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Michigan in Color: An unsafe campus climate

Courtesy of Rami Faraj

BY RAMI FARAJ

Published April 21, 2014

Over the last several weeks, I have had to listen to numerous students claim that they felt they were now a part of an “unsafe campus environment.” These students pointed towards SAFE's divestment bid known as #UMDivest as the main culprit of this “unsafe campus environment.”

Many claim that as Zionists and as Zionist sympathizers, they felt targeted by the resolution. Some have claimed that they felt pressured, harassed and targeted by pro-Palestinian students; yet most fail to make any sort of substantial claim as to how they were being harassed, targeted, or pressured by pro-Palestinian students. They claim with tears rolling down their cheeks that they feel threatened and some even claim they have received death threats; again, most without a single shred of evidence. There is a term for these types of tears: crocodile tears.

These tears and accusations are problematic for a number of reasons; the biggest being that they delegitimize actual threats that many students on this campus face. To the students who have actually been targeted, I sympathize with you, sympathize, not empathize - because I, too, have been the victim of threatening language. But what about the students who have recently become a part of this “unsafe campus environment?” What about the students who, within the last few weeks, feel they are no longer safe walking across the Diag or sitting in Mason Hall?

This is a message to those students. This is a message to students who have been lucky enough to never face real discrimination. This is a message to students who truly feel that this campus was safe before March 18th, 2014.

You are not and likely will never be the victim of racism, oppression, and discrimination. You do not know what an unsafe campus is like. You can ask nearly any student of color and they can tell you what an unsafe campus really is. An unsafe campus is one where you’re targeted not only by other students, but by professors who turn to you as a representative on behalf of all of your people. An unsafe campus is one where you get stares when you walk into a building because people are asking themselves whether you belong there. An unsafe campus environment is one where your voice is silenced in order to coddle the comfort of some students, so they don't have to experience a perspective they have ignored their entire life. Being uncomfortable is not the same as feeling unsafe. The first time I truly felt safe on this campus was when I was sitting in our Edward Said Lounge under threat of arrest.

Disagreement over political beliefs is nothing new. In fact, it is one of the beauties of being on a college campus. We can have actual discourse based on our ideologies. So when somebody dislikes you because you vote left or right, we should not be shocked. But when somebody dislikes you because of the color of your skin, we have an unsafe campus. You can hide your support for Barack Obama when you are at College Republicans meeting. I cannot hide my brown skin. When people are targeted because of a trait they were born with it is bigotry. When people are targeted for their political beliefs, it is probably election season.

You are not on an unsafe campus. We are. You cannot be on an unsafe campus. You have already taken so much from us. You have taken our lands, you have taken our rights, you have taken our privileges, and you are now taking our seats in classrooms. You will not take our status of oppressed because you do not know what it means to be oppressed. You do not know what it is like to be called an extremist. You do not know what it is like to be slandered on seven different websites in one day. You do not know what it is like to be hated by somebody without saying a single word to them. You are lucky enough to not know these but this is our reality.
Racism has changed in the last few decades. It has become smarter and more subtle. We no longer see a “Whites Only” water fountain. Instead, we see the enrollment statistics of our “diverse school” that suggest “Whites Only.” Just because you do not see the racism, bigotry, and oppression you read about in your history book does not mean that they have disappeared. They have simply evolved. I, along with many other people of color, do not feel welcome at this school.

I am tired of being tokenized. I am just plain tired.

What does it say about our university when student-led social justice movements are being labeled “extremist”, “violent”, or “dangerous” without proof? What does it say when the concerns of minority students are ignored in favor of not “discomforting” privileged students? What does it say about our university and its students when they either ignore or deny that there is a race issue on this campus?

It says that our university is not invested in the well-being of its students. Instead, our university has fully embraced the idea that higher-education should be a place of business, not education. It says that our University of Michigan is not the same one that was nearly always at the forefront of struggles for equality, justice, and civil rights. It says that most of our students no longer care about doing what is right; instead, they do what is convenient. But make no mistake, just because this campus is slightly less convenient for you does not mean that minorities created an unsafe campus - unfortunately, we do not have the privilege of dictating the safety of this campus. It is quite ironic that our safety is in the administration's hands, yet they continue to use them to abuse us.

So do not spew crocodile tears and point the finger at us for creating an unsafe campus environment, because this campus was never safe to begin with.

Michigan in Color is the Daily’s opinion section designated as a space for and by students of color at the University of Michigan. To contribute your voice or find out more about MiC, e-mail michiganincolor@umich.edu.