Wright State rock repainted to say ‘Black Lives Matter’

A large rock on the Wright State University campus that is used to express social and political views was repainted Monday with the message “Black Lives Matter” after the word “black” recently was changed to “white” and later “all.”

Evan Sumlin, a junior from Dayton, was part of a group that last week painted “Black Lives Matter” on the rock near Allyn Hall. The English major said when she first painted the rock she felt “liberated,” but started crying when she saw someone had repainted it to say “White Lives Matter” and later “All Lives Matter.”

On Monday, Sumlin helped lead a group of students and staff on a march through campus to the rock, where she and several students again spray-painted “Black Lives Matter.”

“We’ve got to make people feel uncomfortable,” she said. “I have a loud voice and I’m going to use it.”

When students and staff arrived at the rock, Sumlin gave a brief speech. Her words were met with chants of “Hands up, don’t shoot!”

Wright State University President David Hopkins sent an email to students and staff Monday praising the use of the rock for student expression and said it “will continue to serve as a very public outlet for freedom of expression on our campus.”

Hopkins said he believes black lives matter, but said that acknowledgment “does not in any way ignore nor diminish the value of other lives.”

Hopkins also said WSU firmly rejects “discrimination of all kinds” and cited the university’s anti-discrimination policy.

“Any who cross the line between freedom of expression and discrimination will find their efforts painted over,” he wrote.

The rock at Wright State usually is painted for “more frivolous” reasons, such as homecoming or for fraternity and sorority events, said WSU spokesman Seth Bauguess. He said it’s often painted several times in the fall as students return to campus.

The university wants students to use the rock and “celebrates” its use as a form of expression, Bauguess said.

“It’s kind of a vehicle for freedom of speech,” he said.

While the rock is painted frequently, Joshua Hatch, a junior studying psychology and the president of the Black Student Union, said the way it was done recently felt more like vandalism.

“The biggest deal was crossing (the word black) out,” Hatch said. “It’s different when you’re crossing it out and not just painting it over.”

On Monday, Hatch painted over the word “all” on the rock as another student repainted the word “black,” adding an exclamation point.

Some professors and advisors showed their support. One graduate student advisor held a sign reading “My Students Matter” and other faculty member took photos.

Nicole Carter, director of the WSU women’s center, said she was “really happy to see students standing up against hate and racism.” Activism is a form of student expression and can be a learning opportunity for people on campus, she said.

“It creates discussion and can make some people uncomfortable, but through that we grow,” Carter said.

Edward Twyman, director of the Bolinga Black Cultural Resources Center at Wright State, also attended the protest. He called the repainting of the rock an effort to “teach tolerance and respect for others.”

The 60-plus people who gathered included students of all backgrounds, Twyman pointed out.

“Any time a diverse group of students comes together to bring about change, it’s a good thing,” he said.

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