After meeting with a group of student government leaders at the Cube Monday, University of Michigan president Mark Schlissel discussed his administration’s response to anti-Black, anti-Muslim and anti-LGBTQ posters discovered over the past week.
Last Monday, anti-Black and anti-women posters were found in University buildings. Today, more offensive posters were found posted around campus from the white-supremacist group alt-right.
Speaking specifically to the meeting that was occurring, Schlissel told The Michigan Daily he wanted to bring together student leaders in an effort to continue the actions the University is taking in response to last week’s incidents.
“We were struck by another round of these terrible, racist, hateful posters, and I’m trying to look for proactive things that we can do together as a community to speak out against hate,” Schlissel said. “It’s really important to me that the student body as a whole pays attention to this and appreciates what’s going on and steps up to support students that feel like their place here is being attacked.”
Over the past week, students have initiated a series of protests and social media campaigns following the discovery of the original posters last week, with many calling for more action from Schlissel and noting his absence at some of the events. According to University spokesman Rick Fitzgerald, Schlissel was out of town last Monday.
The protests and incidents came a week before the launch of the University’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion strategic plan, a year-long initiative launched by Schlissel last September, which was also a target of criticism during protests.
On Monday evening, chalkings on the Diag criticizing Schlissel for his response to protests and student outcry appeared, including “Schlissel don’t care about Black Students unless They Are Athletes,” “We just getting started Mark” and “#Schlisselwya,” which referenced a hashtag started earlier in the week.
The University has held several events in response to the fliers this past week, including a LSA-sponsored event Wednesday and a campus-wide conversation about race hosted by Schlissel on Sunday. Both events discussed the importance of continuing conversations surrounding these issues, aiming to foster student discussion and input.
In his conversation with the Daily Monday, Schlissel stressed the need for proactive efforts to tackle the incidents.
He said he thinks the launch of the DEI plan, along with faculty members encouraging open dialogue in the classroom setting, will help establish campus-wide solidarity and communication.
“The comments I plan to make (upon launching the DEI plan) will be modified based on the challenging things that have been going on on campus the last 10 days,” Schlissel said. “One of our hopes is that faculty members take advantage or try to come up with something positive out of this difficult circumstance and are talking to their students and asking how they feel about things and providing support for them. I know that the faculty are thinking of ways to step forward as a group as well.”
Schlissel also noted that the University is not alone in these incidents, as there have been others on campuses both statewide and nationwide. On Sept. 20, EMU found that racially charged slurs were graffitied on several academic and student housing buildings, leading to a call for response from university officials.
“We all face the same challenges, we all face the same limitations as to response and I think we’re all looking for ways to show solidarity with our students and to fight hate speech with more speech,” Schlissel said.
CSG President David Schafer, an LSA senior, was present at the meeting and said it was a significant way to move forward from the incidents.
Schafer also said he thought while social media campaigns are a strong start to responding to these events, much like Schlissel, he wants to see tangible action in engaging with a variety of student groups to ensure the safety and welfare of all students.
“It’s more than students just posting or tweeting on Facebook or over social media, I think it’s being an ally through their actions, as we mentioned in our statement a couple of Fridays ago,” Schafer said. “Now we need to match words with actions.”
LSA senior Julia Gips, president of LSA Student Government, said she does not think many students have engaged fully with the incidents over the past few weeks, but that the efforts the administration is taking so far — especially those on social media — have been effective.
“I think, as student leaders, we hope to get other students involved in the conversation and not just walk past these posters and feel appalled, but do something about it, say something and stand up for our fellow classmates,” Gips said.