Controversy has erupted at the “spirit rock” once again. The Resident Assistants for Social Justice Education had painted a message on the rock stating “Black Lives Matter” on one side and “Racism: In Storrs Now” on the other. Someone altered that message by painting over the word “Black” on one side and the word “Racism” on the other. Many have claimed that this alteration is evidence of racism, while others argue that that may not be the case. Regardless of where one stands on this controversy, the alteration demonstrates a breach of rock painting etiquette and a lack of respect for what other students have painted.
This controversy comes on the heels of an incident in the fall between members of the fraternity Pi Kappa Alpha and the sorority Alpha Kappa Alpha at the spirit rock in which it is reported that some fraternity members engaged in intimidation and use of racial slurs. Together these incidents show the necessity of respect and adherence to guidelines in painting the spirit rock.
The alteration of the spirit rock clearly violates the rock painting guidelines. These guidelines state, “Entire rock must be painted” and “Tagging letters, names, or symbols over other groups’ paintings is prohibited.” These rules make clear that the partial alteration of a message on the rock is prohibited. Students cannot comment on paintings by making alterations; they can only completely paint the rock with a message of their own organization.
The RAs for Social Justice Education had every right to express a message promoting the values of their organization and their decision to paint this message must be respected. Disagreement with the sentiments expressed or dislike of organizations promoted on the rock does not give students an exemption from the rules. It does not matter if you like or dislike an organization promoted on the rock or if you dispute a message left there. We must respect the messages student organizations choose to leave there and should, under no circumstances, comment on these messages by altering them.
The spirit rock is meant to be a forum for student groups to express support for their organizations. It is not an opportunity for students to engage in unhealthy competition, and it is not a forum for argument by alteration. If we commit ourselves to respecting the messages others leave as well as the rules governing painting etiquette, the spirit rock may continue to serve its purpose instead of becoming a lightning rod of campus controversy.