Racist Vandalism at EMU– Where is EMU President James Smith?

There was an ugly racist/hate crime vandalism/graffiti incident at EMU today, which I first heard about rather indirectly in an all-campus email from EMU VP for Communication Walter Kraft. Among other things, Kraft wrote:

A short time ago, we learned that racist graffiti had been spray painted on a wall of King Hall in the courtyard area of the building. The University strongly condemns such a racist and thoughtless act, which runs completely counter to the values and welcoming environment of our highly diverse Eastern Michigan University community. Our Department of Public Safety is undertaking a full and immediate investigation and the graffiti is being quickly removed.

My initial reaction to this email was “what the hell?” Some time passed and the story emerged. Basically, some moron(s) spray painted “KKK” and “Leave N*****s” (though not with the asterisks, obviously) on the side of a King Hall.

But not to bury the lead here: at the end of the day (today, at least), where the hell is EMU’s new president James Smith? We have this controversy on campus that is attracting strong regional (if not at least some national/education press) news attention and it has obviously (and justifiably) upset a lot of students on campus, and Smith doesn’t surface to make an actual statement before the media?!? He doesn’t appear in support of one of the student protests against this?!? That’s weak. Smith needs to be a lot more invested in the EMU community (and not just the EMU Board of Regents and football team) than this.

Okay, a rundown of the basic news:

I know there has been a lot of other news stories about this too.

Anyway, this graffiti/vandalism was identified and then cleaned up in the morning several hours before I got to campus today. It was painted on the side of King Hall, which is one of several odd buildings sort of in the middle of EMU’s campus. It’s formally a dorm that has been (sort of) rehabbed into a series of office spaces– WEMU is over there. The graffiti/vandalism/hate speech itself was on one wall in the “courtyard” area, which is actually not a very visible part of the building. It’s the kind of place you’d vandalize because you thought you’d be less likely to get caught. By the time I got to campus today, the graffiti was gone and there was a small protest/vigil of African-American students at the spot.

When I went into Pray-Harrold (where I do most of my teaching and where my office is), I saw in the lobby and on the elevator a lot of flyers that kind of looked like this (though this is a picture I took later and posted on Instagram). This, combined with the student protests that happened on campus that I’ve already mentioned, suggest to me that the EMU community is very much rallying against this simpleton hate speech and rallying for African-American students and other members of the EMU community.

So I think campus will be fine. I mean, I’m concerned about all sorts of examples of hate crimes and racism and the like that seem to be rising in this country in some correlation to the rise of the hate of the Donald Trump campaign. But at EMU specifically, I think the campus community is resilient enough to respond to some idiotic and likely drunk hateful vandals and simpleton spray-painters. It’s one of the many reasons I like working here, actually.

But again, where the heck is James Smith? I appreciate that it is Walter Kraft’s job as the VP for communication to have the initial responses to this– and by the way, I think Walter is a pretty good guy. But this was the first situation that’s happened on campus since Smith arrived where he clearly should have been out in person to speak out against this. I have no idea why he didn’t do this.

Slight addendum: To be fair, Smith did finally speak about this incident after a group of protesters showed up at the EMU President’s house.  See this story.

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