Yesterday morning, a few members of the Albion College campus community painted the Rock to reflect the support of specific political candidates. In addition to painting the Rock less than 48 hours after it had been painted previously, these community members included political endorsements on the sidewalk, both actions that violate regular practices on campus with respect to painting the Rock.
An email sent out to the Albion College community yesterday evening, signed by Chief Belonging Officer and Title IX Coordinator Keena Wiliams; President Mathew Johnson; Interim Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs Ron Mourad; and Vice President for Student Development and Dean of Students Leroy Wright, explained the details of the event as well as procedures regarding the Rock moving forward.
Not only was the action a violation of campus policies, but the action of endorsing a single political candidate or party in this public manner undermines the principles behind Albion’s concept of Together Bravely by creating a partisanship toward one side of the political spectrum in a way which silences voices on the other end.
Moving forward, the Rock and its surrounding pedestal will not be available to students to paint for the next few days.
“We will assess the rock in a few days,” said Williams. “We really do want to have a cooling-off period where we can all think about what our role is in creating a safe and healthy campus environment post-election.”
In the meantime, the Rock will be repainted to symbolically represent the Albion community and the unity within it.
“We are very aware that messages on the rock have the ability to affect members of our community, their sense of safety, and their sense of belonging on campus,” said Williams. “We want to create a culture that is welcoming and inclusive of all members of our community, where everyone feels like they belong at Albion.”
The intention behind this administrative decision is to allow the campus community time to cool down from any negative emotions lingering after the incident. The intentions, however, are not to limit conversations among the student body on campus.
Administration encourages productive discussion and collaboration among the student body, especially during this election period, as it tends to be a highly emotional time for people on both ends of the political spectrum.
“While the Rock can serve as a source of pride, information and a catalyst for conversation, it does not (always) allow for meaningful dialogue with those who paint the rock,” said Williams. “We have to work on this. We have to work on creating a culture where meaningful dialogues and exchange of ideas can occur without fear, that is, different than comfort.”
This is not the first time that the Rock has been used as a divisive political statement during an election year.
“The 2016 Election saw some tense moments around the rock,” said Williams.
Even prior to the actual election, similar tensions rose on campus in April of 2016, tensions that were displayed on the Rock in a similar manner to the events of yesterday.
Four years ago, the Rock was painted with Donald Trump’s name across the front with the hashtag “build a wall” painted below it. Students perceived this demonstration as hate speech against Latinx students and took action to spray paint over the statement.
Although it was a Trump endorsement featured on the Rock both yesterday and in 2016, college administration would have taken the same action to repaint the Rock regardless of the political affiliation of the endorsement painted on the Rock.
“Both parties were represented in that process,” said Williams.
Both in 2016 and now, the intention of repainting the Rock was not to silence the voices of those who painted it, but rather to make the voices of everyone on campus heard, even those with differing views and opinions.
“We will have moments of discomfort as we learn to be a diverse, inclusive, equitable and anti-racist, anti-ism community,” said Williams. “The Blueprint for Belonging will push us to all think about our role in developing a campus that achieves those goals, but it will take time and effort. We all have to commit to it.”