2021 was, among many things, a year of return. After a year-and-a-half of online classes, students at the University of Michigan returned to in-person classes. We saw the return of sporting events, complete with Michigan fans decked out in maize and blue. Michigan’s football team returned to its former glory, beating Ohio State and winning the Big Ten Championship. We saw the return of concerts, like that of Glass Animals at the Crisler Center, and screenings at the Michigan Theater. But all of this is not to say that we have returned to “normal.” We’ve unmasked, only to re-mask a few months later. We’ve gotten vaccinated, and then gotten vaccinated again. We’ve returned, but not the same as before.
This year, the University’s past has caught up with its present. Most notably, the survivors of the late Dr. Robert Anderson, led by Jon Vaughn and Chuck Christian, have camped out in front of President Mark Schlissel’s house.
The Michigan Daily’s photographers have borne witness to this return. We were at vaccination sites, where the old and young received their first, second or third shot. We were with the survivors of Dr. Anderson as they shed a light on sexual assault on campus. We were at the Big House when Michigan beat Ohio State.
I encourage you to check out our photographers’ favorite photos and the stories behind them, which can be found here. I hope you enjoy looking at the world through the lenses of our cameras.
After champagne toasts, midnight embraces and New Year’s resolutions, the turn of the year did not initially seem to mark a distinct change from the fall semester for the University of Michigan’s campus. Almost all classes continued in a virtual format and residence halls were kept at an extremely limited capacity. Michigan Medicine staff formed an unconventional defensive line in the Big House, administering newly developed COVID-19 vaccines to high-risk members of the local community. Meanwhile, some Ann Arbor Public School (AAPS) parents rallied for in-person classes.
Outside of Ann Arbor, rioters stormed the U.S. capitol building in Washington D.C. After the insurrection — and the subsequent second impeachment of former President Donald Trump — Joe Biden called for national unity upon being sworn into office as the 46th U.S. President. Vice President Kamala Harris made history as the first woman, the first Black American and the first South Asian American to hold the VP office.
An early February snowstorm gave U-M students the perfect excuse to step away from their computer screens and come together on the Diag to throw snowballs at each other — from six feet away, of course. Though students did not have the traditional, week-long spring break in 2021, the University did not hold classes Feb. 24 so students could take a mental “well-being break” — or at least catch up on school work. Michigan Medicine also collaborated with AAPS to support the physical well-being of Ann Arbor teachers through COVID-19 vaccination clinics.
While the campus community celebrated Black History Month virtually for the first time, U-M President Mark Schlissel and U-M administration hired consulting firm Guidepost Solutions to help implement recommendations from the WilmerHale report regarding the discovery of 2 decades of sexual misconduct by former University Provost Martin Philbert.
By the time March rolled around, the campus community was fully settled into the semester, but the energy on campus was that of victory and activism. The men’s basketball team made it to the Elite 8 while the women’s team was in the Sweet 16 for the first time ever. Although most students were living off-campus, the campus community celebrated these athletic victories and worked to disband Order of Angell, a controversial exclusive secret society that was criticized for its elitist behavior and past appropriation of Native American culture.
The President’s Commission on Carbon Neutrality also released its 104-page report with recommendations for the University to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2040. The report came after over two years of deliberation, research and engagement from the campus community. On March 25, the Board of Regents also voted to disinvest from fossil fuel holdings, a decision that came after years of sustained community activism.
Regent Ron Weiser (R) also came under fire in March after referring to the state of Michigan’s Democratic leaders as “witches” and referencing assassination at a North Oakland Republican Club meeting. Many members of the campus community — including four other members of the Board of Regents — then called for Weiser’s resignation. The Board later voted to censure Weiser.
March was also a month full of devastation, after a man killed eight people in an Asian-owned massage parlor in the Atlanta area, sparking discussion over anti-Asian hate and the historical violence against and fetishization of Asian women in Western imperialist culture. Over 200 U-M community members gathered on the steps of Angell Hall to mourn the victims and reflect on the implications of the attack.
The winter 2021 semester came to a close in April just after the women’s gymnastics team won the National Championships, a first in University history. In spite of a U-M parent protest for in-person commencement that made national headlines, the University proceeded to prepare for another virtual commencement ceremony. To help celebrate the Class of 2021, Art and Design students and faculty emblazoned Washington Street with a mural.
A shooting at Briarwood Mall shocked the local community mid-month, while the Association of Black Student Social Work Students called for change at a protest against police brutality, racism and gun violence. Several alumni also came forward with allegations of sexual misconduct against former American Culture lecturer Bruce Conforth. Just before the end of the month, the campus community mourned the loss of unofficial U-M mascot Reggie Bee after his owner announced the loveable corgi’s passing.
Hundreds of tasseled caps flew into the air above Michigan Stadium on May 1 as some of the spring 2021 graduating class chose to attend an in-person, masked, socially-distanced commencement viewing ceremony, while some graduates watched the virtual ceremony online with family and friends.
Later, WilmerHale completed their year-long investigation into sexual assault allegations against the late U-M athletic physician Dr. Robert Anderson; the law firm released a report outlining 37 years of sexual abuse by Anderson.
Following escalating attacks between Israel and Hamas, Central Student Government leaders issued a controversial statement condemning “Israeli colonialism” and violence in light of targeted airstrikes in Gaza that killed Palestian civilians. Hundreds of community members also marched through downtown Ann Arbor and protested in front of City Hall to demonstrate support for Palestine and opposition to the Israeli government’s eviction of residents of the predominantly Palestinian neighborhood Sheikh Jarrah.
May 2021 also marked one year since the murder of George Floyd and the subsequent racial reckoning led by the Black Lives Matter movement, so The Daily reflected on the reasons protestors marched while another protest in memoriam of Floyd concluded the month.
The summer heat was rivaled only by the energy that surged through campus in the month of June as various protests took on different forms. “The Rock” on the corner of Hill St. and Washington Ave. was painted over repeatedly by students and community members with alternating pro-Palestine and pro-Israel words and symbols for two weeks; community members also held a vigil in front of Angell Hall for the Palestinian lives lost in May.
The Lecturers’ Employee Organization (LEO) did not contain their fight to one corner of campus but marched across the Diag and in front of President Schlissel’s house in support of tri-campus equity; the student governing bodies from all three campuses also took up the cause, and the Board of Regents voted to expand the Go Blue Guarantee full-tuition scholarship to the Flint and Dearborn campuses.
Dozens of sexual abuse survivors of the late Dr. Robert Anderson also held a press conference in the Big House, calling for action and accountability from the U-M administration. In Ann Arbor, and across the state of Michigan, June also brought a ray of hope as Gov. Gretchen Whitmer officially opened the state to full capacity after over a year of COVID-19 restrictions, and vaccinated individuals were allowed to enter University buildings unmasked.
Torrential downpour and dangerous flooding at the beginning of July led local officials to declare a state of emergency for Washtenaw County. The flooding garnered national attention with President Joe Biden declaring a state of disaster for the state of Michigan and offering federal aid.
As the sun finally cut through the overcast gloom mid-month, hundreds of rainbows appeared across campus; Pride on the Diag brought a group of speakers, performers and community members together to celebrate LGBTQ+ identities.
In anticipation of the start of an in-person fall semester in August, the University once again mandated masks for indoor settings, to mixed reactions from the campus community. As U-M student vaccine rates continued to near 100%, the Food and Drug Administration granted full approval to the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine for anyone 16 years of age or older.
The Anderson survivors also continued to push back against the University, after the University asked a judge to dismiss the survivors’ suit. As students finally came back to campus after nearly a year online, LEO protested outside of residence halls during move-in week to emphasize their commitment to increased salaries for U-M Flint and Dearborn lecturers. Having officially quit their contract in August, LEO’s negotiations with the University remained unsuccessful, with the possibility of a September strike seemingly forthcoming.
From the Big House to the Diag and within every classroom newly filled with students, the renewed sense of spirit across campus made it clear why ‘it’s great to be a Michigan Wolverine.’ September started out with the football team crushing Western University 47-17 in the first game back with in-person fans and the biggest Festifall ever. Students flocked to the new Target on State St., watched Glass Animals perform live at the Crisler Center and listened to New York Times journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones speak about her experience founding The 1619 Project.
Some students faced hour-long wait times and overcrowding for campus buses until routes were changed, while Michigan Medicine began offering immunocompromised students a third ‘booster’ dose of COVID-19 vaccines.
Students joined forces with the Anderson victims to protest outside a Board of Regents meeting, giving the survivors a platform to share their stories with the campus community. The Ann Arbor community also hosted the first Entheofest on the Diag to call for the decriminalization of plant medicines and fungi, and The Daily reflected on how the events of 9/11 affected U-M’s campus 20 years ago.
If fall is often regarded as the season of change, October 2021 was no exception for the University of Michigan. As the falling leaves covered Ann Arbor in a brightly-colored blanket, the U-M endowment grew to $17 billion and University enrollment topped 50,000 students for the first time.
Students and survivors continued to protest the University’s sexual assault and misconduct policies following the surfacing of Anderson’s sexual abuse allegations. Many in the community called on the University to better support and protect survivors as well as spread awareness of the over 2,000 known accusations of abuse by Anderson. On Oct. 8, former U-M running back Jonathan Vaughn, an Anderson survivor, began camping outside of President Schlissel’s house, an act of protest that would continue throughout the entire semester and impact many in the community.
Schlissel surprised the campus community by announcing he would resign as University President in 2023 — a year earlier than planned — though his exit package caused some controversy. An anonymous shooting threat made against women on campus caused many students to feel unsafe, and the campus police worked with the Federal Bureau of Investigation to identify the perpetrator. The same day the threat was made, hundreds of women and allies marched in Ann Arbor to advocate for women’s reproductive rights in response to the Texas Heartbeat Act, which banned nearly all abortions in the state.
As Vaughn and another former football player Chuck Christian, also an Anderson survivor, continued to camp outside President Schlissel’s house, the ‘Hail to the Victims’ movement continued to pick up steam in spite of the November chill. Some students also camped with the survivors, and student organization Black UMich held a rally at the campsite. As more than 950 people came forward with allegations against Anderson, survivors of Anderson and Conforth spoke at a U-M sexual assault forum; Vaughn announced his candidacy for a U-M regent in 2022; and an anonymous Ann Arbor resident sprayed red paint on the U-M statue of Bo Schembechler as protest for his alleged knowledge and inaction after being notified of Anderson’s abuse.
Meanwhile, Public Policy students walked out of class upon learning that a newly admitted Public Policy and Social Work master’s student had been previously found guilty of Title IX violations relating to sexual assault. Students later walked out again to protest for better climate change and sexual assault prevention policies at the University.
Biden visited a General Motor factory in Detroit and Whitmer visited Ann Arbor to speak with The Michigan Daily about state policies. For the Peace Corps — originally founded by John F. Kennedy at U-M — November marked 60 years of student engagement.
Ann Arbor also became the first U.S. city to require free menstruation products in public restrooms, and the FDA approved the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine for children 5-11 years of age nationwide.
In a game not soon to be forgotten, Michigan football beat Ohio State for the first time in nine years with a score of 42-27; Wolverine fans rushed the field and celebrated in the falling snow.
As campus returned from Thanksgiving break for the last month of 2021, December became a time to celebrate, reflect and prepare for the year ahead. As the month began, students held a candlelit vigil for the lives lost in the Oxford shooting on the Diag.
With finals approaching, students also organized a light show on the Diag to support mental health awareness. The Michigan football team went on to win the Big 10 Championship Game 42-3 against Iowa, and the Associated Press named Jim Harbaugh college football coach of the year.
Once students turned in their exams and began to head home for the holidays, the first case of the COVID-19 omicron variant in the state of Michigan was reported in Kent County and the University announced COVID-19 booster shots would be required for all students, faculty and staff by Feb. 4, 2022. Though the global spread of the Omicron variant had some U-M community members concerned about returning to in-person classes on Jan. 5, 2022, the University announced campus activities will proceed as planned in the winter semester, with updated health and safety guidelines.
This project was led and organized by Senior Multimedia Photo Editor Emma Mati, who can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Monthly summaries were written by Daily News Editor Roni Kane, who can be reached at email@example.com. Managing Online Editor Eric Lau contributed to design and development and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.