Campus reacts to Blue Lives Matter display replaced by #BlackLivesMatter posters

by Zachary Benjamin and Michael Qian | 5/13/16 7:14am

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Posters that read "You cannot co-opt the movement against state violence to memorialize its perpetrators #blacklivesmatter" were posted over the center board in Collis Center. The left board, reserved by the College Republicans, has copies of the group's letter to College President Phil Hanlon and the Board of Trustees posted to it. Yesterday, the College Republicans Blue Lives Matter display on the reserved board was removed and replaced with Black Lives Matter posters currently on the adjacent board. 

by Katelyn Jones / The Dartmouth Senior Staff

UPDATED: May 18, 2016, at 10:12 a.m.

Friday morning, a display by the College Republicans in the Collis Center for National Police Week featuring the slogan “Blue Lives Matter” was removed and replaced by Black Lives Matter posters.

At around 11 a.m. on Saturday, Collis employees removed the Black Lives Matter posters to allow the College Republicans to repost their display on the reserved board, Collis director Anna Hall wrote in an email.

Currently on the board, the College Republicans have put up signs that read, "We will not be silenced, Blue Lives Matter" and copies of an email sent on Saturday morning to campus addressed to College President Phil Hanlon and the Board of Trustees. The board also has a sign that reads, “Bulletin Board Reserved for the College Republicans. Do not post."

Several Black Lives Matter posters are now on the adjacent board. Those posters read, “You cannot co-opt the movement against state violence to memorialize its perpetrators. #blacklivesmatter.”

On Sunday morning in a campus wide email, Hanlon called the removal of the display "an unacceptable violation of freedom of expression." Hanlon wrote that any students found to be involved would be subject to the College's disciplinary process.

In Hanlon's campus wide email, signed by Hanlon, Provost Carolyn Dever, Dean of the College Rebecca Biron and vice provost for student affairs Inge-Lise Ameer, also mentioned the removal of t-shirts in November from a Black Lives Matter display in Collis. The display included 74 shirts, which symbolized 74 unarmed people who were killed by police in 2015. He wrote that the November incident and the removal of the display on Friday are both a "silencing of free exchange."

Collis staff did not see the content of the display prior to its installment, Hall said, as the staff does not see the content of displays when approving requests, which include a title, requested dates and an optional description.

The College Republicans' request, which included a description, did not contain the phrase "Blue Lives Matter."

Around 11 a.m. Friday, the College Republicans' display was removed and replaced with several posters that read, “You cannot co-opt the movement against state violence to memorialize its perpetrators. #blacklivesmatter.”

Posters were also been put up in Baker-Berry Library in several locations.

Several students, who declined to comment, seated themselves across from the posters. Many students remained in the area until later at night.

The College Republicans have not responded to request for comment.

Hall said that the College Republicans requested and were approved to use the board from May 2 to May 15. She said the board is reserved on a first come first serve basis.

According to Collis' policies, departments and organizations may reserve the board. Displays are limited to two-week periods and must include the name of the sponsoring organization.

Eric Ramsay, associate dean for student life who oversees Collis, said that Collis aimed to support the College Republicans display while also "being responsive to people who wanted increased dialogue."

The adjacent board, in addition to displaying Black Lives Matter posters, has several copies of Hanlon’s statement from last Wednesday regarding the faculty tenure process.

On the copies of Hanlon’s statement, students wrote statements that questioned the tenure process specifically as it relates to faculty of color. Last week, students started a social media campaign using the hashtag #fight4facultyofcolor after English professor Aimee Bahng was denied tenure.

One phrase written over a copy of Hanlon’s statement read, “Black students have been asking for more faculty of color since 1979. Why Hanlon?”

Another statement also asked for an explanation from Hanlon of the recently released results of fall’s campus climate survey.

Mikala Williams ’18, one of the students who replaced the display, said that she and several other students replaced the signs because they felt it reinforced police violence against people of color.

“It was taken down by students and replaced because it actively co-opted a movement that is supposed to comment on police brutality against black individuals in this country,” she said. “It took that and by framing that as ‘Blue Lives Matter,’ it normalizes and naturalizes violence against people of color in this country. And that is not okay. That is in no way okay.”

Several flyers on the original display expressed the slogan “Blue Lives Matter,” a phrase that references the Black Lives Matter movement and has been used to express support for police officers. The posters also listed statistics about police fatalities in the United States, as well as deaths of policemen and firefighters on 9/11.

Friday night, some students also started circulating an email entitled "A Letter to Campus” that criticized the usage of “Blue Lives Matter” as “co-opting a movement intended to protect the livelihood of Black people.” No authors are explicitly named.

“This slogan denies that black bodies are subjected to disproportionate state violence,” the email read. “This has nothing to do with individual police officers.”

The email said that Blue Lives Matter “facilitates the erasure of black lives.” It also said that the goal of removing the display was to show “the severity of the violence people of color face on this campus.”

The College Republicans posted a statement on its Facebook page at 2:18 p.m. on Friday confirming that they put up the original display. They said that they had received approval to post the display in Collis and expressed dismay that other students chose to take it down.

They also said they hoped to raise more awareness of the efforts of law enforcement officers to protect communities, especially those who are killed in the line of duty, and pointed to the non-fatal shooting of two New Hampshire officers yesterday morning.

In the description the College Republicans sent in to Collis to request the board they said the aim was to "draw attention to the sacrifices made by law enforcement members," noting that 128 officers have died while on duty in the past year. The description also mentioned that police officers' work is often an "overlooked struggle" and "a silenced sacrificed."

In “A Letter to Campus,” students last night referenced several alleged incidents of bias on campus including several incidents of students using racial slurs and threats in public, private and over social media. The email also noted the removal of several t-shirts that were part of the Black Lives Matter display in Collis in the fall. The email also points to alleged incidents of assault of women of color on campus and an incident of a Native woman and man being egged after a silent protest.

“This campus is toxic,” the email reads. “Our goal is to illuminate the severity of the violence people of color face on this campus.”

By 8:30 p.m. on Friday, the College Republicans sent an email addressed to Hanlon and the Board of Trustees. The email criticizes the administration for what the College Republicans perceive as unequal treatment.

The College Republicans referenced the incident in the fall of the removal of t-shirts in the Black Lives Matter display.

The email continues, saying that the College “quickly and appropriately” condemned the aforementioned defacement.

In the fall, Hanlon sent out a campus wide email after the incident and the day after the Black Lives Matter protest in Baker-Berry Library that discussed diversity, inclusivity and free expression, but did not mention the removal of t-shirts directly.

In the College Republicans' email, sent out before Hanlon’s Sunday email, the group expressed dissatisfaction that the same was not done immediately after Friday’s display board removal.

“We do not see the Black Lives Matter and Blue Lives Matter movements as mutually exclusive,” the email also said. “It is possible to recognize the service and contributions of law enforcement officers while simultaneously pushing for reform to correct the grave mistakes of the small minority of officers.”

The College Republicans sent out a similar email with the subject line "Response to College Suppression of Our Freedom of Speech" to campus at 9:53 a.m. on Saturday. The campus email announced a candlelight vigil next week for police officers killed while on duty.

In “A Letter to Campus,” the email says that the fall protest in Baker Berry Library “affirmed black existence, humanity and resilience in light of the oppressive reality here at Dartmouth.”

“People are tired,” the email reads. “People of color are tired of being made inferior to their peers. We are tired of conservative rhetoric reproducing the same racial stereotypes that have positioned our bodies in a violent, inhumane fashion since slavery.”

In a statement signed “Concerned Students of Dartmouth” released to campus on Tuesday, the Dartmouth Action Collective wrote that "one hundred students’ disapproval for “Blue Lives Matter” does not constitute a disregard for free speech, nor does it condemn policemen who have died in the line of duty.”

The statement also said that displaying slogans that co-opt the language of the Black Lives Matter movement, such as “All Lives Matter” and “Blue Lives Matter,” ignores the context of systemic racism out of which the original movement arose. The statement added that, “language does not occur in a vacuum” and said that “Blue Lives Matter” encourages a dichotomy between black lives and police lives, correlating demanding protection of black lives with denying protection of police lives. The Dartmouth Action Collective's statement urged campus to honor law enforcement in a more nuanced manner.

Amanda Zhou contributed reporting.