Dear Provost Pollack,
I thank you sincerely for your communication to the University of Michigan community. While I respect your communication regarding Alice Walker’s disinvitation by the Center for the Education of Women, I must respectfully disagree with the tone and rationale for it. While I fully appreciate the autonomy provided by the administration of the University of Michigan to individual units, it does not excuse the message that it sends across the University and to the greater society that it's OK to marginalize the voices of women of color by attempting to limit their opportunities to speak to power and contribute to the larger social discourses in society.
It's important to understand that while this event was more highly publicized than others at the University of Michigan, it's not an isolated event nor can it be analyzed outside of other trends regarding privilege, inclusiveness, diversity and oppression at the University. African-American women comprised only 2.5 percent of the total number of newly enrolled students in the 2012-2013 academic year. If you consider the 2012-2013 enrollment of women of color from the three most historically marginalized groups in society (Hispanics, African Americans and Native Americans), the University’s enrollment was only 4.6 percent. Additionally, our reputation for supporting the tenure and discourse of faculty members who openly identify as LBGTQ continues to be shameful to myself and many of my colleagues within and outside the University.
It's for the reasons stated above, as well as in response to the more covert incidents of oppression that occur each and every day at the University of Michigan without any press or coverage, that it's impossible to view the incident involving Walker’s disinvitation to speak at a well-known university unit in isolation. While any restriction of the freedom of meaningful speech or discourse within any institution of higher learning is cause for concern and action, the restriction of the voices of those that have historically been the most excluded and marginalized within institutions of higher learning and our greater society is reprehensible.
It's my sincere hope that the University of Michigan issues Walker a full and official public apology for the incident that took place and takes concrete action to not only correct the grievance, but address the underlying institutional oppressive forces that allowed it to occur in the first place. Additionally, in order for the University of Michigan to truly be anywhere near worthy of the title “Best and Brightest," we must begin to act with much greater levels of cultural humility, criticality and transparency.
Dr. Shane Brady is a lecturer in the School of Social Work.