Calls to remove a Central Student Government representative after members of Students Allied for Freedom and Democracy questioned his conduct at their Diag demonstration continued to generate discussion at Tuesday’s CSG meeting — even after the body’s ethics commission decided Monday it would not seek disciplinary measures.
At Tuesday’s meeting, members of SAFE reiterated their concerns regarding the conduct of CSG Rep. Jesse Arm, the LSA sophomore who was filmed loudly criticizing and SAFE members who were holding a demonstration designed to imitate an Israeli checkpoint last month. The group called for his dismissal from the assembly soon after.
The incident prompted the body’s first-known Ethics Committee investigation, which resulted in a recommendation not to take disciplinary measures against Arm.
The Michigan Daily reported Monday that the full CSG assembly would need approve the ethics commission’s recommendation, based on information provided by Public Policy junior Thomas Hislop, who chairs the commission. However, CSG officials said Tuesday the report’s recommendation was actually a binding decision, citing the lack of historical precedent for this kind of investigation.
Hislop read the investigation’s full report to the assembly.
“I think it’s important that you hear it. I think it’s important for the discussion and I also don’t want to lose some of the words, “Hislop said. “The choices we make are very specific and important.”
Hislop noted that he reached out to both parties, e-mailed witnesses and met with Arm as well. He said the investigation was meant to serve as a dialogue with both parties. Regarding SAFE, he said the Committee considered whether terms like hate crime, or violent offense applied to the events in question, though they ultimately ruled they did not.
“It was an emotionally charged event,” he said. “Some people would describe it as a shouting match.”
During the meeting, about 10 members of the assembly commented on the matter, representing a range of viewpoints, both related to the investigation’s process and the decision it ultimately reached.
During public comments, LSA sophomore Haleemah Aqel, a member of SAFE, spoke out against the recommendation and criticized what she deemed misrepresentation in the media about the events in question.
“I respect the Ethics Committee for taking Jesse Arm’s actions seriously,” Aqel said. “I don’t approve of the report created by the Ethics Committee because it diminished his language, as well as his intimidating behavior used against SAFE. Misrepresentations that were made in the report matter and have real impact and implications in our organization.”
Aqel said there was miscommunication during the ethics investigation as to why SAFE was upset. She said the organization’s concern was not with whether Arm had a right to express his feelings publicly, but the manner in which he chose to do so.
“He had no right to scream at and intimidate the people he supposedly represents; when his speech crosses the line of publicly berating student claiming that the student isn’t serious about peace and assume the behavior is OK is an issue,” Aqul said. “The reason for the wall is to have a dialogue to create that space to discuss things. Instead of coming to us, Jesse yelled at us publicly.”
She added that she thought the incident had been taken out of context on campus, with the effect of preventing further dialogues and generating negative stigma about SAFE’s purpose.
CSG Rep. David Schafer, a LSA junior, said he thought at no point during the video did Arm engage in dialogue and that the word yell would be more accurate than spoke in describing his actions.
Hislop said he believes the video alone can speak for the actual event, but stood by what was written in the report.
“I want to make it clear that you have the right to demonstrate and you have the right to have your voice heard. I had no choice in the matter as to whether the media pick this up or words the media chose to define you guys by,” Hislop said. “I could only pick these words, and I hope they mean something to you.”
SAFE member Devin Jones, an LSA senior, said he did not take issue with the ethics commission’s decision. Rather, he said the broader problem was with power dynamics on campus.
Jones said one thing that contributes to those dynamics is the University’s three courses on the Israel/Palestine conflict that he said are taught by white Jewish males.
“What we were doing on Nov 19. — that is one of the only times we get to voice our views on campus,” Jones said. “Jesse centered his voice in it.”
Jones said the CSG Ethics Committee has now caused SAFE to be further silenced on campus by suggesting Arm should go unpunished.
“When their narrative is beaten away, what do we find? We were silenced again — by a CSG member,” Jones said. “By not helping us, you have helped to further silence students already in a climate that silences their narratives.”
Hislop said he thought the event had also highlighted the need to revisit how the body dealt with ethics among its members.
“It basically looked like they needed an ethics committee, they made three rules for it and threw it up there,” Hislop said. “I think it’s time we dust it off.”
In comments to the commission, Arm said he had been through a lot in the last couple of weeks and felt the proceedings have detracted from his goals at CSG.
“The reasons that I ran for this assembly are because I wanted to work on mental health programs improved on campus, I wanted to see sexual assault prevention programs on campus,” Arm said. “I didn’t run to have ‘Jew’ slapped on my back. I didn’t run for the assembly to be an advocate for Israel.
“My goals and things that I want to accomplish in this assembly are not related to my status as a Jewish student,” Arm said. “I’m Jesse. I’m not Jesse the Jew, I’m not Jesse pro-Israel, I’m Jesse who wants to see a better campus for the University of Michigan.”
CSG President Cooper Charlton, an LSA senior, addressed his recent meeting with University President Mark Schlissel Monday to discuss future initiatives on how to increase student voice on campus.
In particular, he said last month’s Diversity Summit was a learning experience about how to start legitimizing the platforms from which students can voice their opinions.
“I want to pause here and say we made it aware of an easy fix is that we host these feedback sessions at times where students can actually show up,” Charlton said.
Charlton said it was noted during the main assembly’s 9 a.m. start time limited the number of students would would attend.
“We wanted to make it clear that when students voice their opinions it can make it all the way up to the top and not lost along the way,” he said.
Other initiatives discussed were the renovations at the University’s unions, which Charlton said he hopes to be a restorative space for students on campus, as well as the release of course evaluations and student safety.