More than 100 University of Michigan School of Information students, staff, faculty and alumni have signed an internal letter to remove Carin Ehrenberg from the UMSI Advisory Board after videos of her verbally assaulting Arab and Muslim students surfaced on social media.
In the first of a series of videos posted to X, Ehrenberg is seen verbally harassing one student, saying, “Are you going to send one of your terrorists after us?” The videos were taken on Oct. 13, during a protest led by students and community members in response to University President Santa Ono’s initial statement about the violence in the Middle East — in which he did not include any mention of Palestine or the thousands of Palestinians killed by Israel in the ongoing war in Gaza. In the second video from the same post, Ehrenberg attempts to grab the student’s phone, then shouts “rapists and murderers” at a nearby crowd of protesting students.
Besides being on the UMSI Advisory Board, Ehrenberg is a clinical psychologist, U-M alum and long-time donor. Ehrenberg funds two scholarships at the Information School. She contributes to the Roger Ehrenberg and Carin Levine-Ehrenberg Diversity Scholarship — a need-based scholarship for first-generation college students — as well as the Roger Ehrenberg and Carin Levine Ehrenberg Fellowship.
The letter is addressed to Elizabeth Yakel, interim Information School dean. The over 100 authors and cosigners demand that Yakel ensure Ehrenberg is dismissed from her position on the advisory board. The letter also calls on the Information School to remove Ehrenberg’s name from the aforementioned scholarships and seek a formal apology from Ehrenberg.
“This type of rhetoric, left unchecked, leads to more violence,” the letter reads. “By remaining silent in the wake of a board member’s verbal and physical assault of a student and allowing this board member to continue in a role that provides access to — and requires engagement with — students, UMSI facilitates violence toward its own student body.”
Yakel responded to the internal letter in a Nov. 7 email that was sent out to students and faculty in the Information School. A copy of Yakel’s email has been obtained by The Michigan Daily.
In the email, Yakel acknowledged that Ehrenberg’s language in the videos was derogatory, but also said Ehrenberg might have felt unsafe at the protest.
“This language is not in keeping with our value of respect,” Yakel wrote. “I also recognize that in the heightened tension and emotion of a political demonstration, both the board member and student protesters likely felt psychologically unsafe and perhaps physically unsafe as well. Restorative measures are needed.”
No retaliatory action against Ehrenberg will be taken, Yakel wrote in the email. Instead, Yakel committed to initiating a “listening project” in hopes that the community will focus on “restorative actions” over punishing individuals.
“I want to be clear that I do not intend to take any retaliatory action against anyone associated with any of the harms that have occurred,” Yakel wrote. “Rather, I intend to try to initiate restorative actions that help to reduce the distress that people have experienced and create the opportunity for deeper understanding and repair.”
LSA junior Zena Nasiri, the student who recorded and posted the videos, told The Daily in an interview that they witnessed Ehrenberg yelling at students attending the Oct. 13 protest outside Ono’s house. They said they silently recorded the incident without engaging with Ehrenberg.
After the demonstrators moved to march up State Street, Ehrenberg started to verbally assault the students again, which Nasiri also recorded. They told The Daily that Ehrenberg scratched them while attempting to grab the phone from their hand.
“I didn’t engage,” Nasiri said. “Then the group started marching along State Street, and then Ehrenberg and the man she was with were confronting students again there. So I walked over and I recorded that interaction as well. And then (Ehrenberg) tried to grab my phone away from me. She ended up scratching my hand, and then she yelled ‘rapists and murderers’ at students.”
The Daily reached out to Ehrenberg for comment about the videos. She responded in an email confirming that she had yelled at Nasiri at the protest, though she said she did not intend for the label “terrorist” to be a personal attack.
“I asked (them) to stop recording me,” Ehrenberg wrote. “(They) did not and continued to ask my name, and so I turned to walk away and said to (them), ‘What are you going to do, send your terrorists after us?’ By terrorists, I was not referring to this student, or the other student marchers, but to Hamas or other hate groups who might view, share and act upon (their) video.”
Nasiri said they believed Yakel’s response to the internal letter was disappointing, calling the language used disingenuous. Nasiri criticized the proposal to create listening circles, which they said were not helpful when students have already been harmed by Ehrenberg’s language.
“The language around restorative justice feels manipulative,” Nasiri said. “The listening circles just didn’t really make sense because I’ve been trying to talk about this … so I just don’t understand what that would help with.”
In response to Yakel’s comment about not knowing the full context of the situation, Nasiri said they didn’t know what additional context could possibly justify Ehrenberg’s behavior.
“It felt like I was being gaslighted about my experience,” Nasiri said. “There was a line where she said something along the lines of never knowing the full context of what happened. … There was another line talking about how Ehrenberg probably felt unsafe, psychologically and physically. That felt like it was trying to justify the incident. I felt like the statement did a lot more harm than good. It was really frustrating and upsetting for me to read.”
In an interview with The Daily, a current Information student said they felt Yakel’s response was dismissive of the gravity of the situation. This student requested anonymity due to fear of academic retaliation. In this article, they will be referred to as Alex.
“I thought that the tone of the responses is really dismissive of the situation,” Alex said. “The way it was worded it acknowledged that there is Islamophobia that had happened, but the way in which it was worded was to not have anyone responsible for that Islamophobia.”
Alex said they believe the Information School’s inaction will have consequences on what future donors and Advisory Board members may see as acceptable behavior.
“It’s a signal to other donors and future donors that if you want to engage in anti-Arab hate (and) Islamophobia, if you give enough money to the University, then it’s okay,” Alex said.
Another Information student told The Daily that they weren’t surprised by the administration’s response to Ehrenberg’s behavior based on how they feel Muslim students have been treated by the University in the past. This student also requested anonymity due to fear of academic retaliation. In this article, they will be referred to as Sarah.
“Unfortunately, I don’t expect anything to change,” Sarah said. “We have almost internalized feelings of lower value as Muslim students. I don’t know about all of them, but at least for me, I have almost internalized that my Muslim identity is valued less.”
Jared Eno, Graduate Employees’ Organization president, told The Daily that by allowing Ehrenberg to maintain her position U-M leadership is harming students and making those speaking out against the ongoing war in Gaza feel more vulnerable.
“The way the administration has responded and the way the administration has not responded means that President Ono (and) leadership of the School of Information are not only not joining students in this really essential and courageous and principled stand against genocide, but is making them more vulnerable to retaliation,” Eno said. “That’s really unacceptable.”
Alex said though the Information School’s initial response to Ehrenberg’s remarks were unsatisfactory, they hope the school will choose to support Arab and Muslim students in the future.
“I can have empathy in a situation and I know that this is a very difficult moment for the Information School,” Alex said. “It’s not too late to do the right thing. I think that this can be a learning process for the Information School and even if they didn’t know how to handle it during that moment, they can still do the right thing.”
Amir Fleischmann, Rackham student and member of GEO’s communications team, said he felt Yakel’s response is indicative of the University’s general stance on anti-Arab speech on campus.
“I think it really just speaks to the administration’s general attitude towards campus safety and who deserves to be safe on campus,” Fleischmann said. “It’s very much in line with statements we’ve seen by President Ono, by the regents, by other administrators, which are more concerned with the feelings of donors.”
Sarah said they were not even expecting a response from the University based on their past experience as a Muslim student.
“I do realize that this response wasn’t enough,” Sarah said. “But I didn’t know where to take this complaint because, as Muslim students, we feel that for so long we’ve been ignored. Now we don’t even know who will listen to us. We kind of stopped expecting that the administration would care.”
Daily Staff Reporter Miles Anderson can be reached at email@example.com.