Six months after an ETSU student disrupted a peaceful Black Lives Matter demonstration in Borchuck Plaza, a student involved in the incident believes things have gone back to normal, while the university is working to make positive changes.
On Sept. 28, 2016, a then ETSU student donning a pair of overalls and a gorilla mask harassed Black Lives Matter demonstrators with a confederate flag burlap sack, a makeshift noose around a banana and a “lives matter” sign.
Tristan Rettke was apprehended by Public Safety, and arrested soon after on one felony count of civil rights intimidation.
Rettke withdrew from the university and is facing two counts of civil rights intimidation, two counts of disorderly conduct and disrupting a meeting.
Since this event, there have been no reported hate crimes. This incident was the first incident of its kind in at least the past three years, according to the 2016 Annual Fire and Safety Report.
“Our campus has been in dialogue since the incident,” said Michelle Byrd, the ETSU Assistant Dean of Students. “That opportunity for discussion has brought forward possibilities for growth and improvement as it relates to supporting students from minority populations and from diverse backgrounds.”
The night of the incident, university leaders organized a community forum, where the ETSU community could discuss the day’s events. ETSU President Brian Noland announced plans for a diversity and inclusion task force, in order to combat racism, educate the community and retain minority students.
“I believe that many people on campus, faculty, staff and administrators have been engaged in meaningful dialogue about how we can grow in our understanding of the experience of other people,” said Byrd. “Whether that be tempered by diversity, privilege, struggle or other factors.”
According to Byrd, there has been a grave effort to include student voices in these diversity conversations and a thoughtful effort to support and showcase diversity on ETSU’s campus.
Jaylen Malik Grimes, sophomore, was there when Rettke disrupted the protest, and was a part of key conversations within the university thereafter.
Months later, Grimes believe the campus climate is back to normal.
“It hasn’t improved but it hasn’t gone bad either,” said Grimes. “It’s neutral.”
Many of the efforts and decisions regarding diversity are on-going, but ETSU administration is open to hearing student concerns and are aware of on-going campus issues.