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Members of the Climate Action Movement and the One University Coalition from all three U-M campuses joined forces to protest before and after the Board of Regents meeting on Thursday, ultimately blockading the exits following the meeting in response to the University’s lack of action regarding their demands.
U-M Flint senior Lucine Jarrah, a member of One University, addressed the crowd at the pre-meeting protest. She began by saying the University has not listened to these student activists and has instead actively pushed them aside.
“Over the last year, our movements have been actively demonstrating the urgency and addressing the drastic inequities in Flint and Dearborn, as well as establishing a carbon neutrality agreement at the University of Michigan,” Jarrah said. “Instead, for months we have been consistently sidelined by the Board of Regents who have been dismissive in every opportunity to communicate our mission.”
Jarrah said no progress has been made in the One University Campaign, and while the University says they support their cause, no action has been taken.
“Time and time again we are seeing the University of Michigan deny and reject the inequitable conditions on the Flint and Dearborn campuses,” Jarrah said. “This denial has only managed to fuel the instability and mistrust between our campuses and, in the end, students are the ones getting left behind. The One University Campaign was formed in January of last year. It is now almost a year later, and we have yet to see the results we need … words of solidarity are no longer enough. We need action and we need it now.”
LSA junior Solomon Medintz, who writes for The Daily’s opinion section, was the last speaker before the board meeting. He noted while the big picture goals and demands are important, the point of the protests at the meeting are to get the bare minimum of action needed to keep the University on track.
“This is a critical moment, and we haven’t gotten anything, and we need to know that we’re going to have a chance of getting our big picture goals,” Medintz said. “We’re not asking for everything today; we’re asking for what is absolutely necessary.”
Medintz then expressed his frustrations surrounding the University’s decision not to take action. He said despite the administration voicing their support for the movements, nothing has happened.
“Both our movements have met with the administration and regents dozens of times, and although officials have said they support our goals, they do nothing,” Medintz said. “They do absolutely nothing. So, we are here to say that we are not going to be silenced or pushed aside anymore.”
LSA junior Amytess Girgis told The Daily the University is mistreating people of color, not only on campus, but around the world, because climate change disproportionately affects minority populations.
“The University of Michigan is the top public institution in the country, and the fact that it is neglecting communities of color, low-income communities, not only in the state, but frontline communities around the world in its complicity with climate change is really not becoming of a number one public institution,” Girgis said.
Before the last public commenter addressed the Board of Regents, the 1U and CAM members present in the meeting exited the room chanting, “The people united will never be defeated.” Wearing 1U pins and holding signs criticizing the University for continuing to invest in fossil fuels, the protesters gathered in front of all entrances to the golf course, creating a blockade so cars could not drive through.
In an interview with The Daily at the protest following the meeting, Regent Michael Behm (D) said he remains supportive of the protesters even though most regents choose not to respond to their statements during the public comment section of the meeting.
“(The meeting is) not conducive to having a conversation,” Behm said. “Many of the topics that came up are things we’re presently working on. And I think it’s good that we do have comments like this, because the comments make the board mindful of how the community feels.”
In response to the protesters’ demand the University reach carbon neutrality by 2030, Behm said the University’s administration is working toward making small changes that ultimately bring the University closer to this goal.
“Instead of making a hollow promise and not being able to live up to it just with an arbitrary date, the University wants to make sure that we can truly achieve carbon neutrality,” Behm said. “I think (the changes) can be incremental.”
Regent Paul Brown (D) also came to the post-meeting protest. He addressed the current culture at board meetings to stay silent after the public commenters in an interview with The Daily. He said he wished he could respond, and that there needs to be a better line of communication and more transparency. Brown also noted the Regents do care about issues such as climate change and inequitable funding on the different campuses and spend time brainstorming solutions.
“As a new Regent, I’m trying to understand the protocol and why the current protocol exists,” Brown said. “But I, and probably every other regent, is crawling out of our skin wanting to respond to each speaker. Right now, the culture is to not. I suspect there are a lot of good reasons for it, but we have to figure out a way to answer each of these questions, because that’s what the questioners deserve. … we have to figure out a way to communicate what we’re doing and why we’re doing it, because the questions that the speakers brought up, we spent most of the day today working on. We are focused really on the issues they brought up today.”
While most of the protesters were gathered at the main entrance on East Stadium Boulevard, some were at a back entrance and a walkway to prevent administration from exiting. Police officers and security began bringing out barricades to stop the activists from leaving the front area, even if they were just trying to get to their cars.
The officers said “there was no reason to go down there,” and threatened to arrest anyone who tried to cross the barricade for trespassing.
Eventually, the police and security forcibly moved and held back the protesters blockading the back exit and waved the cars of the administrators and regents through.
After the protesters were pushed aside by police officers and forced to vacate the entrances, Girgis and Medintz spoke to the remaining crowd and praised their efforts, saying they were “brave” to risk possible arrest for their cause. Girgis said even though they made progress in forcing the board to listen to their statements, students will still need to put pressure on the University to agree to their demands.
“The fact of the matter is that, yet again, discussion has been avoided about the issues that matter most to us,” Girgis said, causing a chorus of “boos” from the crowd. “About the issues that matter to the state and the people of Michigan, and about the issues that matter most to the nation and the world as a whole. And, to be clear, this is not an isolated incident. We’ve been doing the work for a year and being ignored. And that’s why we’re here, and that’s why we’re angry.”