A rock meant to stand for acceptance, unity, and refuge, painted by the incoming freshmen class of the University of Michigan was vandalized with hateful comments targeting the Latino community.
The bedrock located near the campus at Washtenaw Avenue and Hill Street in Ann Arbor was painted by thirty-five freshmen Thursday in UM’s Assisting Latinos to Maximize Achievement (ALMA), a group that actively recruits and supports the Latino student body at the university. The students wrote things like “ALMA 2017,” “Sí Se Puede,” a Spanish phrase that translates to: yes it can be done, amongst other phrases. But to their surprise, by Friday the rock had already been painted over — with phrases including “(expletive Latinos” and “MAGA” (Make America Great Again).
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“My heart dropped,” said Yvonne Navarrete, lead coordinator for ALMA and UM junior from Detroit. “In the middle of trying to create this sense of community for students and wants to make them feel welcomed and letting them know you belong here, there was this act of hate.” Shortly after the incident, UM’s Chief Diversity Officer Dr. Robert Sellers issued a statement apologizing for the incident and sympathizing with the targeted student body. Dr. Sellers emphasized that those kinds of actions do not represent nor have the place in the community of the university.
“While the incident is despicable and disappointing, it will not impact me, or my office’s efforts in continuing to create a diverse, equitable and inclusive University community, one where all members, including our Latinx community, have an opportunity to reach their absolute potential,” stated Dr. Sellers. This is the second incident of racism this year alone at UM. Just a few weeks ago, the university’s President Mark Schlissel informed the UM community of an incident of racist graffiti in a bathroom on campus. Other racist incidents happened last year at UM, and also on Eastern Michigan University’s campus.
The incident on the rock prompted some to call on UM’s leaders to denounce it but also helped shed light on the lack of Latino representation among the university’s leadership.
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“When the incident occurred last week,” said Richard Nunn, an ALMA adviser and UM doctoral student from Monroe, “these offices and administrators provided key allies for us, but had no members from our community in place to provide support.”As it pertains to our nation and the current issues affecting the Latino population, Nunn addresses an even greater issue when considering the representation of the Latino people in our current governmental ruling. “Our nation’s president continues to spread messages of hate but helps us realize that too many others share his horrific views; any assumption that some of whom are not members of our university community would be naive,” continued Nunn. After the incident, a group repainted the rock with a large message that states, “Latinx belongs.”