LSA senior Kathy Zhu, the vice chair of the University of Michigan College Republicans, made national headlines after Miss World America stripped her of her Miss Michigan title in July. The action was in response to two tweets from her public Twitter account. According to an email the organization sent to Zhu, the tweets were deemed “offensive, insensitive and inappropriate content.”
As a new school year begins, students have mixed ideas on how her comments will affect the campus climate at U-M.
One of the tweets, posted in February 2018, responded to a “try on a hijab” booth in celebration of World Hijab Day at the University of Central Florida, where Zhu used to attend school. Zhu’s tweet equated the use of a hijab to the oppression of women under Islam. Zhu transferred to the University of Michigan the following semester of Fall 2018 after receiving backlash for the tweet from thousands of Twitter users and UCF students, some of which called for her expulsion.
The other tweet brought into question by MWA was posted in October 2017, and blamed Black Americans for violence within their own communities. Both tweets have since been deleted from Zhu’s account, although she told Fox News in July she does not rescind any of her statements.
“I stand by all of the tweets that I tweeted out from my Twitter account, but I don’t think that any of them were remotely racist or insensitive,” Zhu said in her interview with Fox News. “I just think I presented the facts and presented my own opinion of things.”
Zhu did not respond to requests for comment from The Michigan Daily.
Less than a week after the incident, Zhu was named to the Women for Trump Coalition Advisory Board. More recently, founders of a new beauty pageant titled Miss MAGA said Zhu’s story inspired them to create the competition.
LSA senior Maria Muzaurieta said College Republicans “fully stands behind” Zhu in an email to The Daily back in July.
“Although (MWA is) within their rights to do this as a private organization, we believe that this decision shows incredible bias against unextraordinary right wing opinion, which we expect will come back to hurt the organization,” Muzaurieta wrote.
Since her initial comment in July, Muzaurieta has not responded to additional requests for comment from The Daily.
Public Policy junior Camille Mancuso, communications director for the University’s chapter of College Democrats, wrote in an email to The Daily in July that the College Democrats condemn Zhu’s statements and regard them as “racist.”
Now, with the start of a new school year, Mancuso said Zhu’s comments are still very important to discuss.
“Unfortunately, the incident regarding Kathy Zhu and her comments is not unique,” Mancuso wrote in a recent email. “Whether it’s in the form of racist graffiti in residence halls, Ben Shapiro speaking on campus, Stephen Ross fundraising for Trump or the words of Kathy Zhu, the racism on this campus is unfortunately very present and very persistent and very reflective of the systemic racism that is existent not only in Michigan and on Michigan’s campus but across the nation.”
Zhu’s actions will diminish the mental well-being of the student population, and specifically students of color on campus, Manusco said. She said student activists like the College Democrats will continue to fight for equity and inclusion within the University and surrounding community.
“Racism is not welcome on our campus, and we will do the work as an organization to combat this continued harmful rhetoric,” Mancuso wrote to The Daily.
LSA junior Fareah Fysudeen, vice president external of the Muslim Student Association, received infuriated, deeply saddened and disappointed reaction messages in an MSA group chat when Zhu’s comments first became public, she told The Daily in an email interview.
“As an active community member in the Muslim community on campus, I believe every Islamaphobic remark, no matter how little, chips away at our general feeling of safety and belonging,” Fysudeen wrote.
However, LSA junior Thomas Vance, an Afroamerican and African studies and political science double major, said he believes the campus political climate is constantly shifting and a significant change will not occur solely as a result of Zhu’s actions.
“I don’t think it’s in the forefront of anyone’s mind,” Vance said. “Because it was over the summer, people have internships, take classes, but I don’t think anyone’s been thinking about it. The conversations I’ve had within my friend group or the circle that I’m in, they haven’t really brought it up. It was something that happened, and we thought about it for a few days.”
Vance also referenced freedom of speech and the First Amendment. He said Zhu’s case could be considered an example of infringement on her freedom of speech.
Vance said he did not think Zhu’s statements would affect the campus community differently than similar comments often made on social media.
“The comment that she made is nothing different than other comments that you see on Twitter and people’s response to Black Lives Matter or black-on-black crime,” Vance said. “It’s not to be different than the racial biases we have on campus.”