Additional reporting by Mitchell Shedlowski
Students and faculty from around campus gathered at the Rock in the quad Thursday for “The Silent Megaphone,” an organized rally to combat the recent bout of hateful messages spray painted on the Rock.
This rally comes in the wake of an incident Monday where the Rock was painted twice with obscene symbols and racial slurs, covering the pro-DACA message that was there before.
Umbrella House President Olivia Conover was the first of four speakers at the event. She says she took the desecration as a personal attack, especially considering that the Rock was re-vandalized after the previous vandalization was covered up. According to Conover, this showed decisiveness on the part of the vandals. Conover pointed out the fact that the original vandalization took part of the design that was on it previously. She decried how the act of defacing the Rock, especially considering the “welcoming” pro-DACA message written on it, was “invalidating, demoralizing and devaluing” to students affected by the Trump administration’s recent decision to repeal the act. Conover has proposed having a camera and light installed in front of the Rock, so people who will deface it with hateful speech will at least reconsider doing so.
According to speaker Isaac Verhelst, a sophomore from Troy, Michigan, and Vice President of the Secular Student Alliance, by committing these acts under the cover of darkness, “you know what you’re doing is wrong. […] If you wouldn’t spray paint it at high noon, while everyone is walking to and from class, you shouldn’t be doing it at midnight.”
Verhelst pointed out how a common complaint on campus — that the Rock has become too political in the last few years — is unfounded; his mother, who attended Albion in the late eighties, remembers seeing the Rock painted for events such as apartheid awareness and the reunification of Germany. The difference, he says? Back then, “they talked about these issues.”
Professor Wes Dick was next to speak, in a speech he titled “Reasons for Hope and Celebration.” In it, he called 2017 “the most remarkable year” in not only his 50-year tenure at Albion, but in Albion’s 182-year history. That is because this year’s freshman class is the most diverse in the college’s history. He thinks the school should celebrate our diversity. “To just move on,” from the actions that have taken place on campus, Dick says, would be “normalizing bigotry.”
Alondra Sanchez, a junior from Phoenix, Arizona, was more direct than the other speakers. “I am tired of having rallies,” she told the crowd, “of reacting to hate that people put up” on the Rock and elsewhere. Her sentiment seemed to be one that was echoed by all of the speakers. Another common theme among the speakers was drawing comparison to last year’s Unity Rally, where people came together to oppose swastika graffiti found in downtown Albion.
Sanchez blamed Albion College’s administration directly for the defacing of the Rock, for “staying silent about hate speech.” She even referenced President Mauri Ditzler’s relative mum about such incidents directly as implicitly allowing these hateful messages to continue on campus. She felt that it should not be the job of the students to police incidents like the one on Monday. “These things are happening because we allow them to.”
“It’s late in the afternoon, and several hundred people decided that this was the most important thing going on this afternoon,” Ditzler said. “I think they were right.” Ditzler said that Campus Safety was getting “good leads and good advice” from students regarding the perpetrators of the most recent vandalization. “My guess is the investigation is advancing.”
Regarding the petition to install a camera near the Rock, Ditzler declined to comment until he had seen the petition, but said that he hoped “that we developed a culture and an understanding on campus that would make the camera unnecessary.”
“When we put the camera up,” he elaborated, “it seems like we have thrown up our hands and said, ‘We can’t do this without a threat of discipline.’ […] The preference would be to make certain that our community is strong enough that it wouldn’t take actions to hurt each other.”
Regarding Sanchez’s comments, Ditzler said that Sanchez’s speech “was a good speech. She makes a strong argument. Sometimes reasonable people will disagree, and that doesn’t mean that either of them are wrong […] I tend to move towards general guidelines for people to adhere, rather than specific rules; so a call to state exactly what hate speech is and what is free speech, so […] To me the question we should be asking ourselves isn’t ‘Do I have a right to make that statement?’ but rather, ‘Is it the right thing to do?’”
Photo by Griselda Iñiguez