Updated September 29, 2017, 2:56 p.m.
Additional reporting by Katie Boni, Steve Marowski and Andrew Wittland
A planned demonstration was put on by Albion College’s Black Student Alliance, LGBriTs and the Organization of Latinx Awareness today to protest what they have deemed discriminatory acts that have taken place on campus. From 10:45 a.m to 8 p.m., students, faculty, staff and city residents blocked the main entrance of Baldwin Hall, forcing those wanting to eat at Baldwin Cafe to use the side doors, where more demonstrators stood. Many demonstrators wore black as a sign of unity and held signs meant to give voices to underrepresented groups on campus.
At the start of the semester, a swastika was found graffitied in a bathroom stall. Weeks later, the Campus Rock, which had been painted with pro-DACA signage, was painted over with pro-Trump signage. After a pro-DACA rally and repainting, the Rock was defaced twice in one night with lewd sexual images and racial slurs.
The most recent event that spurred the demonstration was a Google Doc a member of the Albion College Conservatives shared on September 17 with the club’s email list. The student’s name has been withheld for privacy and safety.
The Google Doc, titled “Send a liberal to his/her/their/it’s/who tf knows what they identify as now safe space 101,” gave instructions to readers on how to respond to liberals when the topic of white privilege is mentioned.
The Google Doc, pictured above, contained what is considered by the demonstrators to be racist and violent remarks.
In one instance, the document correlates high single black motherhood rates to increased crime in major cities, stating, “Things need to change inside the black community if these statistics are going to change…What is going on with inner city culture?”
Another passage compares Antifa protesters to the terrorist group ISIS. It then suggests responding to both of groups with gun violence after defeating a liberal in a political argument:
“Take the liberal tears from the idiot you just destroyed in your debate, dissemble your American made Springfield M1911 .45 caliber handgun and proceed to purchase Antifa and ISIS hunting permits and max out on tags.”
The Google Doc was open to anyone at Albion College, so long as they had access to the link. By September 20, the College had been notified of the Google Doc and began investigating whether the message was racist and violent and whether the message was sanctioned or endorsed by the College Conservatives.
“We as an organization believe that political violence in any form, whether that be in writing or in action, has no place in Albion, no place in Michigan, and no place in this country,” said Nick Smith, President of the College Conservatives in a public statement.
In an interview after the demonstration, the senior from Midland, Michigan, said there were many rumors and inaccuracies about the origin of the document and the stance that his club had towards it. The club and the individual who sent the email in no way endorse its message.
Each week, Smith said, the College Conservatives has a discussion and debate a controversial topic. Two members are chosen to research the topic, one on the liberal viewpoint, the other on the conservative. The week of September 17’s topic was white privilege and institutional racism.
The student who wrote and sent out the document was in charge of obtaining the conservative viewpoint. The student copied verbatim a portions of a video of political commentator Ben Shapiro for discussion. When discussion was left unfinished at the Conservatives’ weekly meeting, the student sent out the email to the club’s email list so the discussion could continue.
The passage of the article referring to hunting Antifa and ISIS members was never stated in the video, nor was the title of the Google Doc.
The liberal viewpoint was handwritten by another student but was not shared through a Google Doc with those in the email list. The liberal viewpoint has been planned to be discussed during Wednesday, September 27’s meeting.
“Obviously, it was inappropriate statements made that we do not stand by, but at the end of the day, what this email was was a fundamental outline of what Ben Shapiro argues as a young leader in the conservative party about arguments against white privilege that he backs up with statistics,” said Smith. “This is not an endorsement by the individual who wrote it, it is not an endorsement by the club, just as we had an entire document with arguments that completely contradicted and took the other side that just wasn’t circulated because it was handwritten.”
The Conservatives provided a statement covering their claim to Student Affairs and the College prior to the demonstration, but neither the Conservatives nor the College shared it publicly.
According to Albion College President Mauri Ditzler, an investigation will be held to determine the extent in which the document was sanctioned or endorsed by the College Conservatives. President Mauri Ditzler, holding a sign of his own at the demonstration, said it was an “ongoing question” but was aware that the Conservatives disapproved of the message.
As Ditzler stood outside Baldwin in the late morning, music with pro-immigrant themes played from speakers; chants like “Silence equals violence” rang; flags of LGBTQ movements and foreign nations were worn like capes and posters were held out for passersby to read.
Counter-protests did not occur, but statements unlike the demonstrations were made. Two students were seen walking through the demonstration with signs that read “Legalize Ranch.” Student Senator Lucas Harder walked through wearing a pro-Trump shirt and displaying a pro-Trump banner. After initial tension, more than a dozen demonstrators went up to the student to have an open conversation with him.
“We still need to have dialogue, and that’s one of the things that we are missing in this country on a large scale,” said Dominick Quinney, assistant professor of ethnic studies, who participated in the demonstration. “We aren’t hearing one another. What the issue is, is those who have power are not listening to those who don’t, and so hearing those experiences is definitely important in creating an equitable and equal society.”
Quinney said that he doesn’t think these needed conversations are present on campus, but the demonstration was a way to begin having them.
Khalifaziz Birden, the president of BSA and junior from New Orleans, was glad to see faculty attend, but especially administrators like Ditzler. For the past two years, BSA and other Umbrella organizations – organizations for underrepresented students – have been trying to get a four-page list of seven demands onto the student handbook. So far, only two have been edited in – the promotion of an Intercultural Affairs staff member and the addition of sexuality and gender onto the nondiscriminatory list.
Birden calls the event a demonstration because they are optimistic about an administrative response. But if BSA feels as if the administration isn’t doing all they can to promote equality, protests will follow.
“Whenever a major racial or otherwise bigoted event occurs on this campus, we get together, we hold hands, we sing Kumbaya,” said Birden. “We do not discuss it again, we do not hold the people in our circles accountable for it.”
Birden does not see the incidents that have organized reactions as isolated, but part of a pattern. And it’s a pattern that needs to stop, he said.
“What people don’t realize is that when people are black on this campus, if you are queer on this campus, if you are undocumented on this campus, and life in general, you risk life every day,” he said. “That is not a hyperbole.”
During the day, rumors had spread that demonstrators had completely closed off Baldwin from the public. Birden said that was the original plan, but college administration forced BSA to reconsider. Students were still able to access Baldwin Cafe through the side doors, although they had to walk past demonstrators to do so. If disabled folks needed to use the elevator in the front of Baldwin, accommodations were to be made.
Wes Dick, professor of history, participated in the demonstration. Since becoming faculty in the late 1960s, Dick has seen many protests, from Vietnam to Apartheid to the Iraq War. The protests and demonstrations that have taken place this semester, though, are what he calls “remarkable.”
Photos by Beau Brockett Jr. and Katie Boni