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During the public comments portion of the Board of Regents meeting on Thursday, 15 students and community members addressed the board and University of Michigan administration. They discussed carbon neutrality, the felony disclosure policy and undocumented students.
The first speaker was U-M alum Jan Culbertson, leadership council chair of the Ann Arbor 2030 District partnership. She discussed setting standards on University buildings as part of its goal to reach carbon neutrality. Culbertson said because the University is such a big institution, it has the opportunity to make a huge impact and asked the board to actively set standards to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from University buildings.
LSA sophomore Hallie Fox, member of the Climate Action Movement, then asked University President Mark Schlissel and the Board of Regents to take stronger action and show the same level of commitment to achieving carbon neutrality as the students have. She noted while she and her fellow students are passionate about climate change, they need Schlissel’s help to achieve their goals.
“You say it’s not reasonable for us to divest from carbon-based energy sources,” Fox said. “If we’re lucky enough to spend millions of dollars renovating University office space, then we’re wealthy enough to invest in the urgent need for true carbon neutrality on campus. President Schlissel and the regents, I challenge you to take meaningful action like the rest of us. Time and time again, us students have been brave enough to take a stand… We’ve showed our commitment to carbon neutrality. So far, you showed us your commitment to taking small actions that aim to appease the masses.”
Rackham student Gordon Fitch also spoke about the University’s path to carbon neutrality. Fitch claimed when he signed up to speak at this meeting, he had hoped he would be congratulating Schlissel and the regents on their excellent work setting an achievable goal to reduce emissions. Instead, Fitch discussed his disappointment in the University for its treatment of student protesters during the Climate Strike on March 15.
“You decided it was preferable to arrest peaceful protesters, including minors, rather than simply agreeing to an open meeting,” Fitch said. “Since then, we have heard from those high school student organizers that they are no longer interested in attending the University of Michigan, so long as it continues to refuse substantive action on climate change. These are some of the brightest, most dynamic young people in Ann Arbor — if any of the 15- to 18-year-olds out there fit the description of leaders and best, it’s them.”
Fitch said he hopes the University will begin creating more substantive policies on carbon neutrality going forward.
“It would be a shame — and I really mean a shame — on you,” Fitch said. “If you continue to allow this issue to drive a wedge between this great university and the current, future and former students that are its lifeline, but I hope that you will reconsider your position to commit to neutrality before it’s too late.”
Felony Disclosure Policy
Cozine Welch, a Prison Creative Arts Project member and a formerly incarcerated individual, discussed how he often feels like an outsider on campus and how this policy reinforces those feelings. He said he, as well as other formerly incarcerated people, provide an opportunity for the community to grow.
“I don’t see myself reflected on campus in race, in culture or socio-economic status and circumstance,” Welch said. “But the University is lacking in the diversity a public university needs in order to be fully prepared to educate students and it’s this. These are not just my words — any students that have been fortunate enough to teach will tell you the same. Their parents will tell you, student evaluations will tell you, the formerly incarcerated are an asset to this university, this thing in this country at large, we are even without the advantage of equal opportunity or former education. Through self-taught means and Herculean efforts in a system set to deny us, we acquire education, the only thing that cannot be taken.”
Welch said this policy disproportionately targets people of color and those of lower socio-economic statuses. He then called on Schlissel and the board to rescind the policy.
LSA senior Hannah French, a PCAP member, said the felony disclosure policy does not follow through on its claims to promote campus safety. French discussed how she has learned a lot from the formerly incarcerated and she claimed the policy promotes mass incarceration and is harming the community rather than making it more secure.
“As a student, I am ashamed to be paying tuition that supports mass incarceration, especially when my best learning on the subject comes from interactions with people who have lived experience,” French said. “This policy is not preventative, it does not mitigate risk; its safety is really presumed and it is limited to a very specific population. This is not the only way that the University is further repressing and harming our communities. The University claims to uplift student voices, but it remains silent on issues which target and suppress them.”
Policy regarding undocumented students
Taubman freshman Juan Muñoz-Ponce is an undocumented student and member of the Student Community of Progressive Empowerment. He discussed the University’s policy that allows undocumented students to get in-state tuition. He claimed the policy has a requirement of applying within 28 weeks of graduating high school, but he said many undocumented students live in poverty and often need more time.
Muñoz-Ponce and fellow SCOPE members asked Schlissel and the board to consider changing the policy to give students more time to apply. Muñoz-Ponce said he was not able to apply for in-state residency within 28 months and his appeal was denied. He said he greatly values his education and decided to attend the University anyway in hopes of a scholarship.
“I was accepted to the College of Architecture 16 months after graduating high school, I applied for in-state tuition and was denied,” Muñoz-Ponce said. “I appealed, saying that I come from a low-income family and had to pay for my education myself while working in Glencoe Community College full time. This caused me to take longer than 28 months to become eligible to transfer to U of M. Excited and proud to be a Wolverine, I enrolled in the Taubman College of Architecture in summer 2018 in college with the hope of a scholarship. However, I had to decide if I want to enroll for the fall semester, knowing that there was going to be an ultimatum to continue my education in the fall and accept the debt or to be forced to give up the spot I have worked so hard for.”
Muñoz-Ponce then discussed how his account was placed on financial hold and he does not know if he will be allowed to continue his education at the University. He called on Schlissel and the board to alter the policy so other undocumented students are able to continue their educations.
“And my account is now on hold due to the amount I owe for the fall of 2018,” Munoz-Ponce said. “Even if it is a possibility that I’m not able to finish my education at the University of Michigan, I’m here today because I understand that improving the policy could potentially prevent other undocumented students from being in this situation in the future. Currently, I am determined to finish my education. Like other legal and undocumented immigrants here, I am here to get my education, to pursue the American dream, the Michigan dream.”