Contention on the rock

The tradition rock was painted to show pride on campus. Photo courtesy of Rayvin Gorrell

By Elizabeth Coss and Christopher Gillett

Last week was a busy week for Youngstown State University’s tradition rock, going through various phases of both acceptance and disagreement.

The rock, initially painted for Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month around April 4 by YSU student-athletes, was repainted April 12 with statements targeting the LGBTQ community, such as ‘Transing Kids is Sexual Assault [Awareness Month],’ ‘Stop Mainstreaming Delusion’ and ‘Only One Flag Represents Us All,’ with an American flag painted below.

On the same day, the statements were covered up with hearts and small designs to bring awareness back to Sexual Assault Awareness Month. 

However, the changes didn’t last. By the morning of April 13, similar messages stating, ‘Stop Transing Kids’ and ‘Children Are Not Lab Rats’ were painted onto the rock.

Tradition rock went through various changes over the week.
Photo by Elizabeth Coss / The Jambar

By the afternoon, other organizations began painting the rock, covering up the rhetoric to promote upcoming events on campus.

Teagan Kostelnak, a senior psychology and sociology major, and member of the YSU Coalition Against Human Trafficking, said he repainted the rock to prevent others from seeing the statements and to advocate for awareness about human trafficking.

“I’m tired of looking at this kind of stuff, tired of seeing it everywhere, and it needs to change,” Kostelnak said. “Just be nice to people. This has gotten to be a world where it’s exhausting and I think it’s tiring to see so much hate everywhere.”

April is also recognized as Campus Pride Month which brings awareness to LGBTQ inclusivity collegiately.

Joy Polkabla Byers, the associate vice president of Student Affairs, said the rock can be painted by anyone to voice opinions. 

The only kind of language not allowed on the rock is language implying threats or harm to an individual.

“[The rock] allows people to voice their opinions. At some point, it’s about sharing ideas, for bringing awareness for different events, bringing awareness for different topics,” Byers said. “[The university has] a role to make sure we are creating a safe and inclusive environment for all students.”

Byers explained there are guidelines and scoring that evaluates what is written on the rock, but if students feel discriminated against, they can file a complaint.

“You have the ability to say, ‘I feel like this was against my free speech,’” Byers said. “We will direct you to the right location to make those complaints. You can go through the Dean of Students Office — a Penguin of Concern Form — we will make sure they get to the right location. We do have a complaint system for the university for students to voice your opinion.”

Rayvin Gorrell, president of YSUnity, said there are supportive environments such as YSUnity for people on campus despite hurtful rhetoric being spread. 

“Just because there are hateful messages out there does not mean that is the way everybody feels,” Gorrell said. “It is just very sad to see that people may not feel as welcomed into our community as we would like them to be.”

Gorrell also said they’d encourage people to find safe places like YSUnity and other organizations. 

“There is a lot of support on campus. There is [YSUnity], we are very supportive and we support trans people,” Gorrell said. “People just don’t know that we exist and haven’t heard about us to know there is a supportive, welcoming [and] happy place where you can be who you want to be.”