Chalk graffiti has Michigan students screaming 'racism'

From The Michigan Daily

Several political and religious statements chalked on the Diag this week, including “Stop Islam,” “Trump 2016” and “Build the Wall,” prompted students to call University of Michigan police Wednesday and group together to wash some of the chalkings off.

Though the phrases were written in chalk, students gathered on the Diag said they thought the effects of them were more permanent on campus climate.

Rackham student Banen Al-Sheemary said she and fellow students who encountered the writing and gathered in the Diag found the sayings hurtful and disturbing.  

“This is so reflective of our student campus and the depths of racism and the things that students of color have to endure and that the administration is continuously silent on,” Al-Sheemary said. “This is just another example. This is happening year after year and we’ve been telling the administration the same things over and over again.”

Some of the graffiti in the Diag in Ann Arbor.

Some of the graffiti in the Diag in Ann Arbor.

Al-Sheemary said she and other students had been attempting to contact the University’s Division of Public Safety and Security as well as the University’s administration regarding the writing since Wednesday morning without much response.

“I’ve been getting bounced around from one person to another, and I understand it’s after hours, but there should be some kind of emergency number besides the police because a lot of students of color don’t feel comfortable calling the police,” Al-Sheemary said. “They’re our only resource and that I think is ridiculous.”

One DPSS officer arrived at the scene around 6:45 p.m Wednesday, but informed students that there was not much that could be done because it was after hours. In response, a group of about ten students began to wash the chalk messages off the Diag with water and towels themselves, pouring buckets of water to erase the statements and wiping down other concrete with rags.

“It’s irresponsible of the administration that we are actually out here with buckets of water and napkins to clean off these hateful messages and the administration isn’t taking care of it,” Al-Sheemary said. “And not only is the administration not taking care of it, they are putting us through a really difficult process. That perpetuates these really racist and hateful stereotypes that turn into violence and turn into students of color feeling unsafe on campus.”

LSA junior Tahany Alsabahi, one of the students who contacted DPSS, echoed Al-Sheemary’s sentiments.

“There needs to be another resource for students, and I think, also, the University has to speak out against these things,” Alsabahi said. “Because oftentimes when this happens for other groups, they’re very quick to release statements and say that they don’t condone anti-Semitism or any other type of stuff like that, but it gets really iffy and it becomes really difficult to get them to speak out against Islamophobia.”

In a statement Wednesday night in response to the incident, University spokesperson Rick Fitzgerald said the University was committed to inclusivity.

“Earlier today someone used chalk to write a #stopislam message on the main square in the heart of our campus known as the Diag,” the statement read. “Attacks directed toward any member or group within the University of Michigan community, based on a belief or characteristic, are inconsistent with our values of respect, civility and equality. We all understand that where speech is free it will sometimes wound. But our message is this: We are fully committed to fostering an environment that is welcoming and inclusive of everyone. Tonight we are reminded there is much work yet to be done.”

Fitzgerald also noted that several reports had been filed with the University’s bias response team, and officials from the team had been to the Diag Wednesday.

Al-Sheemary said she was not surprised by either the various writings for and against Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, or statements targeting Muslim students.

“It’s nothing new,” Al-Sheemary said. “Maybe it has just been heightened with the election, but this is just something that happened before 9/11, spiked with 9/11 and it’s not anything new and it affects a lot of students of color.”

Alsabahi also noted that she thought statements like those on the Diag had connotations beyond political.

“When speech can incite violence and aggression and hatred towards another group, that’s when it becomes hate speech,” she said.  

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