Less than two hours after the verdict of the Darren Wilson case was announced in Ferguson, Missouri, on Nov. 24, more than 200 MICA students, as well as members of the administration, faculty, and Campus Safety gathered in an overflowing lecture hall in the new Leake Hall residence building to discuss the recent discovery of graffiti etched into the wall of one of the building’s elevators, reading “kill black people” and, separately, the word “negros.”
The graffiti was discovered on Thursday and was reported to the college around midnight Friday morning, according to an email the MICA administration sent to residents of Leake Hall the following afternoon.
“I heard about the graffiti on Friday afternoon during a Black Student Union meeting and right before our Candle Light Vigil and Spoken Word [for Ferguson],” wrote Briana Arrington, president of MICA’s Black Student Union, in an email after the Monday night meeting. “When one of the members told me I couldn’t believe it but, the pain in her eyes was all the proof I needed.”
The newly installed MICA president, Samuel Hoi—who was out of the country at the time of the report and the meeting—sent an email Monday afternoon to the entire student body addressing the graffiti. By that point, the news had already reached most students through social media.
“The message clearly goes against the very fabric of what this community believes in,” Hoi wrote. “MICA’s Core Values include Diversity, Respect, and Fairness as central to who we are and this incident violates these expectations.”
The president also wrote that the college took immediate action, sending additional Campus Safety officers to patrol the building and launching an investigation of the vandalism.
To elaborate on this investigation, the director of Campus Safety, Stephen Davis, responded to questions at the meeting Monday night. He said that Campus Safety reviewed the vandalized surface for the possibility of fingerprints, which, as of Monday night, had not been found. Officers are also reviewing security video footage and conducting interviews with potential witnesses. Campus Safety also met with the Baltimore City Police Department in order to determine how to move forward in conducting the investigation.
Arrington asked why the administration had not communicated with the entire student body until Monday afternoon. In response, the interim vice president for student affairs, Michael Z. Patterson, stated that the administration had met after receiving the report to make a calculated decision on how and when to communicate with the campus.
“I’m not telling you we made the right decision,” Patterson said, welcoming criticism from the students in attendance. “We had to ask ourselves, when do you give a microphone to a hateful thought?”
In a forum led by Nikki Hendricks, vice president of the Black Student Union, students voiced concerns over the difficulty students of color face having their voices heard by the MICA community, as well as the casual racism they frequently encounter from some faculty members and fellow students. The conversation emphasized the importance of communication between the student body and the administration, and between cultural demographics within and outside of MICA. In 2012, only 7 percent of the MICA student body self-identified as black or African-American, and 61 percent self-identified as white.
Throughout the discussion, nearly every question or comment was met with sincere and enthusiastic applause or snaps. Despite the dark and difficult subject of the conversation, weighted more by the news from Ferguson, speakers and audience members delighted in the overwhelmingly large and diverse turnout as well as the openness of the conversation.
“I personally felt scared that my life was endangered,” wrote Arrington of the graffiti message. “Not just as a MICA student but as an American. I wondered, if I were to die, would anyone care? I can honestly say if it was not for the faculty, staff, and the overall MICA community I would still be asking that question. We are truly a family and when someone hurts one of us we will stand up for each other, even when in this case when we were hurt by one of our own.”
At the end of the meeting, audience members signed a letter written by the Black Student Union and read aloud by Micah McClain, a residential advisor of the Office of Diversity Student Advisory Council.
Addressed to the MICA administration, the letter called for a thorough investigation of threats made to students, communication and transparency between the student body and the administration, and increased attention toward the inequalities and alienation faced by students of color. Members of the student body plan to hand-deliver the letter to the administration on Wednesday, Dec. 3.
“We have acknowledged that the ability to coexist is no longer sufficient,” the letter reads. “We are asking for respect, equal representation, and support in endeavoring to educate the MICA population in depth of the African diaspora and its relationship to the Baltimore community.”
The meeting followed a smaller gathering at Cohen Plaza, where students and faculty received the news of the Ferguson verdict and stood for four and a half minutes of silence, as requested by Michael Brown’s parents in remembering the four and a half hours their son’s body laid in the middle of a Ferguson street after being shot and killed by Officer Darren Wilson.
“Collectively, no one could breathe,” Clyde Johnson, the assistant dean of Diversity and Intercultural Development, said at the evening meeting. “There were tears; there were emotions.”
The following Tuesday afternoon, about two dozen MICA students silently stood in protest, spanning the length of the median on Mount Royal Avenue between MICA buildings, dressed in black and carrying black umbrellas, in the image of a funeral procession.