University of Connecticut students awoke to another instance of vandalism in a public space Tuesday morning, as the spirit rock, which was painted Monday night, was vandalized, with words like “racism” and “black” crossed out with gold paint.
Residential Assistants for Social Justice painted the spirit rock Monday night, covering the rock in black paint. White paint was used to write messages on either side of the rock, with one side reading “Racism: In Storrs Now” and the other reading, “Black Lives Matter” underneath a fist. By morning, the words “racism” and “black” were painted over.
The vandalism resulted in a plethora of condemnations from students, many of whom said that the incident could only be looked at as a racist act.
“The implications of this incident are so clear that I refuse to entertain the notion that there were any motivations other than anti-black sentiments behind the defacing of the original message,” Tyler S. Williams, who posted photos of the rock before and after the vandalism to Facebook, said.
UConn Spokesperson Stephanie Reitz said that university administrators and police are reviewing the incident.
“UConn administrators and police learned today of the change to the original message painted on the rock and are reviewing it,” Reitz said.
The incident comes just over a month after a traveling art exhibit by Rachel Lee Smith on queer youths was vandalized with messages left on the pictures such as “god hates the gays.” That incident led to the organization of a rally against hate speech and discrimination called “UConn Speak OUT.”
“Every day, small acts of hate threaten (student’s) safety and silence them from being open about their experiences,” Michelle Ma, an organizer for the event, said.
Alec Summerfield, a member of RAs for Social Justice, said that just 12 hours had passed between painting the rock and discovering that it had been vandalized.
“We painted the rock last night around 9 (p.m.), and before 10 a.m. parts of the message had been painted over,” Summerfield said.
Summerfield also suggested that the vandalism was indicative of widespread racism at UConn, and that the specificity of the vandalism, painting over only the words “black” and “racism,” indicated that the perpetrators intended to attack African Americans at UConn.
“I think the event absolutely shows widespread racism here at UConn,” Summerfield said. “Spraying over ‘black’ shows that many have an attitude that black lives do not matter.”
This is not the first time the spirit rock has been involved in a racially charged incident. In September 2014, fraternity Pi Kappa Alpha and sorority Alpha Kappa Alpha were involved in a verbal altercation over the spirit rock. Members of AKA were allegedly called racial and sexist slurs by members of Pi Kappa Alpha, and were placed on probation as a result of the incident and lost recognition from the university in March.
Summerfield indicated that the incident serves as a powerful wake-up call to people living at UConn that racism still exists and is still a threat to the student body.
“We have convinced ourselves racism is over, which simply isn’t true and is shown here every day,” Summerfield said.