The graffiti wall has long graced the base of Bentley Annex, covered in numerous works of art over its decades of existence; but on Sep. 20, a mural for Kids on Campus was changed into a message with political undertones and stirred up controversy for weeks to come.
Originally an African landscape for the community activism group’s African safari-themed summer camp, it was altered with the phrase “Build the wall,” the weblink “iraqbodycount.org/database” and a hanged figure painted with black paint. The entire graffiti wall was anonymously painted over later that same day with black paint, save the hanged figure and “Build the wall.” New phrases were added in white, including “#blacklivesmatter” and “Racism will not be tolerated.”
Tempers flared over the comments, and fueled the creation of a student organization called the Multicultural Activists Coalition (MAC). Formed to fight intolerance, bigotry and oppression at OU, the group condemned the graffiti in a statement to The New Political.
“The event was a perfect example of intolerance that exists on campus and of the far road ahead that is necessary for our progression,” MAC wrote. “As with the rest of the nation, Ohio University has a long way to go before they can truly claim to be an inclusive place for all.”
A week after the initial graffiti incident, President Roderick McDavis presented an initiative to Student Senate called Cultural Awareness Training for Students, or CATS. It was intended to be a collaboration between all five campus legislative bodies to address the issue of non-inclusivity and allow the bodies to take direct action against racism and discrimination.
CATS has now produced a task force, which has been approved by the President’s Office. Within the next week, members from the five bodies — Student Senate, Graduate Student Senate, Classified Senate, Administrative Senate and Faculty Senate — will be appointed.
MAC said it believes this is not enough.
“Programs such as CATS are necessary to make said change, however, they are only a small component of combatting racism on campus,” MAC wrote. “In addition, it is too early to tell whether or not CATS is even a successful initiative. We would like to see another group formed that can hold CATS accountable to its word in addition to real action happening on the ground.”
Student Senate President Hannah Clouser presented a visualization campaign for the initiative. The campaign consists of wearable buttons with a pledge against racism attached.
“You see all these buttons on people’s backpacks and then it creates natural, organic conversation. You can just say that ‘It just means that I don’t tolerate racism,’” Clouser said. “Don’t just make it students too, get faculty and administrators involved. Our hope is that by starting a grassroots type of movement, action can happen a lot faster.”
One Student Senate member suggested changing the cultural competency requirement, or creating a program similar to Alcohol EDU for cultural competency. In fact, MAC says cultural competency programs are already in the works.
“Professor Theo Hutchinson was able to create the diversity certificate program and implement it into many of his classes,” MAC wrote. “What we would like to see is more, if not all, faculty and staff implementing themes of diversity and culture into their curriculum. This will start conversations concerning race, gender, and sexuality. Although these conversations are necessary, they are only a small part of the solution. We also need action, and those who participate in bigotry to be held accountable.”
Some students have voiced concerns that CATS will create a chilling effect for conservative community members. Student Senate Vice President Courteney Muhl rebuffed these concerns.
“I can’t speak for the CATS task force, but I can reassure anyone concerned that the CATS program and none of the five senates are interested in even attempting to implement a system that would limit free speech,” Muhl said.
The worry stems from the OU administration’s perceived political stance, an issue the Ohio University College Republicans has discussed in recent months. The group called OU’s professors “completely liberal” and denounced the administration’s “politically-correct” agenda.
“The safety and security of the students should be the administration’s first and foremost concern,” MAC wrote. “Boiling it down to a political viewpoint does a disservice to those students. As so we desire to see the administration come out for more support against this type of racial, sexual, and gendered terrorism. This type of terrorism limits the freedom of speech of marginalized groups, for many fear they will face violent repercussions if they come out against said rhetoric.”
MAC’s statement can be read in its entirety here:macresponse