A poster display put up by the Cultural Union for Black Expression (C.U.B.E) was vandalized twice on Monday, Jan. 18, Martin Luther King Jr. Day. After the posters were taken down once and re-hung, a student took them down again, this time damaging the posters.
The vandalism caused a heated discussion among students and St. Olaf community members, culminating in an apology from the student who vandalized the display. Dean of Students Rosalyn Easton-Neeb emailed the anonymous apology to St. Olaf students and staff on behalf of the student.
According to the email, the student misunderstood the posters, which depicted white protesters holding signs that said “Stop the Race Mixing” and a defaced “Black Lives Matter” slogan, to be attacks on civil rights movements. In actuality, the display was intended to draw connections between the racism that has opposed civil rights movements throughout history.
Much like the student involved, Easton-Neeb feels that there is a larger racial issue on campus.
“I felt sick to my stomach. My initial thought was it was someone who saw something commemorating [Martin Luther King Jr.] Day and they felt they needed to pull down the pictures,” Eaton-Neeb said. “When I found out what the student felt, I got it.”
St. Olaf is continually trying to find ways to become less racially fragmented, with initiatives and organizations such as C.U.B.E. and Sustained Dialogue, which address different identity issues on campus. St. Olaf prides itself in being a community of learning and growth, and the display was intended to challenge students.
“This is reality, it happened in the ’60s, and, yes, it happened in the ’50s and the ’40s, but guess what? It’s still happening now, the pictures may look a little different, but not very,” Eaton-Neeb said.
The intent of the student vandal was widely misunderstood.
“We are allowed to disagree here,” Eaton-Neeb responded, “but being destructive is not okay.”
Ultimately, the response to the incident was positive. Email responses to the student’s apology were kind and understanding.
The student that tore down the posters, who wishes to remain anonymous, reflected on the difficulties of being a student of color at St. Olaf.
“We aren’t surrounded by people like us,” the student said. “We just don’t get the support we need.”
For many students at St. Olaf, racial issues aren’t present in everyday life. But for students of color, being outnumbered almost 42 to 1 by their white counterparts is intimidating.
“It is not an integrated campus,” the student said, after listing many statistics about the racial and ethnic makeup of the St. Olaf student body. Feeling outnumbered has only amplified the tensions students of color feel.
The student remarked that there are problems with St. Olaf’s racial climate.
“People are intimidated,” the student said. “People are scared of us.”
The student wished to issue the following statement. “I am sorry for the misunderstanding and my destructive actions. But I still feel that they should not have been put up, no matter who put them up, no matter what reason.”