Thursday, October 29, 2020

Racist incidents prompt community discussion, plans for protests on campus

October 24, 2019
Professor of Plant Soil and Microbial Sciences Eunice Foster speaks at a BSA Community Forum at Akers Hall on Oct. 22, 2019.
Professor of Plant Soil and Microbial Sciences Eunice Foster speaks at a BSA Community Forum at Akers Hall on Oct. 22, 2019. —
Photo by Annie Barker | The State News

Two racial bias incidents have occurred on Michigan State’s campus this week. A toilet paper noose was taped to an African American student’s door and a Sona research survey containing racist, xenophobic and homophobic language was released to students.

On Friday, psychology sophomore Iyana Cobbs reported that she received a picture of a toilet paper noose hanging from her dorm room door in Bryan Hall.

“It’s sad that STUDENTS feel like this is ok,” Cobbs wrote in a Facebook post. “There are only 4 black people on this floor. And yes, our door is the ONLY door that had this on there.”

Originally, Residence Education and Housing Services, or REHS, said the incident was not meant to be a “symbol of hate or discrimination” and was just a “Halloween prank” after other residents admitted to causing the incident.

“Students have reported it was a random Halloween prank that caused unintended harm to members of our Bryan Hall community,” REHS wrote in a statement. “We will be following up with those students per University process.”

However, REHS clarified that it will be taking action to “create and maintain an environment that is physically and emotionally safe, respectful and inclusive,” Dr. Ray Gasser, executive director of REHS, said in another email.

Just days after this incident, a Sona research survey was released to students and circulated around the campus community. The survey was on the official MSU Qualtrics site. 

It was supposed to be a psychology experiment, according to the survey description. Its goal was to “evaluate the level of aggressiveness for some statements that have been taken from the popular social media platforms,” but the survey was laced with stereotypes against minorities.

Since 2016, three different incidents at MSU have been reported that have had racist undertones. 

In October 2016, MSU student Reyna Muck posed with someone in a gorilla suit in an Instagram post. The post was intended to mock female African American high school kicker Ashton Brooks. 

Another incident occurred a year later in October 2017, in which a student reported a shoelace noose hanging outside her dorm room in Holden Hall. Yet another incident happened when MSU student Jillian Kirk made racist remarks on her Snapchat in March 2018.

None of the students involved in the incidents were expelled from MSU, though Muck was removed from her sorority, Delta Gamma.

In the wake of these events, concerned MSU students met at a forum on Tuesday to discuss these issues on campus. 

There will also be a protest before the MSU Board of Trustees meeting Friday at 7 a.m. and a peaceful protest Sunday at 11 a.m. to bring these issues to light. Both protests will be outside of the Hannah Administration Building.

MSU is investigating the incidents and working to avoid incidents like this in the future.

“I am terribly sorry for the pain that this has caused to members of our community,” Gasser said in an email. “I have been meeting with student leaders on campus to express my remorse and make amends. We are beginning to work with student leaders to put together a comprehensive action plan to help better manage and communicate situations like this in the future.”

At the forum, students expressed their concerns and spoke about their experiences with discrimination and racism on campus.

Students said they believe the university shouldn’t wait until an incident happens to try to enact change.

“This needs to be taken just as serious as sexual assault on campus,” attendee Shenia Cocks said. “We do not have the same resources as they do to help us get through these difficult situations.”

A timeline of racist incidents of MSU's campus since 2016

October 2016

MSU student Reyna Muck posed with someone in a gorilla suit to mock Ashton Brooks, a female African American high school kicker. 

Muck attended a high school football game between Midland Dow and Midland high schools. She posted a picture on Instagram with someone in a gorilla suit, captioning the picture: “Got a pic with Dows kicker.”

Muck was removed from her sorority, Delta Gamma, and went to Twitter to express her anger toward the decision. 

It’s unclear whether or not Muck was expelled from MSU.

October 2017

A student reported discovering a noose hanging outside her dorm room in Holden Hall. MSU Police reported that the noose was a leather shoelace lost by a student who happened to live on the same floor. 

Police believe someone found the shoe lace and put it on the stairwell door. 

The student was not disciplined for the incident.

March 2018

MSU sophomore Jillian Kirk made racist comments on her Snapchat, regularly using the N-word and bragging about “bullying r------” (a slur aimed at people who are developmentally disabled) at her school. 

After backlash, Kirk issued an emailed apology. 

She was never expelled from MSU.

Oct. 18, 2019

Iyana Cobbs received a text message with a picture of a toilet paper noose attached to her door in Bryan Hall. 

She is one of only four black students on the floor. Other student residents came forward and admitted the toilet paper was supposed to be a “Halloween prank” and was not intended to resemble a noose. 

The investigation is still ongoing.

Oct. 21, 2019

A Sona survey was released on the MSU Qualtrics site using slurs and stereotypes against minority groups.

The survey stated it was intended to “evaluate the level of aggressiveness for some statements that have been taken from the popular social media platforms.”

Students took to social media to criticize the university for allowing the survey to happen. The issue is still ongoing.

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