The Michigan Daily recently sat down with E. Royster Harper, vice president for student life at the University of Michigan, to discuss the aftermath of the false shooter incident, the newly elected president and vice president of Central Student Government, the recent college admissions scandal and more.
The Michigan Daily: After the false alarm of the active shooter incident, many students have cited their confusion and worries about the University’s ability to communicate during emergency situations in a timely manner. What is your advice for students and how do you respond to these concerns?
Harper: First, get off of the police scanner. Listening to the police scanner and thinking that everything that goes across the scanner is correct will only make it worse. I would offer students one source when we’re in a situation like that and that’s the Division of Public Safety and Security. I think what President Schlissel outlined beautifully in his email letter is get the (Michigan) app … My other advice would be to pay attention. This idea of earphones on, walking around, being oblivious is probably not wise. I think the good news is we got a real practice run. We learned a lot of things about our system. Some people learned about what dead zones are like for their phones, that they didn’t sign up (for emergency alerts), that they didn’t have the app. Some people were listening to the (police) scanner and thought everything it reported was real. You can see how all of that adds to the confusion. I think what I’ve heard Director Washington (Executive Director of DPSS) say the source is the Department of Public Safety and Security … We learned a lot of things we are going to get better at. For that, I’m appreciative. I think now we just have to benefit from the things we’ve learned.
TMD: A new Central Student Government president and vice president, LSA sophomore Ben Gerstein and LSA junior Isabelle Blanchard, were recently elected. What do you hope to come from their administration and how do you plan to work with them to achieve their goals?
Harper: Typically, what I do is I meet with the new administration and usually the old administration, so Daniel (Greene) and Izzy (Baer), will come. They will talk a bit about what it is they want to accomplish and during the course of that conversation I will be thinking about, given what they want to accomplish, who is it that they need to be connected to. We go through a kind of orientation so they know which areas of the University are responsible for the items they’re concerned for or an agenda item they might want to have … I try not to come into a new student body presidency with something in mind I need them to do. My goal is to help them understand what it is or how it is I can help them achieve their goals because they have a sense of what they want to accomplish. They have to represent all students, not some, but all. I try to remind them this is not an elevation of you. All of us sit in the seats we sit in to help advance the mission of the University. If you’ve been elected, you’ve been elected by the student body, and so your work becomes to represent them, not to advance a personal agenda. … I want to honor what they believe needs to happen, and then my job is to help them accomplish it.
TMD: The recent college admissions scandal regarding celebrities and top business executives bribing colleges into admitting their children has raised many concerns about the transparency of admissions processes and from students and parents. What would you say to students of lower socioeconomic backgrounds who feel they might be disadvantaged in terms of opportunities when compared to wealthier students?
Harper: I don’t think the issue on the table is wealth, to be quite frank. I think the issue on the table is character and integrity. And if a person lacks character or integrity, that can be the case whether you’re poor or rich. So, I want to be careful that we don’t paint this as a wealth—the money created an opportunity for people who didn’t have any integrity or character to do something that was wrong. We have plenty of wealthy people, and poor people, with lots of integrity, and would not use their resources that way no matter what. … This isn’t about wealth. Wealth and money were the tools, this was really about character and the degree to which you have integrity and you are honest. … This is a place that honors hard work, this is a place that looks holistically, so getting into Michigan just on your GPA and just on your test scores is not enough. And so, I think focusing on who you are and doing your very best and making the case, is what I would say. Getting distracted by people who are dishonest, you and I can’t fix that in someone. What we can do is not be dishonest with ourselves, to not cheat.
TMD: Emilio Gutiérrez Soto, a Knight-Wallace Fellow at the University, is scheduled to be deported after he was denied asylum. Also, an event occurred Monday, March 25 detailing efforts the University has taken on to help undocumented. How do you try to help undocumented or asylum-seeking students get the resources they need while also following state and federal law?
Harper: So, we do have Robert Sellers, our chief diversity officer, designated a staff member, Hector Galvan, to work with documented and undocumented students. We have a website that has resources there for the students. Our student legal services have lawyers — they are available to help students. And so, I think those kinds of resources that the law allows us to provide, we provide. … Sometimes students are afraid; they aren’t afraid necessarily because they may be able to be on campus but their parents are undocumented and so they worry about what the implications will be for their parents. Some students actually came to speak at the Board of Regents meeting to ask us to take a look at our policies and procedures around in-state and out-of-state and make sure that we aren’t disadvantaging students who actually have to work a little bit and go to school a little bit, work a little bit and go to school a little bit. … Some of our wealthy parents have given us money to be able to provide support for undocumented students. So I think having the resources available, having someone you can talk with, making sure that we honor students’ privacy rights, which we would always do, making sure there is a way for students to find out what the resources are and to take advantage of them, meeting with students if they have this concern. I think those are the kinds of things we try to do as an institution to make this place work.
TMD: After a Dec. 10 article in The Daily revealed 40 years’ worth of sexual misconduct allegations against SMTD professor Stephen Shipps, Shipps retired Feb. 28. How do you hope the University can better help students with the reporting process when there are allegations against faculty members?
Harper: I think you’ve seen the University take actions strengthening this romantic relationship policy. I hope or think you’ve seen that the University is very clear that it’s not going to be tolerated … So, I think we need three things. One, students (need) to have the courage to keep reporting … I think those of us that are responsible for hearing and believing need to hear and believe. And I think all of us have to get much more mindful of our behavior and our language and the power differential that exists between students and staff, and students and faculty members. So, I think every part of our community has a role to play in terms of shutting this down. Students have to believe they are going to be believed and tell it and say something … We have to look at our policies and procedures and make sure they are as strong as they can be. Then, we have to continue to strengthen our training — but everybody has to use their voice. We have to be good bystanders for each other. We have to say something … because what hurts is the silence … It’s a culture change that’s going to have to occur. While policies and procedures and training is really important, us owning that we are not going to be in a community that accepts this that is the only thing that will change it. … People who want to harm count on not telling … it’s almost like we are in a battle with fear or doubt … because that’s what someone who’s trying to harm you will always use … so we have to be afraid and say something anyways.