“So hate speech on the rock, according to (Michigan State University’s) definition of harassment, is free speech," Cameron Lochrie, chemical engineering senior and member of TransAction MSU and MSU Alliance, said.
Since May 21, the Michigan State University landmark has been defaced six to seven times with the same message, “Boycott your DEI Training.”
Diversity, equity and inclusion, or DEI, training was introduced as a university requirement this year as a result of advocacy efforts from the Council of Racial and Ethnic Students, or CORES, and the Council of Progressive Students, or COPS.
“To see it be dismissed is a direct attack at the actual years of work we’ve put in trying to get it into place,” Lochrie said. “And the fact that it's only painted over pride month celebrations, celebrations of survivors, calls to free Palestine, I don’t believe it is a coincidence.”
Since Friday, June 4, multiple student organizations have come together to protect the rock including MSU Alliance, TransAction MSU and the Black Student Alliance, or BSA.
These groups are also calling upon the university and President Samuel Stanley with the message, “STANLEY: SILENCE = COMPLICITY,” which was painted on the back of the Rock on Farm Lane.
“The longer and longer the university administration stays silent on this issue, the more and more clear it becomes what side they are actually on,” Lochrie said.
One of the primary goals has been to change the university definition of harassment to “something that is actually functional in situations like these,” Lochrine said.
The university “prohibits discrimination and harassment on the basis of race, ethnicity, color, national origin, sex, disability, religion, age, gender, gender identity, disability, height, marital status, political persuasion, sexual orientation, veteran status, or weight in its programs and activities,” according to its Anti-Discrimination Policy, or ADP.
It defines discrimination and harassment as, “verbal or non-verbal conduct that is threatening, harassing, intimidating, discriminatory or hostile and is based on a category protected under the ADP,” according to the Residence Education and Housing Services’ website, LiveOn.
University officials, including Stanley and Jabbar Bennett, MSU's chief diversity officer, have cited this definition in the justifications of their inaction.
“While offensive, this specific vandalism does not constitute targeted harassment or threat to our students or employees, so it was not removed as it could violate freedom of speech protections,” Bennett said in an email after consulting with MSUPD and Infrastructure Planning and Facilities.
TransAction MSU and MSU Alliance have been working to change this definition since Trans Day of Visibility on March 31, 2020.
According to GLSEN, a New York-based LGBTQ+ advocacy group that provides research and inclusive education policies across the country, “the day is dedicated to celebrating the accomplishments of transgender and gender nonconforming people while raising awareness of the work that still needs to be done to achieve trans justice."
“TransAction painted the rock for Trans Day of Visibility," Lochrie said. "Later that day, it was defaced with some of the most violent hate speech I have ever had the extreme discomfort of reading.”
When the group went to the university for support, they were told that the language“didn’t fit their definition of harassment” and there was nothing that could be done.
After continuous pressure, MSU released a statement written by TransAction on the Residence Halls Association, or RHA, Instagram page.
“It was really, really heartbreaking to see the complete lack of university support,” Lochrie said.
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They hope that, with the combined efforts of the student organizations that have stood up so far and the traction of their social media campaigns, progress is on the horizon.
Right now they are writing an ordinance they hope to pass that would set ground rules for usage of the rock, including one that would ban its use as a “vehicle for hate speech,” according to Lochrie.
MSU Alliance and TransAction MSU are hosting a press conference June 26 to continue to bring awareness. The event will start at The Rock, where they will then walk to the Hannah Administration Building, where the conference will take place.
“Right now, people are being exposed to hate speech," Lochrie said. "Right now, people are being exposed to harmful rhetoric and if admin isn’t going to do anything about it, who will?”
If you wish to support these organizations, Lochrie recommends helping to keep an eye on The Rock moving forward and to personally contact the university.
“The more people we can get reaching out, the better,” they said.
The group said that people should support marginalized groups in their area by educating themself, watching for and calling out harmful rhetoric and donating to charities like MSU's LGBT Resource Center and its Unconditional Love Fund, which supports people going through financial hardships as a result of coming out.
Reporter Anna Mizerowski contributed to the reporting of this article.
Editor's Note: This article was updated Thursday evening to reflect that MSU's RHA statement has not been taken down.
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