Graffiti on the rock in Kresge courtyard sparks controversy – and discussion – at Bethel

By Abby Petersen

The Brushaber Commons went silent as Chief Diversity Office Ruben Rivera walked onto the atrium platform.

“I’ve been here 19 years and I’ve never seen this,” Rivera said, gesturing to the crowd that spread up the atrium stairs, around the balcony and out the doors to Kresge courtyard.

Sept. 28 dawned with protests in the courtyard after the rock in the center, typically spray painted for campus activities, was painted during the night with the message “Blue Lives Matter” and “BLM (Black Lives Matter) = racist.” The message covered a Black Lives Matter message another group painted on the rock Sept. 26 in response to recent shootings of unarmed black men by police and an incident at the University of Northwestern, about three miles from Bethel.

The graffiti remains at 10:15 a.m. Sept. 28 as students protest around it. The sign next to it read “We ask that Facilities Management does not paint over this.” | Photo by Abby Petersen

A group of students responded the following morning by wearing all black and holding signs protesting the spray-painted message.

“We may have different views and disagree, but you do not get to paint over what I believe,” sophomore biblical and theological studies major Joshua Simms said. 

A sign written by protesters next to the rock asked Facilities Management not to paint over what was written.

Former Bethel student Patience Zalanga held a sign next to the rock saying, “How does this make you feel?” Protesters gave bystanders sticky notes and sharpies to write answers and attach them to the bottom of the sign.

“I just wanted to gauge where people are at.” Zalanga said. “The question ‘how did this make you feel?’ was really important to me because you have to think about how you feel in order to answer it. That’s why I’m out here. Also, because students of color are greater than white feelings. I’m not here for white feelings today, I’m here for students of color who have to see this.”

Patience Zalanga stands in Kresge courtyard Sept. 28 holding a sign that says “How does this make you feel?” Zalanga stood just feet away from the rock at the center of the courtyard painted with the message “Blue Lives Matter.” | Photo by Abby Petersen

The protest came just before 10:15 a.m. chapel in Benson Great Hall, where campus pastor Laurel Bunker addressed the graffiti and the protest.

“Listen to me very carefully, because I’m saying this to you as your pastor: Black Lives Matter, however you feel about it, does not equal hatred of police officers,” Bunker said. “As a person who is related to over a dozen police officers, as a young woman from the community, and as a Christian, it is our job to stand in the middle sometimes and listen.” 

The controversy sparked campus-wide attention from faculty, staff and students. A faculty discussion over email invited everyone who wished to show solidarity against the message on the rock to meet in the atrium at 2:40 p.m. Students supporting the movement passed out flyers encouraging the Bethel community to attend.

By 2:50 p.m., the crowd spilled out the doors to the Kresge courtyard and late-arrivals struggled to find a vantage point from the balcony.

Bethel students, faculty and staff gather in the Brushaber Commons Sept. 28 to address messages painted on a rock in the Kresge Courtyard. | Photo by Nathan Klok

“Black lives, they matter here!” alumni Danny Givens chanted, encouraging the crowd to join.

Supporters holding signs that said “Philando was killed five minutes away” and “Jesus was NOT white” flanked the atrium stairs.

“If I’m in chains, you’re in chains,” senior Will Kah shouted. “This is us for us.”

Additional reporting by Callie Schmidt.
Protesters stand on the atrium steps while alumni Danny Givens addresses the crowd. | Photo by McKenzie Van Loh


Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.