Students take back The Fence and demand an investigation after vandals change The Fence to read "All Lives Matter"
On the morning of Aug. 31, a widely circulated photo of The Fence on campus sparked outrage among the student body. The Fence, which had been previously painted to say “Black Lives Matter” was defaced to read “All Lives Matter." “Black" had been crossed out in yellow paint.
According to The Fence rules, anyone who paints it must stand guard around the clock to prevent repainting, and if anyone is to paint the fence, they must paint it in its entirety. The defacing on Monday violated the rules, which means that it is an act of vandalism.
Following the incident, an email from Provost Jim Garrett and Vice President for Student Affairs Gina Casalegno went out to the campus: “The rules governing the Fence are upheld by members of the student body. As such, the university does not typically manage the Fence, or interfere with its content. This is not the first controversial message displayed on the Fence, and we are proud that our students have managed this situation in keeping with Carnegie Mellon’s culture and values.”
The email also added at the end “CMU believes and unequivocally affirms that Black Lives Matter.”
On the morning after the vandalism, The Fence was repainted swiftly by students, and on Monday night, dozens of students showed up to guard it. The Tartan reached out to some students who had gone back to repaint the fence, as well as some who stayed into the night to guard it. They all expressed their shock and disappointment at what had happened.
Ebi Indiamaowei, a freshman computer science major who helped repaint The Fence, explained how he was “holding his breath,” expecting something to happen to the Black Lives Matter message painted on the fence. Then it did.
“It was in the back of my head that I wouldn’t be surprised if someone did something to [The Fence], but the longer it was up there the more I was surprised. So when it happened on my first day, I felt really disappointed,” Indiamaowei told The Tartan.
Sheldon Yawson, a Dietrich College sophomore and a resident assistant at Stever who also helped repaint The Fence, echoed those sentiments, and added the effect it had on her.
“When I first saw it, it confirmed what I knew was already true,” Yawson said, “the microaggressions against Black students, the idea you don’t belong on campus because of the color of your skin.”
Melina Castillo, a freshman ECE major, said she didn’t expect such an overt act of “bias and discrimination” on campus. She also added that “with painting the fence, it wasn’t just one person. It was probably a group. I fear that I walk by these people every day not knowing who they are.”
During the night, students also put up 107 Black Lives Matter signs around campus, including one sign that read “why is it on us and not the administration?” A number of other signs read “Poor Black Lives Matter,” “Black Engineers Matter,” and “Black Fathers Matter.” The rest carried similar messages.
Students also spoke strongly of their disappointment at the administration’s emailed response.
Twain Byrnes, a CIT first-year, told The Tartan they would “be staying all night to guard the fence and possibly into the future until CMU creates some sort of solid response to this incident with an actual action plan.” Many students who were there also expressed their disappointment and anger at what they considered a “lackluster response.”
Yawson felt the response was a cop out.
“They basically sat around all morning and thought 'What’s the easiest thing we can do that people don’t blame us fully, but so that we don’t have to do the work to prove that Black lives matter on campus,'” she said.
Yawson also added, “when I first came to campus, I was under the assumption that if you violated the fence rules then there would be significant punishment, but now the fence rules are broken for hate speech and for a hate crime, and their response was just ‘Well some people repainted the fence and yeah Black lives matter,’ which is how it read to me”
Indiamaowei felt his perception of the school had been changed after their response.
“If the kids had put a swastika on it, there would be no issue, the consequences would have been swift and immediate and there wouldn’t even be a conversation about it. That’s the kind of energy I was hoping the school would have, and when there wasn’t, I was really disappointed.”
The student discourse has been largely rife with calls for the university to take action to attempt to find the perpetrators responsible.
Yawson pointed out, “CMU can’t have it both ways. If CMU can’t go after the person who broke the fence rules, and that’s ok by CMU standards, then why have the rules in the first place?”
Indiamaowei felt that Carnegie Mellon should do more to investigate “a hate crime,” adding that “saying something like Black Lives Matter isn’t something they should just say, they have to earn it. Even if they get flack in the news for ‘being too liberal,’ the university should actually enforce its ideals and put their money where their mouth is.”
The Tartan reached out to the Carnegie Mellon police department for comment, and a spokesman from the university responded, saying “CMU Police does not anticipate any action because there are no security cameras on the Fence, and in the absence of a witness coming forward, there is no avenue of inquiry to pursue at this time.”
After the publishing of this article, an email went out to the campus from President Jahanian which addressed the incident and announced an investigation into it. At this time, it is our understanding that Carnegie Mellon Police still have" no avenue of inquiry." The headline has been update to reflect the situation.