On Friday, Oct. 14, students began Fall Break. With plans to take some time out and enjoy a couple days off from classes, they went their separate directions. However, the peaceful break was quickly interrupted by posts to social media containing photos of vandalism to Maryville College’s beloved Covenant stone. College officials are partnering with Maryville City Police in the investigation to find the culprit.
“We are assuming that everything happened wither on Thursday evening, the 13th, or Sunday night the 16th,” said Dean Vandy Kemp.
The stream of vandalism began a black spray painted message appeared on the steps of the Willard House first thing Friday morning. The message read across a negative phrase about presidential candidate Donald Trump along with an image of a phallic symbol.
The next bout of vandalism was first seen shortly after on Friday evening. Just a week before Homecoming, the most symbolic monument on campus was covered in black. Where students could once read “Scholarship, Respect, Integrity” was covered in black spray paint with as if hiding the ideals that students, faculty and alumni take pride in.
Posts of outrage quickly filled Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. Maryville’s Physical Plant workers were quickly notified and sent out to clean up the damage to the stone. Dean Vandy Kemp, campus security and Maryville City Police began to commence an investigation.
“I am assuming that both the Covenant Stone and the vandalism on the steps of Willard house were committed at the same time,” said Kemp.
According to Kemp, the lack of foot traffic on campus during the break could have made it possible for someone to vandalize both areas of the campus at the same time.
Students returned to campus on Monday, Oct. 17 to classes and were welcomed with another messaged written across the concrete in front of Pearsons Dining Hall. With another message similar to that of the one in front of the Willard House, but adding in the phrase “Black Lives Matter.”
Social media was again filled with outraged comments from students across MC’s community. Senior Anna Avalos posted a passionate message to Facebook asking students to hear her out on her thoughts on the matter.
“To the person/people vandalizing campus these past few days: I just want to say that I am so outraged at what I’ve seen. I PROMISE I dislike Trump just as much as you do,” said Avalos, “However, writing F- Trump will not solve anything. Do black lives matter? Yes, they do. And a lot! However that’s not the way . . . I’m glad you’re passionate about it. Now take it to the polls! I know I will.”
Director of the Physical Plant, Andrew McCall stated that his teams worked diligently and quickly to clean up the mess. Using pressure washers and chemical sprays, they have been able to get the writing off of the sidewalks and the stone. McCall began texting his crew at 5:30 AM on Friday, and they have been working non-stop to clean up the mess in addition to getting the campus prepared for Homecoming events on Oct. 22.
Maryville College has a serious vandalism violation. Kemp stated that there is also a serious restitution charge along with the charge of vandalism due to damages to the Covenant stone during the cleaning process.
“This act is more serious because it is the Covenant stone and that is a symbol of this college,” said Kemp.
Kemp does not believe this was an act of free speech. She stated that she is very protective of freedom of speech and she protects that right, but has reason to believe that this was not an attempt as the college works hard to encourage safe and open environments for students to express themselves.
According to Kemp, so far no real leads have been made. Kemp stated that a few students have come forward with statements of rumors they have heard on campus, or conversations they have overheard in the past of students joking of making similar actions of vandalism on the college campus.
“We are questioning a lot of people,” said Kemp. “After the announcement went out on Monday morning, it peaked peoples’ interested and we are now sifting through everything and questioning lots of people.”
Kemp stated that the $500 reward decision was made due to the lack of physical evidence. Administration decided that incentivizing it might encourage people to come forward with information and do the right thing.
“The thing that has been most pleasing to me,” said Kemp. “Is that by the time students become juniors and seniors of Maryville College, the message becomes very important to them. As an institution, people really care about that.”
According to Kemp, several alumni have called with concerns. She stated she is happy that this kind of behavior is not something that goes unnoticed.
Vandalism to the Covenant stone has happened in the past during 2013, but the person was apprehended very quickly, according to Kemp.
In the statement released by email to MC students, Kemp asked that people do not make assumptions on who committed the vandalism or why. She stated that students should be careful of making assumptions based on the content.
“Anybody can write anything,” said Kemp. “There is really no way to know.”