Paint and positivity: How AEPi and Social Justice Representatives respond to hate on campus


Estudiantes caminando por los túneles de expresión libre en el 2018.

Moss Brennan and Anna Muckenfuss

A group of fraternity brothers from Alpha Epsilon Pi discovered racist graffiti of a Nazi flag in the west free expression tunnel early Sunday morning, Koby Ellick, president of the fraternity, said.

Ellick, junior risk management insurance major, said he was notified immediately after the graffiti was discovered.

“They took action in documenting it and spray painting over it,” Ellick said. “The people who did this and made that hateful imagery, all they want is a reaction and to spread negative energy and to intimidate students. We want to make this a place for everyone. We’re all Mountaineers.”

Alpha Epsilon Pi is a fraternity on campus with roots in Jewish culture and heritage. Members of the fraternity are primarily from the Jewish community.

“What we do as a fraternity is tied specifically into an aspect called tikkun olam, which translates to repairing the world,” Ellick said. “We take that very seriously, and we are very active in the community.”

Ellick said that he encourages anyone who can to attend the talk by Holocaust survivor, Dr. Susan Cernyak-Spats on Tuesday in the Table Rock Room of Plemmons Student Union at 7 p.m.

“In my opinion, education is the only way to combat hate and promote diversity, and really, truly understand someone else’s experiences,” Ellick said. “AEPi is also in the works of planning an event to bring the community together, and to show that our diversity is a part of our strengths.”

Ellick took to social media on Sunday to post about the imagery left in the tunnel. His post has been shared 191 times by users as of Monday evening.  

App State Student Government Association released an official statement Monday afternoon.

“As a public university, we are committed to protecting freedom of speech,” the statement read. “As members of the Appalachian community and contributors to campus culture, we are committed to ensuring that all people are welcomed and accepted on this campus.”

The full statement can be found here.

“The reason for the free expression tunnel is so that students have a space on campus to express their artistic talents,” Gaby Romero, sophomore anthropology major and director of social sustainability for SGA, said. “Also, we want to keep in mind that we want this done in a positive way.”

Romero said she believes that this type of event is done in part to get attention.

“I would caution people against sharing the image,” Romero said. “I would definitely take pictures of it for documentation purposes but sharing it on social media might bring the desired attention.”

North Carolina Hillel also posted on Facebook, saying it was deeply disturbed to learn about the symbols and language painted in the expression tunnel.

“We are working with University officials to ensure this matter is investigated and properly addressed to protect the safety and respect for all members of the campus Jewish community,” the post read.  

The social justice representatives for the hall council also responded to the event by planning a “Positivity Paint” activity for Thursday night at 10 p.m. in the expression tunnels. The only supply students need to bring to the event is paint.

Kensley Hubbard, a freshman special education major and social justice representative on hall council, said the event was created to do something positive for students.

“We all tried to think about what we could do to make it better,” Hubbard said. “There’s a lot of hate going on right now on campus and in the world in general, so I think some positive words can motivate people to be a little kinder, and see that kindness is a good thing.”

As for anyone who notices something out of place and isn’t sure what to do, Ellick said that a person should speak up.

“Other people around you will hear you and follow your lead, whether you think that there is no one around you in a school of 20,000 people, someone will speak up, someone will follow you, and someone will listen,” Ellick said. “Our response to this hatred needs to be organized, and it needs to be as one. This needs to be all of us, coming together as Mountaineers to fight this hate.”

Story by Anna Muckenfuss, News Reporter, and Moss Brennan, News Editor 

Photo by Efrain Arias-Medina Jr., Graphics Editor

Featured photo caption: The free expression tunnel on App States campus lets people express themselves.