Harbaugh meets with students on 'American Sniper'

By Laura Schinagle, Summer Editor in Chief
Published May 20, 2015

Michigan football coach Jim Harbaugh met with Middle Eastern, North African, Muslim and South Asian students in a private meeting in the Michigan Union on Wednesday to discuss the University’s April screening of the movie “American Sniper,” a film based on the autobiography of former U.S. Navy Seal Chris Kyle.

E-mails obtained by the Daily sent Tuesday to listservs for various student organizations — including Students Allied for Freedom and Equality, the Middle East and Arab Network, the Arab Students Association, the South Asian Awareness Network, Michigan Pakistanis, and Muslim, Lebanese, Malaysian and Persian students — announced plans for the meeting. The e-mails said several students requested the meeting in response to a tweet Harbaugh sent April 8 regarding the movie.

“Michigan Football will watch ‘American Sniper’! Proud of Chris Kyle & Proud to be an American & if that offends anybody then so be it!” the tweet read.

Harbaugh’s tweet came amid national media coverage of the Center for Campus Involvement’s April 7 announcement that it would cancel the movie’s screening scheduled for April 10’s UMix. The CCI said it made the decision in response to a student petition that raised concerns about how the film portrays Arabs, Muslims, the Middle East and North Africa.

However, following another student-generated petition calling for the University to reverse this decision, E. Royster Harper, vice president for student life, issued a statement April 8 saying, “the initial decision was not consistent with the high value the University of Michigan places on freedom of expression and our respect for the right of students to make their own choices in such matters.”

Throughout the week’s discussions about the film and the University’s actions, Muslim and Arab students reported harassment and death threats.

The University ultimately screened “American Sniper” and “Paddington” simultaneously at UMix.

The e-mails Tuesday, which were sent by the student who launched the petition in April calling for the University to cancel the scheduled screening, said the coach was invited to talk with students about the screening “and get a dialogue going about how a university leader's social media can impact campus climate.”

Harbaugh has more than 270,000 followers on Twitter, and his tweet about “American Sniper” was retweeted 31,775 times and favorited 38,305 times.

Approximately 15 students, Harper and Interim Athletic Director Jim Hackett attended the meeting Wednesday.

Administrators and student organizers requested the Daily not attend the meeting. All students approached by the Daily following the meeting declined comment.

Harbaugh said, “It went great.”

In a follow-up e-mail to the Daily, University spokesman Rick Fitzgerald said there was good discussion and the coach is glad he was able to meet with the students.

Daily Staff Reporter Lindsey Scullen contributed reporting.