Student receives hate speech on white board outside dorm room, university responds
When Detroit sophomore Yasmeen Duncan returned to her dorm in Sweeney Hall Nov. 7, the words "Fuck u monkey black whores" had been written on the whiteboard outside her room.
Duncan had just returned from eating dinner at Merrill Residential Restaurant; her roommate, Detroit senior Helen Egwu was at Sweeney Hall's Hall Council meeting and her other roommate, Detroit sophomore Rebecca Rose, was attending the opening night of a theatre production at Central Michigan University.
Duncan took a photo of the phrase on the whiteboard, erased it and sent the photo to her roommates and told them to come home immediately.
When Egwu, Sweeney Hall's inclusion assistant, arrived, she suggested Sweeney Residence Hall Director Tim Popma get involved. He met the women at their room and asked if they wanted to make a complaint to the police.
Rose said she didn't receive the photo from Duncan initially and returned home to see a police car outside Sweeney Hall.
“Immediately there was this feeling (when I walked into my room) like somebody had died," Rose said.
By noon Nov. 8, Central Michigan University President Robert Davies, the Office of LGBTQ Services and the CMU chapter of the NAACP released statements on the incident.
"I assure you racism, misogyny, bigotry and hatred will not be tolerated on this campus," Davies' email read. "Many leaders, offices and teams across campus are involved in investigating this, determining our next steps and supporting those affected and our entire university community."
Davies also met with the victims to discuss what action should be taken in the coming days.
Duncan said CMU's Office of Civil Rights and Institutional Equity has reached out to the women and will investigate the situation and that the CMU police department will, as well. Interviews will take place between those who live in the hall and CMUPD and camera footage of the residence hall entryways, exits and staircases will be reviewed.
Tony Voisin, associate vice president of Student Affairs, said cameras are not allowed in residence hall hallways due to privacy laws.
Duncan said the officer who responded to the complaint was helpful in explaining that the situation would best be investigated by CMU's Office of Civil Rights and Institutional Equity, but didn't help in trying to comfort the women.
Duncan said he didn't want to leave until the women had said everything they wanted to say, so she told the officer she wasn't surprised the incident happened, but she was surprised the incident happened where she lived. He responded by saying he understood what it's like to have to develop thick skin, as he has received threats for being a police officer.
"Helen said 'I’m sorry to interrupt you. I mean no offense, but I’m black. I cannot take that off.'" Duncan said. "'You can take your badge off every single day and nobody will know you’re a police officer. But every day I walk around with my skin and that’s means for someone to do something demeaning to me.”
The officer apologized. CMU Chief of Police Bill Yeagley did so, as well. Yeagley said the interaction could have gone differently, but that other than the comment that was made, he felt as though the situation was handled as well as possible.
"Is (the message) a crime?" Yeagley said. "No."
He elaborated, saying the message doesn't fit Michigan's definition of a hate crime or ethnic intimidation.
"But just because it isn't a crime doesn't mean it's okay," Yeagley said. "Somebody knows who did this and we need to hold (the perpetrator) accountable according to (CMU) policies."
These guidelines, Voisin said, are outlined by OCRIE as the university's nondiscrimination policy and equal opportunity and affirmative action protocol.
The breach of policy was felt heavily by the three women: the message on their whiteboard held a degree of racism they had never experienced.
“Initially I didn’t know what to feel," Rose said. "I’ve experienced judgement before, not so much discrimination. More people being hesitant of me because of my color, but I had never experienced blatant racism before.”
Duncan said Egwu had decided to spend time away from home for the day to process the situation.
“I think it hit Helen the hardest because she’s devoted her whole four years to living in Sweeney and she’s really heavily a part of the community, being an inclusion assistant all of her years here," Rose said. "It’s her last semester, and having that be the thing that (she) leaves with? I don’t want to speak her story, but that for me felt so much more hurtful than what I was going through.”
The CMU chapter of the NAACP tweeted that it will hold a press conference at 8 p.m. in Sweeney Hall Nov. 8 in response to the incident. However, the sit-in was organized without the victims' knowledge.
"People have been telling us there’s going to be a sit-in here and we didn’t even know. I'm a little upset," Duncan said. "If someone is doing something about something that has happened to me and the people I care about, I’d like to know.”
Rose felt similar, adding that organizing an event in their hall without informing them felt like an ambush.
Despite their hesitation, both Duncan and Rose will attend the sit-in. Duncan is planning to speak at the event, while Rose intends to attend for support.
Rose said students shouldn't take a negative message away from the situation.
“Don’t use this as an opportunity to say ‘Central Michigan (University) isn’t for me.' Use this as motivation to say, ‘This is where I belong. I shouldn’t have to, but I’m going to prove why I belong here,'" she said. "There are so many more people here that want us to be here than those that don’t. They just need to know that this is here, this is happening."