Hey Schlissel,

Buddy. Pal. Friendo. What are you doing? Where do we even start with you?

OK, setting this up. Here’s what’s happening. People have been posting anti-Black posters and saying transphobic things in response to some of us demanding to be allowed to exist in safety and comfort (how dare we, honestly?). University of Michigan President Mark Schlissel, your response was an advertising campaign. Three weeks later we’re seeing more posters and more comments.

These awful things aren’t weird or abnormal like the campaign seems to suggest. This is the status quo. Your campus climate is one in which your students feel comfortable expressing violent ideas, some anonymous and others not, on broad platforms. This has become acceptable behavior here. Your response needed to change norms, though clearly, it hasn’t, or this wouldn’t still be happening. Let me tell you why:

Your campaign says all sorts of things meant to make people like me feel included, such as,

  • Spread Ideas, Not Hate
  • Encourage Dialogue, Not Division
  • Engage, Not Enrage
  • Include, Not Exclude
  • Every Voice Counts

Ostensibly, I’m supposed to see these and feel included and like my voice matters. I should feel welcome to participate in dialogues and conversations about identity and safety. Very few of the marginalized people I know here actually feel this way, and these posters didn’t do much to improve that.

Here’s what I actually see:

  • Don’t actually do anything violent, but hateful ideas are OK
  • We should be coming together, regardless of whether you feel my identity is valid
  • We’re not allowed to be mad about our exclusion
  • We should be completely inclusive, even of voices that wished I didn’t exist

That last one, “every voice counts,” is especially some of the most all-lives-matter-iest bullshit I’ve seen in months. When you’re telling racist and transphobic bigots that their voice counts, what is that doing for me? This milquetoast campaign won’t do anything if you continue to refuse to take an explicitly anti-bigotry stance. All you’re doing is perpetuating the exclusion of marginalized groups and welcoming hatred from privileged ones. When you say “every voice counts,” I hear, “your voice counts, but not enough to be worth protecting from voices that would seek to cause you harm.”

You want us to spread ideas? Here’s one. Listen to marginalized people and demonstrate actual care for them instead of posing with ineffective posters on Twitter. Maybe actually do something for us; that’d be neat. If you want us to be included, make actual change so that we are included and stop doing things that generate positive press and little else. You have a choice to make between protecting bigots or their victims; who do you actually want here? What will it take to get you to actually say “racism is bad?”

Hoping you’ll listen this time,

Vidhya

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