- Michigan State University issued an apology after students found dolls of notable black people hanging from strings on trees in a gift shop.
- One of the students, Krystal Davis-Dunn, said “these images evoke a visceral experience.”
- Her friend, Paule-Elizabeth Jackson, recalled feeling “disgust, anger and sadness.” Unfortunately, she said, this isn’t the first time such incidents have occurred at MSU.
University officials noted that employees and volunteers at the Wharton Centre for Performing Arts, where the “inappropriate and insensitive” dolls were being sold, will undergo racial bias training.
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Michigan State University is in the midst of a maelstrom after students discovered dolls of notable black Americans hanging from strings on trees in a gift shop.
Krystal Davis-Dunn on Thursday shared photographs of the display, featuring Barack and Michelle Obama, Prince, Martin Luther King Jr., and Harriet Tubman, on Facebook, WLNS first reported.
Davis-Dunn wrote that the dolls, which she found at the Wharton Centre for Performing Arts, were not part of an “art display.” Instead, they were “brought by Michigan State University and sold at a gift shop and displayed by staff on trees,” she said.
‘Disgust, anger and sadness’
Graduate student Paule-Elizabeth Jackson told Business Insider she stopped by the shop after a jazz concert. She recalled feeling “disgust, anger and sadness” upon spotting the display featuring “leftover holiday ornaments.”
She added: “I told the cashiers that the display was offensive and they needed to take it down, they told me that ‘they had no control over the displays’ and ignored me essentially.”
MSU officials took down the display after receiving complaints. University spokeswoman Emily Gerkin Guerrant issued a statement that was shared with Business Insider, apologizing to students, and noting that employees and volunteers at the Wharton Centre will undergo racial bias training.
“We were made aware of an inappropriate and insensitive display at the Wharton Centre gift shop which used a tree-like rack to hold historical black figures. Regardless of the intent of the display, its impact cannot be ignored – people were hurt and offended.”
It remains unclear what the intention was.
‘A visceral experience’
Davis-Dunn wrote on Facebook that she shared the images to “vent and highlight the continuous acts of [micro-aggression] … These images evoke a visceral experience… trauma lives in the body. [Enough] is enough!”
Talking to WLNS, she said the dolls were reminiscent of “the lynching of African Americans. It’s a fear tactic.”
Asking the university to be more inclusive and offer support to students of colour, Davis-Dunn said officials aren’t demonstrating any urgency in addressing this incident.
“Something has to happen now,” she said. “I don’t know what that is, but there has to be someone paying attention, someone capable of making changes and addressing these things that are happening now.”
Jackson, 24, echoed the sentiment saying that the university’s efforts are a “start,” but they’re not “enough.”
“There needs to be more than an apology,” she said. “There needs to be an entire reconstruction of the university. Because things like this have been happening for a while, this is just the first time that something has been on the national stage regarding race.”
And it only managed to get that kind of attention because Davis-Dunn’s Facebook post went viral, Jackson said, adding, “There has been no address to the student body from the university itself.”
‘People get more comfortable with their ignorance’
This isn’t the first time that racial tensions have bubbled over at MSU. Last October, a noose constructed from toilet paper was found hanging from a door in a residence hall.
“Students of colour here feel unwelcome here. I’m just going to say it,” student John Ray told WILX at the time.
Guerrant acknowledged also that the university has to make strides in creating a culture that is “inclusive and safe for all faculty, staff, students and visitors. As we enter Black History Month, it’s important we not only recognise the many contributions of African Americans, but we remember history and confront all bias.”
For her part, Jackson believes this incident is part of something larger that’s afoot at MSU, and said she is working with the Wharton centre to communicate “how badly they messed up” so they can understand the impact of their actions and avoid such missteps in the future.
“Because of the political climate we are in, I think people get more comfortable with their ignorance, and that they think that they can get away with things like this,” she said.
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