Michigan State University apologized after customers complained about a Black History Month display in the school’s gift shop.
The display features felt figures of the Obamas, Harriet Tubman and other prominent Black people hanging from a tree-shaped stand. MSU graduate student Krystal Rose Davis-Dunn noticed it when she popped by the gift shop after leaving a jazz concert on Jan. 30. There are about four or five similar trees throughout the shop and while there were a few white figurines, the majority were Black. Davis-Dunn asked the store’s staff if they saw anything wrong with how the figures were displayed and they told her they did not.
“It’s African-American people hanging from twine,” Davis-Dunn told Lansing State Journal. “That is problematic. You’re lynching black people from trees.”
Ironically, this issue happened shortly after Davis-Dunn left a meeting regarding diversity at MSU. The jazz concert was supposed to be an escape.
“I went to the jazz concert to escape from all of that and unwind,” she said.
Davis-Dunn posted a picture of one of the displays on her Facebook page.
The post went viral, generating over 7,400 shares and 1,200 comments.
“Very sad and I can’t believe that anyone would even create such a display,” wrote one commenter. “Why didn’t someone in a leadership role on campus see that it was removed immediately? I am appalled by this act of ignorance.”
“Stop going to these schools,” someone posted in another comment. “HBCU’S are here for Us.”
“There is nothing about this that can be or should be considered art. It is disrespectful, inconsiderate distasteful,” read another comment. “In case you have forgotten or unaware there are still people out there that that has the lynching mentality. Putting up that as a display. What do you think that says to them. I am insulted by that display.”
Davis-Dunn included an updated caption on the picture in which she admitted racism is an ongoing issue at MSU.
“My intention posting these images was to vent and highlight the continuous acts of microaggressions I’ve experienced as a Black student at MSU,” she wrote. “The symbolisms in these photos explains itself. I don’t care about the artist intent nor the Wharton Center for Performing Arts gift shop intent, it’s the impact of it and the culmination of all the culturally insensitive events that has happened at MSU.”
In October, MSU cancelled a survey after Black students complained about offensive questions that were meant to gauge reactions to online hate speech. One statement from the survey said “Haha there is nothing ‘positive’ about N—ERS let alone the word that describes N—ERS.” While another said, “black people stole white people’s lips so white people stole black people’s freedom.” Days before a Black student found a noose made of toilet paper taped to her door. The school wrote it off as a Halloween prank.
The school removed the display and apologized for the “inappropriate and insensitive” display, per NBC News.
“Regardless of the intent of the display, its impact cannot be ignored — people were hurt and offended,” MSU spokeswoman Emily Guerrant said in a statement. “We sincerely apologize to our community members and have immediately removed the display. Additionally, after the Wharton Center reported the incident, it agreed to provide employees and volunteers with racial bias training that focuses on the impact and understanding of intentional and unintentional racial bias.”