Hours after a Latinx group of incoming freshmen painted an iconic rock near University of Michigan’s campus last week, it was painted over with racist comments directed at the Latino community.
The rock, located off campus at Washtenaw Avenue and Hill Street in Ann Arbor, was painted by 35 freshmen Thursday in UM’s Assisting Latinos to Maximize Achievement (ALMA), a group that recruits and supports Latino students at the university. The freshmen were on campus in workshops before UM begins classes Tuesday.
Phrases the students painted on the rock included “ALMA 2017,” “Sí se puede,” a Spanish phrase meaning, yes it can be done, and also “chingon,” Mexican slang to describe something extremely cool.
But by Friday, the rock had been painted over — with phrases including “(expletive Latinos” and “MAGA” (Make America Great Again).
“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 trying to make them feel welcomed and letting them know you really belong here, there was this act of hate.”
UM’s Chief Diversity Officer Robert Sellers issued a statement apologizing for the pain and anger caused by the words.
“These actions do not represent our university and have no place in our community,” Sellers said. “I personally denounce the incident and the individual(s) who painted this hateful message.
“While the incident is despicable and disappointing, it will not impact my, 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.”
The incident on the rock has prompted some to call on UM’s leaders to denounce it but also to address the lack of Latinos among the university’s ranks.
“Our nation’s president continues to spread messages of hate but helps us realize that his horrific views are shared by too many others; any assumption that some of whom are not members of our university community would be naive,” said Richard Nunn, an ALMA adviser and UM doctoral student from Monroe.
“However, even here on campus, our community suffers from severe lack of representation in university leadership positions and even in key offices designed to support and promote diversity.
“When the incident occurred last week,” Nunn continued, “these offices and administrators provided key allies for us, but had no members from our own community in place to provide support.”
This is the second incident of racism this year at UM. A few weeks ago, UM President Mark Schlissel informed the university community of an incident of racist graffiti in a bathroom at the U-M Biological Station near Pellston, Michigan. Other racist incidents happened last year at UM, and also on Eastern Michigan University’s campus.
After the rock had been painted with racist comments, a group repainted over it with a large message, “Latinx belongs.”