HARRISIONBURG, Va. — Students at James Madison University are speaking out on social media after the university’s spirit rock, honoring a student who recently passed away, was painted-over with the campaign slogan “Trump 2016.”
The spirit rock is a recent campus tradition that serves as an outlet for free expression for students. There are no regulations that govern who paints it, when or for how long the painting lasts.
The rock was painted Friday night to honor Jeffery Matthews, Jr., an alumnus of JMU’s chapter of the Omega Psi Phi fraternity, who died last Tuesday.
Late Friday night, the spirit rock was painted over to support Donald Trump, hours before the memorial to honor Matthews on Saturday night.
“Personally, I was sad –even more sad than I have been– simply because there are those that act without thought,” Omega Psi Phi Beta Delta Delta Chapter President Gabriel Driver. Driver told WHSV. He said he believes this was an act of ignorance, not racism because nobody knows what the motivation was behind the repainting.
Students were able to repaint the JMU Spirit Rock honoring Matthews in time for Saturday night’s memorial.
After the rock was discovered Saturday morning, backlash quickly followed on social media as students asked the JMU administration to address the issue.
“Not a political issue, but to let students deface such a heart felt memorial painted by the brothers of the BDD chapter of Omega Psi Phi in honor of a fallen member, is not only disrespectful but needs to be addressed to the WHOLE student body. I’m sad to be a Duke today,” said senior Alexis Michelle Fenton.
“I’m appalled to read that this happened at my alma mater. How is the administration planning to address this?” Kymani Pearson-Brown asked on Facebook.
“Hate comes in many different forms. Sad when people put forth time and effort to remember and individuals life and people blatantly disrespect it. James Madison University what will you do?” Ryan-Kristoff Canaday, Omega Psi Phi member asked on Facebook.
Saturday the school responded with a statement saying their hope is that this incident, whether accidental or intentional, will be an opportunity for dialogue and understanding:
“The James Madison University community is saddened by the loss of Jeffrey Matthews, Jr., a 2015 Bridgewater College alumnus who was a member of the James Madison University’s chapter of Omega Psi Phi fraternity. The university expresses its deepest condolences to Mr. Matthews’ family, friends and Greek community.
Many of you may be aware that Mr. Matthews’ fraternity brothers and friends painted JMU’s Spirit Rock on the Festival Lawn as a tribute to Mr. Matthews and in anticipation of a vigil to be held in his honor on Saturday evening. Overnight, Spirit Rock was later repainted with a “Trump 2016” campaign slogan.
Spirit Rock was started as a campus tradition by the Madison Society in 2010. The rock serves as an outlet for free expression with the only guiding principle being that those who paint it must respect Madison and respect the rock. Students or student groups are not able to reserve Spirit Rock nor is there any guarantee as to how long a message can appear on Spirit Rock. Even as of 1 p.m. today, the “Trump 2016” message had been painted over.
While we have no reason to believe that the repainting of Spirit Rock was anything more than an expression of support for a political candidate, we recognize that, for some, it only adds insult to injury during this time of loss.
Our hope is that this incident, whether accidental or intentional, be an opportunity for dialogue and understanding. Together we can rise above the ugliness that has mired our political process recently and be the change that, as Dukes, we are called to be.”