In an e-mail distributed to students Friday, University President Mark Schlissel said he supports students who stand in solidarity with students of color who have raised concerns about racism and a lack of diversity at the University of Missouri and Yale University.
“I agree that we must work together to end racial injustice in higher education,” he wrote. “Racism and discrimination have no place on our college campuses or elsewhere in society. I stand behind you as you reach out in support of your fellow students here and on other campuses around the country.”
His e-mail comes during the University’s week-long diversity summit underway and after more than 100 students gathered in the Diag on Wednesday in support of their peers at the University of Missouri — a campus that has also spent the last week engaged in debate about diversity, race and equity.
Earlier this week, student protests at the University of Missouri’s Columbia campus resulted in the resignation of the system’s president and the chancellor of its flagship campus after students called attention to the school’s failure to address several racially-charged incidents there. In New Haven, Conn., students at Yale University responded with protest after a faculty member wrote a letter criticizing the school’s guidance on culturally insensitive Halloween costumes.
In Ann Arbor, students have responded to those incidents as they unfolded this week. A graduate student hosted a teach-in during his history class. Students marched from the School of Social Work to the Diag, where they both expressed solidarity and shared their experiences being Black at the University.
By the end of the week, hundreds of Facebook statuses circulated a message of solidarity with Black students at Missouri. All this occurred as Schlissel hosted the University’s first campuswide summit on diversity, which aimed to gather community input to guide the administration’s forthcoming strategic plan for diversity, equity and inclusion.
“At the summit and during demonstrations on the Diag, you have shared experiences about being at personal risk or being denied an equal opportunity to succeed at the University of Michigan because of who you are,” Schlissel wrote Friday. “Your voices are being heard.”
In the e-mail, Schlissel thanked students for participating in the community assembly held at Rackham auditorium Tuesday morning. The week’s events served as platforms for students, faculty and community members to voice specific concerns concerning race and diversity challenges on campus before University officials, including Schlissel himself.
“I commend you for telling us where and how U-M is not living up to the values to which we aspire,” he wrote.
In another e-mail distributed Friday afternoon, the directors of student-centered programs in LSA encouraged students to join the conversation with their peers and teachers.
“In the call for a “Solidarity Action on UM Diag” held last night we noticed a reference to our campus ‘not talking about it, we are not addressing it’ and to professors ‘refusing to discuss’ the events at Missouri and elsewhere and treating them as ‘irrelevant and unimportant.’ We hope this has not been your experience. If it is, then we want you to know it doesn't have to be.”
The directors who signed the e-mail included Angela Dillard, LSA associate dean for undergraduate education, Marjorie Horton, assistant dean for undergraduate education, Jonathan Wells, director of the residential college, and Jeff Sorensen, the co-founder of optiMize.
“As the University of Michigan continues the Diversity Summit our thoughts are very much with the students at the University of Missouri, Yale and other campuses currently undergoing difficult moments of protest and tension,” the e-mail read. “Our thoughts are also very much with all of you. We want you to know that you have our support.”
In the e-mail, the authors called for a more direct attempt to engage undergraduate students both online and in face-to-face forums on the topic. They encouraged students to make use of hashtags like #BlackOnCampus and #Umich4Mizzou to spread awareness of the nature of climate problems on campus, similar to the approach employed by the #BBUM campaign in 2013.
“We are concerned about the way college students are being depicted — as intolerant, anti-free speech — in the national press,” the e-mail read. “Last night's event on the Diag was an important reminder of the power of student leadership. We want to support your efforts just as much as we want your input to inform official university-sponsored efforts.”
Also in response to ongoing events at the University of Missouri, which have included threats directed at Black students, the University’s Counseling and Psychological Services released a statement Thursday acknowledging the mental and emotional toll these kind of events can have on students.
“Events like these can trigger a variety of emotional reactions such as anger, helplessness, fear, sadness, and anxiety, during an already stressful time of year for many students,” a release on the CAPS website reads.
The statement affirms a commitment from CAPS staff members to promoting inclusion and acknowledging the unique struggles of multicultural students. The statement also encourages students affected by this week’s events to take advantage of mental health resources on campus.
Allana Akhtar contributed reporting. The story and headline have been updated to include an e-mail sent to students from LSA officials.