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In response to recent racist events on campus such as the racist graffiti in West Quad Residence Hall and the “Make America White Again” rposters found near Stockwell Residence Hall last week, the Senate Advisory Committee on University Affairs and University of Michigan President Mark Schlissel met Monday to discuss how administration and faculty can respond to discrimination on campus afternoon. Schlissel also updated SACUA on the progress of the official request to rename the C.C. Little Science Building.
Prior to Schlissel’s appearance at the meeting, David Potter, a Greek and Latin professor in LSA and Student Relations Advisory Committee chair, summarized a meeting with SACUA Chair Robert Ortega, the Student Relations Advisory Council and members of Central Student Government on the current campus climate.
In this meeting, the CSG representatives suggested ways to systematically combat racist incidents, including statements addressing the lack of penalties for threatening conduct based on racial bias, a training program for all incoming students on living in a racially diverse community and a statement reminding faculty of the impact of student biases.
In his opening remarks, Schlissel mentioned the difficulty of releasing statements in response to acts of discrimination on campus. He said he is often criticized whether he releases a statement every time discrimination occurs publicly or if he can’t manage to get a statement out quickly enough for the student body.
Kinesiology professor Stefan Szymanski said Schlissel’s statements represent the administration’s stance on these issues and events as well as the faculty’s. He said even if some students believe the statements are too constant and lack urgency, Schlissel should continue to respond.
“Even at the risk of (the statements) becoming banal, what’s the alternative?” Szymanski said. “These are terrible times to live in. … Certainly I think you need to carry on (with the statements).”
Schlissel and many SACUA members reaffirmed the difficulty of responding to crises. Dave Wright, an associate professor of accounting at the Ross School of Business, brought up the Leadership Crisis Challenge, a leadership simulation for Business students that puts students in the seat of a business leader or executive during a crisis of any kind. Students then must handle the crisis, talk to reporters and maintain their public persona. Wright said this program could be adapted for faculty to teach them how to respond to campus crises through their leadership positions at the University.
The posters found at Stockwell last week highlighted the low enrollment rates of Black students at the University and at Michigan State University, and connected these rates to alleged differences in IQ levels between Black and white students. A similar comparison was made last year when other racist flyers were found around campus. University faculty released a statement on the LSA Diversity, Equity and Inclusion page debunking this relationship between race and intelligence.
Szymanski said a University-wide statement from Schlissel regarding the faulty logic of these posters would show students the University is dedicated to combating racism through academics.
“A lot of research about race and race issues comes out of the University so I’m thinking of things of, in the scientific area, where there are a number of articles in recent years in the scientific journals pointing out that race is not a scientific category," Szymanski said. "I think that’s something that our students often don’t understand and they need that pointed out to them and if it comes with the voice of their whole University, I think that’s a strong point.”
Schlissel also responded to the suggestion of putting closed-circuit television cameras in the hallways of campus dorms to find the culprits behind any future racist acts like the graffiti in West Quad. He said cameras are already positioned at the entrances and exits of most residence halls but he said he’s wary of putting cameras in residence hall hallways because he wants to protect student privacy.
“Many things go on in dormitories that I think if students really thought about it, they’d prefer not to be on video,” Schlissel said.
Ortega replied to queries from students about why the University hasn’t caught any of the people committing these acts by saying victims must deal with the burden of continuing to interact the police and University administration until the perpetrators are caught.
“The extended period of time to pursue some of these matters, even when they know who the students are or they have some idea, it doesn’t erase the pain of the students who are victims of this and so there’s some sense on their part to do something more urgent,” Ortega said. “They’re set saying, ‘So where’s the justice for us as victims?’”
Schlissel went on to provide SACUA with an update on the proposed name changing of the C.C. Little Science Building. He said the formal request made last month is now being reviewed by the President's Advisory Committee on University History.
The proposal is being compared to a rubric the committee developed last year for renaming University buildings. Some principles for name changes include respecting the University’s commitment to pedagogy and considering the original name within its historical context.
Schlissel said this second principle is important in the example of C.C. Little because of Little’s confirmed belief in eugenics, a method pseudoscience that promotes human progress through selective breeding.
“What (the name) meant to people 100 years ago or 80 years ago might have been quite different than what it means now even if we’ve learned nothing over the interim but these two ideas of looking, in context, ‘Was this person representative of their times or were they, in some fashion an outlier, an extreme version of something that we would not want to be associated with,’” Schlissel said.