EWU and Student Leaders Respond to Racist Graffiti, Stickers on EWU Campus

EWU and Student Leaders Respond to Racist Graffiti, Stickers on EWU Campus

By Cannon Barnett, Reporter

Members of Eastern Washington University’s Black Student Union were greeted by a racial slur on the afternoon of April 11th as they looked at the mirror after their weekly dance practice.

“It was intentional, and it was almost like a threat, and it was intimidating,” Sierra Alexander, the president of the BSU said. “It was really, really disappointing, but I was not surprised because… I won’t say it’s common, but things like this happen on campus.”

Alexander and the other BSU members immediately called the building manager, who brought campus police with him.

University police conducted a walkthrough of the dance studio and stated that there were no cameras or locks on doors. There is currently an investigation focused on nailing down a timeline of events and seeing who may have had access to the space throughout the day. 

“As far as the law in Washington state is concerned, it is a crime from a malicious mischief standpoint and graffiti,” said Jewell Day, Chief of University Police. “The fact that it used derogatory terminology that’s associated with a specific group of individuals elevates it, for lack of a better phrase.”

As of April 20th, Chief Day said that there are no suspects for this graffiti.

Recently, stickers advertising white supremacy groups have been spotted across the state, some making their way onto EWU’s campus. Taken together, the incidents have prompted responses from EWU leadership and made many students feel unsafe.

The BSU posted a photograph of the graffiti onto their instagram with a request for University president Shari McMahan and the Office of Diversity and Inclusion to “make a statement condemning anti-blackness.”

McMahan sent out a campus wide email the same day, referencing the upcoming Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) week and stating that “hate is not welcome here.”

Alexander said that the BSU felt this email was “weak and general.”

“It did not address racism. It did not address anti-blackness. It did not address social justice, and if you don’t know what’s going on, you would have no idea if you were to read that statement,” Alexander said. “It kind of piggybacked off of DEI week, and that’s frustrating because this has nothing to do with DEI week — it is very coincidental.”

The president has since reached out to the BSU, and specifically addressed the graffiti incident in her keynote speech on April 17th. 

“[The graffiti] is a solemn reminder that even in the state of Washington — a fairly progressive state — the work is not done. We have a long way to go,” McMahan said. “Myself, the executive leadership team, and the campus community stand in solidarity with all those affected by these unacceptable acts.” 

Alexander said that she no longer feels safe in the dance studio. 

“When it comes to safety on campus, do I feel physically safe? Yes, I don’t think Eastern is inherently dangerous. Do I feel comfortable on campus? No, really, I don’t feel comfortable on campus. Do I feel supported? Sometimes.” Alexander said. 

Alexander said that she thinks that had the BSU not gone public with the graffiti, there would not have been such a public response.

“[Support] seems to be very hit or miss with administration, especially when it comes to issues like this. It seems like there’s a public response that the university gives, and then there’s a private response that we feel,” Alexander said. “Publicly, we feel supported, we feel like they are doing everything. Privately, sometimes that is just not the case.” 

Dr. Shari Clarke, inaugural vice president for diversity and Senior Diversity Officer at EWU, has been on the forefront of the university’s response to the incident. She has helped to arrange an action plan which includes a meeting between the BSU, the President’s office and the leadership team, and a campus community conversation with BSU members, black faculty, and black community leaders. 

Clarke and Chief Day are also looking into increasing security in the dance studio to help students feel safer.

“No learning is going to take place in an environment where you’re not comfortable. You can’t go into the classroom and relax. You can’t be comfortable taking notes. You can’t listen to your professor if you’re afraid for your life and you don’t know who’s targeting you every step of the way,” Clarke said. 

Chief Day encourages anyone who sees advertisements for hate groups to contact the university police department.

“I think [the graffiti and adverts] are definitely a symptom of what’s happening in society. Whenever you turn on the TV or listen to the radio, there is something going on that’s been anti-blackness, anti-LGBTQ, anti-Hispanic/Latino,” Clarke said. “It’s just permeating throughout society, and people are emboldened by that.”

Clarke says that EWU’s actions in the past and future speak to an ability to resist allowing “ugliness to come in.”

“We’re going to say boldly, that’s not who we are. We are not allowing this. And we are standing up to this. This is still a good place for students to come.” Clarke said.

Alexander urges her fellow students to show up to BSU events and be vocal about their support for black students.

“If people think that other people are not supporting us, then it kind of just gives, quite honestly, racists a platform, and it gives them the assurance that they can do these things and not have much of a backlash,” Alexander said.