In case you missed it, a series of Instagram photos of students posing in front of a bed sheet with "Western Lives Matter" spray painted on it left me with a lot of questions yesterday. Those questions clearly made a lot of people feel uncomfortable.
Today I'm only left with more questions, as new details about the photos emerge.
First, the university has released an official response, calling out the photos as "hurtful, disrespectful and demeaning." In a statement, VP of student experience Jana Luker said Western "does not tolerate racism," and the incident is being dealt with under Western's code of student conduct.
Luker also wrote that the photos have provided a learning opportunity, and pointed to a video released by Western's student union president.
Before describing the photos as "the epitome of privilege," student president Eddy Avila suggests the students were "equating student upheaval over a homecoming date change to the Black Lives Matter movement."
Here's where things get a bit more baffling. According to the Western Gazette, in May university admins announced that homecoming events would be pushed from October 1 to October 22, when many students will be taking midterm exams.
If Instagram photos are any indication, the date change did little to slow down the outbreak of flip cup and public peeing.
"I think the whole purpose of having the second date was to deter people from partying because of midterms," a recent grad told the Gazette. "But it's even more detrimental now because students will party twice, so it'll just ruin their GPA rather than prevent people from partying. It wasn't an effective preventative measure."
So it's possible this was not so much an ignorant and insensitive joke (best case scenario), but an ignorant and insensitive protest against a party being moved to the middle of midterms—a protest that equated this minor inconvenience to systematic racism and violence against black people. VICE reached out to students who posted the photos, to get the full story, but did not get an on-record response.
VICE also reached out to Avila to get some clarity on the intent of the banner, and he said it's definitely the latter scenario.
Avila confirmed the date change was an effort "to quell student partying" and "mitigate risk." He said the party on Broughdale Avenue was itself framed as a protest, attended by thousands, to "speak against this date change."
"Thus, the 'Western Lives Matter' banner was a co-opted reference used as a commentary of the student 'protest' that lead to the students going against the wishes of administration," he wrote in an email.
There's still so much unanswered, but I think I speak for most people when I ask: Really, Western? Really???
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