After what Ohio State officials deemed a hate crime last week, many eyes looked to OSU and the vandalism that occurred here, including George Zimmerman himself.
Thursday morning, the words “Long Live Zimmerman” were found painted on the wall of Hale Hall, which is home to the Frank W. Hale Jr. Black Cultural Center, part of the Office of Diversity and Inclusion. The reference, officials said, is most likely to Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch leader who allegedly killed Trayvon Martin in self-defense Feb. 26 in Florida.
“Let me be very clear, this is not who we are at Ohio State. Racism will not be tolerated on our campus,” President E. Gordon Gee said in response to the Hale Hall vandalism.
The vandalism, which launched responses such as the OSU Stand Your Ground movement, the Ohio Union sit-in and a hate crime warning from the administration, propelled OSU into the limelight last weekend.
National news crews covered the story, and with the help of Facebook and Twitter, images of the vandalism on Hale Hall went viral.
“The act of vandalism was an attack not on one group of students, but the university as a whole. The messages sent through that graffiti go against everything that Ohio State represents – equality, education and inclusion,” said Brian Derrick, a first-year in microbiology and Undergraduate Student Government student intern.
But Zimmerman used the image to send a different message when he launched therealgeorgezimmerman.com on April 9. The site at one time featured a large image of the Hale Hall vandalism. The site and its content has been frequently changing.
Zimmerman says on the website that it is intended for his supporters and he asks for monetary support.
“This website’s sole purpose is to ensure my supporters they are receiving my full attention without any intermediaries,” he writes on the site.
The validity of the site was verified Monday night by Zimmerman’s lawyer. Since the confirmation, Zimmerman’s lawyers have withdrawn from the case. Multiple media outlets have reported his lawyers have lost contact with their client.
OSU administration acknowledged the use of the Hale Hall image on Zimmerman’s site Tuesday afternoon.
“As our community unites against hate speech, disturbing news about Hale Center image used as fundraiser,” Gee tweeted from his account.
Some students said they understand this image doesn’t represent OSU.
“As a student, I take pride in our diversity and our campus’ eagerness to accept more than one idea,” said Jared Kamrass, senior counselor to the USG president. “It is unfortunate that an isolated incident is shaping how some might perceive OSU.”
Derrick said he is optimistic about the national attention. He said he thinks the nation will recognize the OSU community’s response above everything else.
“The students of this great university took a stand after the incident to show everyone that ‘Ohio State is no place for hate,'” he said. “I believe this is the true message that the nation will see, not the hate crime that initiated it. The university should not be held accountable for the acts of one student, in this case this (vandal) did not represent The Ohio State University.”
The OSU Stand Your Ground movement has been responding to the events of the past week. Martez Smith, a third-year in social work, is the publicist for OSU Stand Your Ground.
“We with OSU Stand Your Ground feel particularly injured that (Zimmerman used images from) our campus, especially now that we are mobilizing such strong support across race, class, gender, sexuality and religious lines,” he said.
Danielle Odlen, a graduate student in history who is also affiliated with the Latina/o Graduate and Professional Student Association and Diversity and Identity Studies Collective, is also very active in the movement.
“Zimmerman is using the image to project the idea that he has widespread support,” Smith said. “Vandalizing the Hale Center was classified as a hate crime by OSU. The fact that he is using evidence of a hate crime is like a slap in the face.”
OSU Stand Your Ground representatives said they hope the nation takes notice of the community’s response.
A crowd of about 140 students, staff and community members gathered on OSU’s Oval Tuesday to mourn in silence the death of Trayvon Martin and demand an arrest and fair trial for Zimmerman.
Smith also reminds students of how much of an impact they have.
“It really brings home for us at Ohio State how deep this issue really is,” he said. “It brings home the fact that our campus operates as a microcosm in the bigger realm and the attention reflects how racism is still alive and prevalent today.”
Derrick said he believes the student response has sent a clear message.
“Everyone is entitled to their own opinions, but at Ohio State, we choose to believe in equality and value diversity,” he said.
Student leaders also said the OSU community is what really matters.
“It may not make Ohio State look good to the public, but the most important thing for us is to protect our students and make sure they feel comfortable and safe,” said USG communications director Naomi David. “The minute that the Hale Center was vandalized, it affected that safety and it kind of put a riptide through our community.”