Black History Month poster vandalism indicative of troubling campus climate

Black History Month started on a good note this semester. President Denise Battles’s Commission on Diversity began Geneseo’s first annual Martin Luther King Jr. Week and many culture clubs hosted their own meetings in observance of this month long celebration. This positivity, however, was short-lived upon the discovery that Black History Month posters were ripped down and vandalized in both Genesee and Putnam Halls multiple times, some found with eyes poked out or burned.

These posters were harmless—all the resident assistants wanted to do was spread Black History Month awareness. The posters were filled with little-known facts about activists, inspiring quotations and calls for the end of racial stereotyping. Yet in these residence halls, an unnerving display of ignorance and racism was shown on our campus that is supposed to pride itself in its acceptance and celebration of diversity.

Genesee RA sophomore Taylor Keith explained that the building has had a history of vandalism toward RA boards, but there was never so much dedication to destruction as to go on each floor and tear every flyer down—four times.

Keith emphasized that Geneseo consistently falls short of its standards when it comes to matters of diversity. “The Geneseo community came together for #OneKnight, but they are constantly leaving their students of color in the back and not caring about them,” Keith said. “People come to this school for the promise of diversity and acceptance, but that’s the furthest from the truth.”

In Putnam, the story is almost even more appalling due to the very purpose of the building. Putnam is known as “Eco House,” but what is often forgotten is Putnam’s emphasis on social justice. According to the “Learning and Communities and Other Transformational Learning Opportunities” page on the Geneseo website, “[Putnam] provides a space for students who are interested in issues of sustainability and social justice to live together … and to find a way for their collective ‘sustainability and social justice’ brain to help Geneseo grow as an environmentally-friendly college.”

Although many students apply to live in Putnam for its focus on social justice, it has fallen short on even talking about these issues—that is, until the recent vandalism of the Black History Month posters. 

Junior Zakiya Rose expressed her indignation and frustration with the vandalism, noting, however, that this is just but one of a myriad of racist problems she has encountered on the Geneseo campus. “I chose Putnam Hall so I could avoid macroaggressions and hostility,” she said. “However, the students that live there are no different than the general Geneseo population and the macroaggressions I’ve already experienced here make me feel unsafe in a building that’s supposed to house students who care about social justice.”

Students have also taken to social media to express their disgust at the recent events. Rose herself wrote on Facebook, “I don't understand Geneseo students. Why would you live in a social justice building if you were just going to be a bigot?”

Fortunately, an RA on duty has caught one of the student perpetrators in Genesee Hall. It is unclear, however, how many people have taken part in this heinous, racist vandalism—or if they will ever have to face consequences for their actions.

One thing is for certain, however: Geneseo has an extensive problem with racism on its campus that absolutely can’t be fixed with just one week or one month of focus.