Campus inclusivity called into question after commemorative display defiled
Sophie Mattson and Jenni Sigl
THE SANTA CLARA
September 29, 2016
Update (10/1/16): Professor Dennis Gordon clarified that immediately following the incidents, he was not aware that an email could be sent to the entire student body via Student Life. That, he said, was why his message about the vandalism was only sent to staff and faculty.
The university community is expressing outrage and disgust at the recent vandalism of a memorial honoring the 43 students who were kidnapped in Iguala, Guerrero, Mexico in 2014.
Vandals allegedly damaged a memorial of 42 black-painted wooden silhouettes of people and a forty-third silhouette constructed out of a mirror, which invites people to imagine themselves as one of the students, who all attended Ayotzinapa Rural Teachers’ College.
Between midnight and 2 a.m. the night of Sept. 23, two female perpetrators were caught on CCTV footage moving down the mirrored silhouette and karate-kicking several other figures, according to Steve Lee, associate dean of the College of Arts and Sciences.
“Irony of ironies, the figure that was mowed to the ground by the two women, is of the figure that represents the only one of the 43 that has been confirmed killed,” Lee said. “So, interesting irony.”
The perpetrators allegedly ended up breaking the back of the mirrored silhouette and branding it with scuff marks after they attempted to break the figure in half.
The mirrored figure also appeared to be sprayed with an unknown substance, and one of the wooden silhouettes was broken in half, according to Lee.
The incident wasn’t the first time the figures were vandalized. On Sept. 18, an unknown person knocked down the figures and attempted to break them in half with kicks, Lee said.
Campus Safety has yet to identify the perpetrators from the vandalism that occurred this weekend and confirm whether or not they are indeed Santa Clara students.
“Campus Safety has cameras everywhere and so we have a lot of footage of students using the figures as karate targets, students walking by and clotheslining the figures all in a row,” Lee said.
To honor the missing students and stand up against the vandalism, Dennis Gordon, director of Santa Clara’s Center for the Arts and Humanities, called upon the campus community to place post-it notes on the figures stating the word “¡Presente!”
“In many places in South America and around the world, when something like this happens, names are called and often the response is ‘presenté,’” Gordon said. “That these people are still with us if not physically, in our memory.”
Gordon said that this incident should be taken as a learning experience and that it is a sign that Santa Clara is one of many institutions that have “serious problems” with issues of race.
“We will not let this happen on our campus,” Gordon said. “We will not let this happen because of the racism it represents and also because we will have free expression, we will be able to say to the talented artists who would like to distribute or to display their work on the Santa Clara campus, that (it) will be safe and respected.”
Isaac Nieblas, the student director of the Multicultural Center called the situation “unfortunate” and attributed the acts of vandalism to underlying racism and ignorance on campus.
He said that the act of vandalism hit especially close to home for him.
“Being of Mexican descent, these are faces that I see in the mirror every single day,” Nieblas said.
One bright spot among the darkness, according to Nieblas, was the response by various organizations within the MCC. He was especially grateful for the efforts made by the Asian Pacific Islander Student Union and Together for Ladies of Color.
Nieblas said that in response to the incident, there was a renewed sense of solidarity.
“We have 10 organizations and each one took steps in order for us to come together as a community and make sure that every single person – every single individual – who was feeling broken, feeling hurt by this situation, felt supported by the MCC,” Nieblas said.
Senior Yesenia Veamatahau, advocacy program coordinator for the Multicultural Center, objected to the fact that an email wasn’t sent out to the entire student body about the vandalism—only faculty were notified via email.
“I’m pretty sure the people who do have the ability to send it out to students have found out by now, they still haven’t sent anything out,” Veamatahau said.
She said that the memorial’s vandalism is one of many examples of culturally insensitive acts that continue to happen on campus, such as when students posted racist comments about a group of African American students attending a gathering in May 2015 on Yik Yak, an app that acts as an anonymous message board.
“It is part of a pattern of what goes on here. The mock border wall, this most recent one, was also defaced and I personally sent an email to (University President) Fr. Engh with photos, (and) nothing was ever sent out,” she said. “When the Yik Yaks happened, there was an extremely vague email sent out.” She added that she thinks the university doesn’t send “genuine and straightforward” emails about acts of injustice on campus because it is more worried about running like a well-oiled business and preserving its image in the public eye.
“For me, I don’t feel like I belong here. I don’t feel as though I’m truly part of this community,” Veamatahau said. “I feel like I’ve had to form communities of my own within Santa Clara that are part of a counterculture.”
Santa Clara’s Center for the Arts and Humanities is working in conjunction with the Office of Student Life and Campus Safety to investigate the vandalism.
If you have any information about the incident, contact the Office of Student Life at (408) 554-4583.
Contact Sophie Mattson at email@example.com or call (408) 554-4849. Contact Jenni Sigl at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (408) 554-4852.