“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” This MLK quote stands in front of the Rock on the quad. That Rock was vandalized in the middle of the night with partisan messaging before election day. It’s original message of Black Lives Matter was erased. The names of victims of police brutality and systemic racism in America were painted over with support of Donald Trump.
The erasure of these victims, and the rallying cry that has erupted across this country and the world in their names, disgusted many Albion students such as myself. In response, we took to the Rock in the middle of the day in order to restore that original messaging of justice and equality. We also made the effort to make the Rock a symbol of unity and painted messages such as “you belong here” on it, as well covering the rock in notes in support of the queer community, women’s rights, and equality for all. We made the Rock something that every student at Albion would have reason to take pride in having on campus.
Despite this clear proclamation of belonging, we received an email from the school indicating that the Rock would be shut down in order to facilitate a “cooling off period.” This response by the school was confusing to say the least.
Since I arrived on campus as a freshman last year, I have seen nothing but admiration from Albion College for the Black Lives Movement and the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s that preceded it. The school has always been quick to point out how Civil Rights leaders such as MLK and Malcolm X have had a presence in Albion, such as when they spoke at Goodrich Chapel on the very stage where I have choir rehearsals.
Since the murder of George Floyd, our new president Dr. Mathew Johnson and other faculty members have voiced support for Black Lives Matter. Dr. Johnson himself specifically stated support for Black Lives Matter after the ruling on the police officers who murdered Breonna Taylor. Albion College has so far supported Black Lives Matter, at least until now when that messaging is reasserted over partisan endorsements that many students like me find hostile and threatening to our safety on this campus.
The idea that there can be a “cooling off period,” like the college has said they are attempting to facilitate by fencing off and covering the message of Black Lives Matter, runs entirely contradictory to the quote the school allowed in front of the Rock. Civil rights do not have a cooling off period. Marginalized people in America, from racial minorities, to women, to the poor and working class, to queer people like myself, have been fighting for their rights nonstop since this nation’s founding.
I understand that everyone is exhausted with politics right now, but marginalized people in this country have never been afforded a “cooling off period.” Our existence is political, we do not get the choice to opt-out of it. Suffice it to say, Black Lives Matter cannot afford a cooling off period, no movement for justice can until that justice is achieved.
The solution that Albion has proposed after this controversy is to paint the Rock with “a symbol of Albion.” This is the wrong approach. The message of Black Lives Matter already represents our student body, and if the words that our administration have been saying ring true, then Black Lives Matter should represent the whole of Albion College as well.
The school’s response in fact brings to mind a quote from MLK’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” which was one of the first documents I read in Introduction to Public Service, one of my first classes at Albion. The quote reads: “I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to ‘order’ than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: ‘I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action.’”
Albion College should take this account into consideration when they ask for unity. If this school wishes for us to unify around the erasure of Black Lives Matter in order to achieve a negative peace, then I can safely declare that this institution simply does not care for the causes it so boldly advertises. It cares about MLK’s presence on this campus for no reason other than his namesake, not his message of radical love. If this school is so enamored with MLK’s words and legacy, then its “symbol of Albion” can simply be what the Rock already declared after students restored it on Nov. 3: Black Lives Matter.
Noah Flint, a sophomore from Jackson, is majoring in public policy.