UConn students outraged after Spirit Rock “Black Lives Matter” message defaced

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Students at the University of Connecticut are expressing their shock and disappointment over the vandalization of the campus Spirit Rock near North Garage, which was painted a month ago with the words “Black Lives Matter” and was then altered to read “All Lives Matter.” 

Kamau Russell, a seventh-semester chemical engineering and Spanish major, said he felt disappointed when he heard about the vandalism of the campus Spirit Rock and how counterintuitive the act was.  

“Never, not once, has ‘Black Lives Matter’ been a statement of superiority … it just means we want to be acknowledged and that we have a presence here.” Russell said. “To have someone completely try and disregard and not acknowledge that movement and [cross] it out with ‘All Lives Matter’ is like a protest to a protest. It just seems very incendiary and unnecessary.” 

One anonymous student on Reddit stated there was tension on campus, and that the “us versus them mentality”  is being stoked further by universities across the country. 

“In the end, obviously someone has stoked some flames by covering up part of the rock and changing the meaning purposefully, although we can’t know exactly what was in their head they clearly knew it would cause backlash,” the student said. 

“Never, not once, has ‘Black Lives Matter’ been a statement of superiority … it just means we want to be acknowledged and that we have a presence here.”

Emma Stierle, a third-semester women, gender and sexuality studies major, said she wanted the vandals to know that “the UConn community doesn’t tolerate racism and as UConn has said in past emails, we stand with the Black Lives Matter movement.” 

Colt Nichols, a seventh-semester electrical and biomedical engineering major, and Omar Gebril, a seventh-semester psychology and Islamic civilizations major, both repaired the defaced Spirit Rock in the late afternoon on Sunday. 

Gebril said at first he didn’t believe it, but found the vandalism incredibly disheartening to see. 

“This is essentially the simplest form of peaceful protest there is,” Nichols said. “It’s quite frustrating to be honest that someone had that big of an issue with ‘Black Lives Matter’ that they felt the need to take time out of their day [to do that].” 

Nichols said his initial reaction was that he saw the message as one of hate. 

“Definitely, when righteous movements like this one take to peaceful forms of protest … hateful people see easy targets,” Nichols said. “The way I feel is no matter who you are, the Black Lives Matter thing isn’t just a racial issue, it’s a human issue.” 

Patrick Paul, a seventh-semester chemical engineering major, said in his opinion, the statement “Black Lives Matter” means “Black Lives Matter too.” He explained that, throughout history, Black people have been marginalized, oppressed, dehumanized and exploited since the transatlanic slave trade all the way up to present. 

“I think that Black Lives Matter means that Black Lives do matter in and of themselves,” Paul said. “If people see what’s happening in our communities, how families are being broken, people are being jailed mercilessly, people are being exploited, people are still living in poverty … I feel that it’s more of a call to action.” 

The university, as well as other campus organizations, have issued statements in regards to the vandalism. 

In a Twitter statement, UConn President Tom Katsouleas said, “Someday in an ideal world maybe all lives will matter equally, but for too long black lives have suffered discrimination and racism. I’m sorry to see our Spirit Rock altered as it was today, and the insensitivity to that context that it represents.” 

Dr. Tuitt and the Office for Diversity and Inclusion (ODI) also issued a statement over Twitter. 

Fresh paint drys on the spirit rock to cover vandalism visible on the morning of Sept. 20. The vandal had spray painted over the existing “Black Lives Matter” to read “All Lives Matter.” Photo by Kevin Lindstrom/The Daily Campus

“ODI is aware that the Black Lives Matter statement painted on the spirit rock was defaced and altered to read ‘All Lives Matter.’ This incident has been reported to the appropriate offices and we will be looking into the matter further,” the statement read. “This act of Anti-Blackness will not deter the growing number of community members committed to racial justice from moving forward with our efforts to make UConn a more inclusive and equitable institution. Ironically, the decision to whiteout ‘Black’ and replace it with ‘All’ reinforces exactly why there is a need to have a Black Lives Matter statement in the first place.” 

The Undergraduate Student Government (USG) stated that they were “disgusted, disturbed and disappointed to see the Spirit Rock vandalized.” 

“USG stands with the Black Community, and the Black students who were targeted yesterday,” the statement said. “We are heartened to see that it only took a few hours for undergraduates Omar Gebril and Colt Nichols to repaint the Rock, and the Student Body to reaffirm that Black Lives Matter.” 

Paul said he thinks the vandalism is part of a widespread problem and said the university’s reluctance to address these issues reflects that. He said the incidents on campus are part of a greater societal problem and people are not speaking up and talking about it. 

“Sometimes a common response is ‘Why does everything have to be about race?’” Paul said. “It’s not about race, it’s about injustice. Black Lives Matter isn’t a political issue, it’s a human rights issue.” 

Paul said that he believed that “All Lives Matter” is a blanket statement, and on a surface level it is an acceptable one. The problem, he explained, was that it was now used as an attack on “Black Lives Matter.” 

“‘All Lives Matter,’ the way it’s used now, is as an attack. And that’s why I’m so torn between it, because in my heart I do feel that. But the way it’s used, the way society uses it, that’s not what I think it is,” Paul said. “I think that [if] we just took the time to learn to love each other, accept each other, and understand each other then we can definitely start moving forward.” 

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