The Blue & Gray Press

The University of Mary Washington Student Newspaper

Covering of spirit rock’s anti-racist message sparks fear

5 min read

After the rock was painted with the phrase "Keep the same energy," an unknown person spray painted "The end was nigh" on top of it. | Abigail Weber, The Blue & Gray Press

by DAVID STROBACH

Staff Writer

On March 13 the UMW NAACP held an emergency meeting after the spirit rock was painted over with a message that said “the end was nigh,” covering the Social Justice and Leadership Summit Subcommittee message of “Keep the Same Energy.” Some students were afraid that the message was a threat to students of color. 

After the rock was painted with the phrase “Keep the same energy,” an unknown person spray painted “The end was nigh” on top of it. | Abigail Weber, The Blue & Gray Press

“When the Social Justice and Leadership Summit Subcommittee decided to paint the rock it was exciting because it was like a reminder that people on campus are still caring about the same issues that we were just fighting for last summer and more,” said Irene Andrade, junior psychology major and co-president of the Latino Student Association. “We were literally trying to ‘Keep the Same Energy’ as we had during the summer. When I saw the message vandalized over my friends’ work it was disrespectful and disappointing.”

Some may say the message is not that serious as it was written on the one year anniversary of students being sent home because of the pandemic. 

When students were sent home due to COVID-19 concerns on March 11, 2020, the rock was painted with “The end is nigh.” | Kate Seltzer, The Blue & Gray Press

“To preface this, I truly respect all the activist groups on campus and fully support the changes they are trying to bring to our university. I understand that POC on campus feel that they are not being heard by the university. This is a problem and should be addressed,” said senior political science major Abigail Buchholz. “The message ‘the end [was] nigh’ was painted on the one year [anniversary] of the original ‘end is nigh’ message when we all got sent home from COVID. People have called this painting ‘vandalism’ which makes little sense when the spirit rock’s purpose is to change, and the previous message was already there 24 hours.”

Buchholz is among the students who believe that putting too much focus on the spirit rock could take away from the community’s discussion of other issues.  

“The Spirit Rock and the messages on there are not always an attack. My issue stems from the fact that accusations of racism and discrimination seem to be thrown out on instinct, without consideration or attempts at taking a step back and looking at the whole situation,” said Buchholz. “To take every addition to the spirit rock as a charged message further divides the campus because it shuts down any conversation, as students are too afraid to speak-out out of fear of being called racist. There are issues on our campus that need to be addressed. The Spirit Rock is not where those conversations would be most effectively held. These continuous accusations of racism surrounding new art additions to the Spirit Rock are dividing the campus rather than encouraging healthy, helpful dialogue.”

However, some students strongly believe it was an eerie message and felt threatened because of the fact that the message covered the promotion of a meeting that was conducted to promote the voices of students of color.

“When people started learning about the meaning behind that phrase it became much scarier, and there were students that felt rightfully threatened by it,” said Andrade. “Other students have expressed how these sorts of repeated actions are silencing, and invalidating, Black and students of colors’ voices.” 

Students felt that the erasure of Black voices was part of pattern of racism at UMW, including frequent occurences of stickers from the white supremacist group Patriot Front.

“The timing of the message being painted on the rock is very sudden but depending on who exactly wrote it, is probably intentional what with it being written specifically over the social justice and leadership summit advertisement,” said Cameron Washington, sophomore and assistant secretary of the NAACP at UMW. “What I also have no doubt in being intentional is how there is somewhat of a pattern with both this, the Patriot Front stickers, and other similar occurrences. Overall, I feel it was very disrespectful of whoever wrote the message to have done something like that.”

Once members of the UMW community caught wind of the message, an emergency meeting was held by the UMW NAACP. 

“Students expressed their concerns by asking UMW administration and Chief Hall what they were doing to take action to further protect Black students and students of color at UMW,” said Andrade. “While part of the concerns were about the message on the rock and how it was threatening for students, it still circled back to the more major issue of how UMW is still not doing enough to protect marginalized students and prevent discriminatory actions perpetrated on campus.”  

At the meeting the administration suggested new reforms.

“The administration and Chief Hall seemed to commit to taking more action and taking more preventative measures like communicating better on topics regarding student safety, implementing more on diversity education, and revising investigative measures. There was also a commitment to continuing this discussion on what needs to change and how,” said Andrade.  

Some minority students are tired and believe administration doesn’t always follow through on their commitments.

“Usually what would happen is that we would get an incident, we would have that discussion, then about a week to a month later it would fall to the way side until it gets left behind, then rinse and repeat,” said Washington. “We stressed that this cycle needs to end and that action needs to be enforced in order for the trust of students to be gained. Action needs to be taken against the people that do these things and ultimately they need to ensure the safety of multicultural students.”

Washington stressed his belief on what may have prompted the message.

“I have nothing to say to the specific people who wrote the message or have taken part in the other incidents. But I do have something to say in regards to their ideology, White Supremacy,” he said. “Aside from my personal contempt for everything representing that ideology, I feel as though what these individuals are doing is disrespectful, but also built on cowardice. They are doing these things as a way of being quiet and covert about their dogma. It is my wish for these individuals to be brought to justice (TRUE justice without being protected) and for the ideology to be purged for good piece by piece.” 

Andrade wants students to feel safe on campus and free to reach out to UMW Multicultural Clubs.

“[Multicultural Clubs] are always here for students and are always willing to create spaces where students who are feeling that way can come and talk about it. MLC students commonly do it for each other. Anyone who might be feeling that way is always welcome to reach out for any reason,” said Andrade. 

Since the controversial “the end was nigh” message, the spirit rock has been painted over twice, once for the UMW Boxing club and once for awareness of sexual assault.

As of publication, the rock is currently painted black and pink with the phrase “Hold men accountable.” | Josephine Johnson, The Blue & Gray Press

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