Students gathered Tuesday afternoon inside Trotter Multicultural Center, awaiting University President Santa Ono’s first visit to the building. During an address, Ono expressed his support for Trotter and the Black Student Union’s (BSU) “More Than Four” platform and addressed a recent incident in which unknown individuals tore down posters supporting the BSU around campus.
After a brief tour from the staff, Ono stepped into the Sankofa Lounge to address the small crowd of students that were there to listen and talk with him. He began by pledging to not talk about himself too much, but rather listen.
“I’m here to spend time with you, and to hear from you,” Ono said. “I just want to say this is a really beautiful building and it’s really wonderful to connect with you.”
Ono also acknowledged the recent incident involving the announcement of BSU’s platform and the torn down BSU posters. Last Tuesday, the BSU released their “More Than Four” platform, which called on the University to increase Black student enrollment, combat anti-Blackness, improve DEI policies and increase equity in K-12 education. BSU broadcasted the platform across campus, putting up posters and posting on social media accounts to gain visibility from the student body. Later that day, anonymous actors tore down BSU posters around campus.
On Thursday, Ono released a statement condemning these “harmful” and “destructive” actions. During his visit to Trotter, Ono again acknowledged and expressed his support for the platform, letting students know that he is looking forward to working with BSU to enact change on campus.
“I want to thank everyone who was involved in (the platform),” Ono said. “I think that the recommendations and suggestions in (the platform) make sense to me. I’m looking forward to getting together with the leadership of that group … to really think about how we can work together to make those recommendations a reality.”
LSA junior Stefania Ramirez, who was in attendance Monday afternoon, told The Michigan Daily she hoped Ono would do more than just talk about the platform, and instead, take action to address the concerns expressed by BSU.
“I think that some action I would like to see taken is President Ono actually leaning into those concerns, and validating them and actually taking action instead of just saying things,” Ramirez said.
Dr. Kyra Shahid, director of the Trotter Center, told The Daily that Ono’s acknowledgement of the BSU platform spoke volumes to the community.
“I think it means that he’s paying attention,” Shahid said. “I think it means that he’s not afraid to have the hard conversations, the necessary conversations, the conversations that hold true meaning and value to students. I think that’s exciting, I think that’s affirming.”
During his time at the Trotter Center, Ono took questions from the crowd that had gathered. One student asked him about how the administration planned to improve responses to racist and discriminatory acts on campus. In response, Ono took the opportunity to apologize for how long it took for him to respond to the BSU posters being taken down.
“I apologize,” Ono said. “I wasn’t aware because we were busy the first few weeks of my being here. But, you should expect that kind of response from me, where I put out a statement, where I condemned it.”
Ono then said that addressing these instances of racism and discrimination on campus are important to him because he has experienced personal instances in his own life.
“Myself … and my family have experienced, over my entire lifetime, racist acts,” Ono said. “So I’m personally motivated … to do everything I can to make this the most inclusive institution possible. It’s hard work. It takes a lot of time, but I’m very motivated to do it.”
Ono asked the students for their support in his efforts to address racism on campus, emphasizing that, together, the U-M community could make a powerful impact.
“I need your support,” Ono said. “I can’t do it alone. We’ve got to work on this together. And if something happens, you’ve got to tell me, and I do believe that working together we’ll make a change.”
Following the presentation portion of the event, Ono spent time speaking with students one-on-one, shaking hands and taking pictures.
Shahid said that Ono’s visit was not only exciting, but also meant the start of real progress for the issues on campus that students of Color care about.
“I am beyond thrilled to welcome him into our space and to be able to share with him what I’ve been learning about students, about campus, about Trotter, about the specific history of Trotter and the role it plays right now … where we are in terms of the climate of campus and so many different student groups needing more support, needing more safe space, also needing more attention to the need for racial healing,” Shahid said. “I think that Santa Ono is a president that understands that. So him being here today, I think, is a great first start.”Daily Staff Reporter Riley Hodder can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.