ISIS or Frat Boys: The Youngstown State University Case

Youngstown, Ohio (TFC) – Youngstown State University students at the college’s campus in Youngstown, Ohio went to class Monday morning to find their collegiate signpost, “The Rock,” covered in pro-D’aesh propaganda, featuring slogans such as “France Deserves Destruction,” “YSU Supports ISIS” and “We’re Coming.”

(Photo Credit - Joe Bethuy, Youngstown OH)

(Photo Credit – Joe Bethuy, Youngstown OH)

Full disclosure: I go to this university. My wife and partner recently graduated from this university. I was born in a hospital that is roughly two miles away from this university, and I grew up (and currently live) in a house four miles away from this university on the South Side of Youngstown. So, perhaps, I am choosing to write an opinion piece on this issue rather than hard news, simply because I am so close to it. Bear with me.

First, “The Rock.” This is one of those college traditions. We live in a glacial area, and YSU is an engineering and geology school primarily; this was a chunk of erratic rock dredged up somewhere in the Mahoning Valley and deposited on campus, and generations of YSU students have been painting it ever since. It is painted for sports rivalries, it is painted for big campus events, it is painted for student union elections and homecoming elections and yes, it is painted by various student groups for holidays and activist purposes. I anecdotally was told by one professor that the thing is roughly twice the size it once was due to the layers of paint, and once I took a pocket knife into this monument and I can tell you, the paint runs deep. So, that’s the “Rock” of YSU.

Monday morning, students came to campus to find “The Rock” painted in the colors of the French flag and covered in pro-ISIS propaganda. This came after a bomb threat to the university the previous Friday, so tensions were running high indeed. Immediately, local news sources swarmed the area, and the story went on to outlets such as Fox News. As I write, I’m sure the vultures are gathering around, looking to make a story out of this… Hell, I am myself.

Perhaps the best response to this that I read on social media, among locals, was that this was likely done by some kids looking to get out of class. The Thanksgiving break and it’s classic workload is looming, and students are tired of being in class. This was, almost certainly, a frat boy “prank,” some misguided youths looking to get a rise out of people… and they have, certainly. Here’s a gem of a comment from a user of the website of the local paper of record, the Vindicator, a depository of people who just barely made it through their journalism classes:

“Here’s an idea; paint the rock over and station sharpshooters on top of Kilcawley. Then, when the heathen brown-skinned ragheads come back, we simply shoot ’em”

“Kilcawley” being the campus building directly next to the rock in question. Lovely. Here’s another:

“Covering over the pro-ISIS rhetoric with WHITE paint. How very appropriate!!!”

I should note that my hometown isn’t filled with white supremacists. Really, we are a pluralistic community. YSU is a multi-cultural campus with many people of color, including a large Muslim student population. I do fear that some of the more reactionary members of our community – who are, as they ever are, very vocal – will misguidedly blame our Muslim friends for this idiocy, but we will see what becomes of that in the coming days. Take another random comment from a local:

“Ummm…I thought Hussein said that “ISIS” was “contained?” Apparently he meant that the campus at YSU “contained” ISIS terrorists! And of course he wants to take in Syrian reinforcements…oops, I mean refugees! C’mon man….these muslim terrorists are obviously here, among us, and the guy who claims to be the C.I.C. wants to bring in more?”

“Hussein,” here, clearly a reference to the middle name of President Obama, a man known mostly for winning a Nobel Peace Prize and dropping bombs on Muslim children. How this man could possibly be a coordinator of some Muslim invasion is beyond the comprehension of any sane person, but the comment does serve to stoke my concern for my Muslim neighbors and friends in this current climate.

(Photo Credit, Emily Wire, Youngstown OH)

(Photo Credit, Emily Wire, Youngstown OH)

The university did indeed begin releasing text alerts about this issue, starting at 11:14 am EST. I know, I got one. I won’t go forth and list a great many of these, but here is the latest official release from the university, created for the press:

“Messages were found painted on the rock on the Youngstown State University campus core on Monday, Nov. 23, that were found to be of concern. YSU Police are investigating the situation. The FBI was contacted as a precautionary measure. No threats have been validated at this time. Police are continuing to look into the matter. There is no credible threat to the campus at this time.”

I have indeed heard that the local FBI were out in force today, and that they are investigating the matter. They certainly are going to be pulling surveillance tapes of the campus, and I imagine that even as I type this, there is some frat boy getting shoved to the floor, his beer bong spilling all over the shag carpet of the half-falling down house on the North Side of town that his parents are paying his share of the rent for.

Campus maintenance later sprayed the “Rock” white, and a group of students banded together to paint an American flag and various patriotic slogans on it. A number of Muslim and Arab students were present as well, with one, Mohamed Mishmish, writing “peace” in Arabic and English on the rock.

Several local student veterans took their pictures with patriotic signs in front of this display, and kudos to them – honestly. We have a great veteran group on campus and I greatly respect their ordeal and service. And I admire the sentiment, though a French flag would perhaps have been more appropriate, given the context. But we shouldn’t lose sight of one thing, and that is this: this was some group of fools, trying to take advantage of a horrible event for their own ends, in this case, getting out of class.

Sounds pretty similar to world governments, taking advantage of a terrible tragedy, for their own ends… doesn’t it?