By Kristen Griffith (Whetstone Staff Writer)
Black Student Union president Evan Le’Mon heard from other BSU members that some white students had torn down his organization’s fliers two days before the first meeting of the semester.
Although no students were identified, Le’Mon said the news angered him.
“You can’t just silence people because you don’t agree with their message,” he said.
BSU posted fliers advertising their first meeting around campus and on social media, including its first topic, “black lives matter,” followed by words written by others on social media.
The flier read, “Yes all lives matter but we’re focused on the black ones right now, ok? Because it is very apparent that our judicial system doesn’t know that. Plus, if you can’t see why we’re exclaiming #BlackLivesMatter you are part of the problem.”
The flier stirred up controversy among some students and school officials about the tone of the words.
BSU Professor Charlisa Edelin immediately heard from the dean of student affairs and the president of the college.
Edelin said Dean Wanda Anderson emailed her asking that she and President Robert Clark to meet with the organization’s board members Feb.2, four days after the flier appeared.
Edelin said Anderson wanted to understand the goal of the flier, and whether its wording was the best way to reach a wide audience.
“She made it very clear that they didn’t want us to change the flier, and they didn’t ask us to,” Edelin said.
Le’Mon said the flier wasn’t hostile, but honest.
“They wanted to advise us, for future reference, to make our fliers more inviting,” he said. “If we tone it down and make it so it’s a message that’s easy to swallow, that is when it gets ignored.”
BSU researcher Monisola Olowere said Clark and Anderson thought the last sentence, “Plus, if you can’t see why we’re exclaiming #BlackLivesMatter you are part of the problem,” might offend people.
“If it offends you, then the flier is stating a fact – you have an issue with Black Lives Matter,” she said.
Le’Mon said people could respond to the last sentence two different ways.
“You can talk about it and work it out, or you can get defensive and brush it off,” he said. “Tearing down fliers is their way of brushing it off.”
Edelin said she understands how the last sentence can be offensive to some.
“It tells someone if you don’t agree with us then you have a problem,” she said. “They [BSU] want to have an open discussion, but if you tell the people, ‘you are the problem,’ then they’re not going to want an open discussion.”
Edelin said some of students in her classes said they didn’t agree with BSU as a whole.
“They said it serves as an exclusionary group, and I think they’re wrong on that,” she said.
Freshman Ciarra Ware, a white student, said she agrees with the flier.
“I think some people need to open their minds because it’s clear that it’s the truth,” she said.
She said she spoke with people who were offended by the first sentence that said, “Yes, all lives matter but we’re focused on the black ones right now, ok?”
“I don’t think they’re open-minded enough to see that it’s true, because white privilege is a thing,” she said.
Freshman Emily Kinsey, who is also white, said the flier didn’t offend her when she saw it in her dorm.
“I think it makes sense,” she said. “If you don’t know that there’s obvious issues going on, then you are a problem.”
This isn’t Olowere’s first flier controversy.
“This is the second time a flier issue happened to me on this campus,” she said.
Olowere is also the Vice President of the Multicultural Student Union. That organization was forced to add, “Everyone is welcome,” to their fliers because it was accused of being exclusive.
On the day of BSU’s first meeting, Olowere said she witnessed one of her Twitter followers talking about their flier.
Senior Bianca Walkes, a black student, tweeted, “The flier ya’ll made was hella offensive,” Feb. 3.
Olowere said she told her to attend the meeting at 7 p.m. that day. Other board members also tweeted to Walkes telling her to attend the meeting as well.
She attended the meeting.
Olowere said Walkes said the flier wasn’t inviting.
“She couldn’t tell what message we were trying to get across to other fellow students,” she said.
Le’Mon said he respected Walkes came and voiced her opinion at the meeting.
“We understood where she was coming from, and she understood where we were coming from.”
Walkes said she did not want to be interviewed.
Le’Mon said the flier did what it was supposed to do.
“Even though there was a negative response, it got people talking,” he said.