Two community organizations, the Northeast Ann Arbor Community Coalition and By Any Means Necessary, staged large public protests against University of Michigan actions at Wednesday’s Board of Regents meeting.
Seven members of BAMN — a national coalition committed to defending affirmative action, immigrant rights and equality — stood silently behind those in attendance at the 90 minute meeting, holding posters with slogans such as “Defend Muslim Students” and “Stop Protecting Hate Speech and Attacking Free Speech” in reference to Islamophobic chalkings — and the University’s hesitance to remove them — on the Diag earlier this month.
The group was unable to secure a position on the meeting agenda to make public comments, but it did distribute copies of a resolution passed April 6 by Central Student Government in support of making the University a sanctuary campus for undocumented immigrants. LSA junior Keysha Wall, a BAMN organizer and former CSG presidential candidate, said BAMN’s success in advocating for the student body needs to be recognized by administration.
“We’re calling on the University to condemn the hate speech,” Wall said. “The students have spoken. The students have said this is unacceptable, and for the University to completely ignore that… is just despicable.”
A number of protestors also demanded the resignation of University spokesperson Rick Fitzgerald for allegedly insensitive comments he made after the chalkings. Fitzgerald told Buzzfeed News the University could not take action due to the protection of free speech, additionally stating the heavy rainfall on the night of the chalkings further ensured no course of removal action was necessary.
“It was raining here all night,” Fitzgerald said. “Mother Nature has taken care of it.”
BAMN organizer Tyler Wood said the comments indicated Fitzgerald was unfit to speak on behalf of the University.
“Clearly, he can’t speak for students on campus. He can’t speak on behalf of students and their safety,” Wood said. “We want the administration to make (the CSG resolution) real.”
BAMN organizer Kate Stenvig also reprimanded the University’s response to the chalking incident, deeming it unacceptable and insulting. She said its actions did not reflect — but rather directly undermined — the University’s commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion, which has been a focus of University President Mark Schlissel’s platform.
“The University is responsible for providing what it claims to be a diverse and inclusive and safe environment for all students, but in reality is a real hostile climate for Muslim students, for immigrant and international students and all minority students,” Stenvig said. “They are completely failing to defend all of their students.”
Three Northeast Ann Arbor Community Coalition (NEA2CC) representatives stood before the regents at Thursday’s meeting to condemn the University’s proposed Transportation Operations and Maintenance Center, slated to be built on Green Road between Hubbard Road and Baxter Road. All of the speakers criticized the facility’s proximity to residential neighborhoods and cited noise and health implications.
Ann Arbor resident Katherine Litow expressed concern over the adverse health effects of noise and light pollution and lack of data collection on the part of the University.
“It not only wakes people up, it increases blood pressure and the risk of stroke,” she said. “I know the value of the University of Michigan very well, and I trust once you gather all the data, you will make a decision that is both good for the University and the community.”
As the group’s three representatives addressed the regents inside the meeting room, approximately 80 members of the NEA2CC — including residents from the Green Road corridor of Green Brier, Baxter Court, Glacier Highlands, Waldenwood and Vintage Valley — gathered in the Michigan Union hallway to show support.
NEA2CC formed on Feb. 28 in response to a Feb. 25 meeting between residents and University officials, in which residents expressed concern over the environmental impact of the facility on the neighborhood and requested greater transparency from the University. Many accused planners of acting prematurely, claiming they neglected to conduct proper evaluations and impact measurement reports.
The University responded to the community’s concerns, announcing on March 13 its decision to pause the project and suspend the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality’s permit application pending further impact analysis.
In an April 15 letter, Jim Kosteva, University Director of Community Relations, addressed residents’ concerns and updated them on efforts to honor community feedback and reevaluate the project. The project-planning team will update the group once again, most likely in early May, he wrote.
NEA2CC member Andrea Darden, Ann Arbor resident and business owner, pointed out that the proposed facility would have been built next to low-income housing, limiting residents’ ability to respond and relocate following the construction.
“It’s a very inclusive community,” Darden said. “We’re rallying behind them as much as we’re rallying behind our own properties.”
Ultimately, she said, she would like to see more information gathered and shared. With a two-year-old daughter at home, Darden is most concerned with air quality evaluations.
However, NEA2CC member Roben Barker, a representative for Green Baxter Court, questioned who would be conducting the evaluations. She suggested tasking a neutral, external party with gathering relevant data.
“I just don’t want U of M doing the data contracts,” Barker said. “Someone that’s non-biased because as I said in our own meeting, there’s noise, light, pollution — so many areas that need to be looked at.”