigation to the county prosecutor, which will determine if there are any charges to be made. The Office of Wellness and Community [Responsibility] will determine what aspects of the student code apply. There are many policies that govern student to student behavior.”
Currently, students and university officials alike wait for the completion of the investigation and subsequent report by the Department of Public Safety. The identities of the suspects remain unknown at this time.