The Rackham Student Government joined the Office of Multi-Ethnic Student Affairs’ Black History Month Tuesday evening to host a conversation about the University of Michigan’s history and current approach to anti-racist policies to build a more diverse environment.
The event’s moderator, Shanice Battle, Public Health doctoral of epidemiology candidate and former Students of Color of Rackham Graduate School president, asked panelists to discuss the historical antecedents that have helped the University combat anti-Black racism.
Rackham Assistant Dean Ethriam Brammer said while the University has many accomplishments to celebrate, it also has a troubled history.
“We must acknowledge that we’ve never had parity on our campus,” Brammer said.
Askari Rushing, the Rackham DEI Certificate Academic Program Specialist, expanded on this idea by suggesting the issues Black students face are not exclusive to campus.
“It is really baked into not just our university, but in our society as a whole,” Rushing said.
David Humphrey, the diversity and inclusion officer at the School of Education, referenced the consistency with which anti-Blackness exists in higher education.
“The issues that Black folks have been talking about and have been pushing and advocating about at the University of Michigan have been there since before the ‘60s and ‘70s,” Humphrey said.
Rushing discussed how the Black Action Movement’s protests against the policies and actions of the University have stood out. In the ‘70s and ‘80s, students protested against the U-M administration to increase integration and then to hold them accountable for their promises to implement policies for fair hearings, housing and police involvement, Rushing said. He said the University has failed to meet its goal of 10% Black enrollment and that there is a new movement to hold them accountable.
“To have the courage and the bravery to put yourself at risk … I think it is a strong marker of excellence, and it’s encouraging to see that it didn’t just stop in the ‘70s,” Rushing said. “They kept holding the University accountable.”
Later, Battle asked the panelists how they suggested beginning the deep work required for institutional change.
Humphrey suggested addressing the root policy cause of the issues Black students experience on campus.
“What if we just acknowledge that the University of Michigan is racist?” Humphrey said.
Rushing agreed and said that this is an important beginning for institutional change.
“If you can’t admit that you’re racist, how are you going to fix those issues?” Rushing said.
Humphrey acknowledged that the hard work needed to be done has not changed, because many of the issues Black students face on campus have not changed.
“Until we give more attention to how we are going to take direct efforts, we will still be having the same issues in 2050,” Humphrey said.
Brammer said that damage and trauma created over centuries cannot be repaired with the work of a single generation. He addressed the public sentiment of wanting to move on from uncomfortable questions about racism.
“For those who want to rush to that reality, we need greater investment and greater reparations,” Brammer said.
The panelists discussed current efforts to prioritize institutional change in faculty hiring and admissions. Brammer discussed creating a system in which every U-M academic unit would change their hiring policies to require a discussion with an appointed Diversity, Equity & Inclusion officer to ensure representation and diverse voices in the institution.
“Our students too often do not see themselves in their faculty,” Brammer said.
Humphrey proposed changing how courses are taught at the University to focus on perspectives outside of the lens used when higher education was meant for rich, white men to be more applicable to the people learning in these spaces today.
Brammer explained why racially disparate outcomes in standardized testing scores occur.
“Because that’s exactly what the tests were designed to do,” Brammer said. “We are exploring the discontinuation of the GRE. I see this as an explicitly anti-racist action … These things we rely on to make important decisions are completely centered around a specific population and even devised to exclude certain populations.”
Later, Battle asked the panelists how to encourage substantive action and not performative action by the institution in the future.
Rushing said demanding transparency and accountability will be the most important elements in achieving substantive action by the University.
“When people put out a statement, track what they say they’re going to do,” Rushing said. “Make them prove they’re doing what they’re saying. When you have your receipts, people can’t argue with you.”
The panelists emphasized the importance of collective action in these efforts to create institutional change.
“To be anti-racist is to think collective,” Humphrey said.
Without forming a coalition of people, Rushing said it can be really difficult to achieve institutional change.
“Get as many people involved in the action as possible — it can be really hard, and you can feel like you’re working by yourself,” Rushing said.
Brammer said the University has a responsibility to also work on these anti-Black racism efforts because the burden of policy implementation has previously ended up on students.
“We should take on that work — that’s our work,” Brammer said. “We need to be really fearless and unwavering to do this work because it’s going to be hard, but it’s morally and ethically the right thing to do.”
Daily Staff Reporter Scarlett Bickerton can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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