Around 50 students gathered on the Diag Friday afternoon, with some walking out of their classes, to demand the University of Michigan expand its policies for climate change mitigation and sexual misconduct prevention and take responsibility for its actions.
The strike was organized by Fridays for Future, an environmental organization that leads climate strikes around the world, as well as Roe v. Rape, a campus nonprofit organization supporting sexual misconduct prevention and survivor advocacy efforts. Fridays for Future previously organized a climate strike on Oct. 22.
The event was a distinct collaboration between the two separate causes organized around calling for broader transparency and accountability from the University’s administration. Over the past few years, climate activists and sexual assault prevention advocates have pushed the University to commit to limiting its carbon emissions and reforming how it handles cases of sexual misconduct committed by faculty and administrators.
Some students walked out of classes to support the event. LSA Junior Jesse Bishop, member of the advocacy group Students for Clean Energy, left his class to attend the strike. Bishop said he came out for the strike to hold the University accountable for its handling of climate change and sexual misconduct policies, which he believes are inadequate.
“It’s not enough at all, it’s not even near enough,” Bishop said. It’s (the University’s) responsibility to protect their students from the climate and sexual assaults…it’s not a business and they’re treating it like a business.”
Jon Vaughn, a survivor of Robert Anderson and former University football player who has been protesting outside University President Mark Schlissel’s home on South University Avenue, was set to speak at the strike, but organizers said a last-minute change meant Vaughn was unable to attend the event. Vaughn recently announced that he plans to run for a seat on the Board of Regents in 2022
LSA sophomore Jacob Sendra, an organizer with Fridays for Future, criticized the University for taking insufficient action to address the climate crisis.
“When it comes to climate policy, the University of Michigan drapes itself with the language and imagery of decisive action … while actively profiting from the destruction of our futures,” Sendra said. “It’s time to demand accountability.”
Sendra highlighted the group’s demands for the University to follow the City of Ann Arbor’s A2Zero initiative to achieve carbon neutrality by 2030 and to divest its endowed funds from natural gas investments.
In May, University President Mark Schlissel and the Board of Regents committed the University to achieving full carbon neutrality by 2040 across all scopes of emissions. The commitment followed after significant student and community activism, but activists point to data from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and argue the University’s plan does not limit emissions fast enough to prevent the worst effects of climate change.
In March, the University also committed to disinvest the endowment from fossil fuel investments and have a net-zero-emissions endowment by 2050. Activists have urged the administration to go further and also divest from natural gas companies.
LSA sophomore Lexi Crilley said she appreciated the University’s revised endowment policies but said the University had an obligation to go further.
“We are grateful that the University of Michigan has agreed to divest from coal and oil, but what about natural gas?” Crilley said. “And again, 2050 is way too far away. We need to emphasize that it’s not enough action.”
Multiple survivor advocates then began to speak, reproaching the University for how they’ve handled allegations of misconduct against administrators and faculty and encouraged the administration to better protect students.
Public Policy senior Emma Sandberg, executive director of Roe v. Rape, has been advocating for survivors of sexual assault since her freshman year. Sandberg criticized the University for a lack of support for survivors and for not doing enough to punish those who commit misconduct.
“We are not the Leaders and Best if our policies are designed to deter students from reporting and let perpetrators off the hook,” Sandberg said. “Whether you’ve been working on this from the beginning or whether you are just hearing about these issues today, it is up to everyone listening, not just survivors and allies, to keep fighting until all of our demands are met.”
Advocates pointed out multiple prominent University officials who committed misconduct while serving at the University, including former Provost Martin Philbert and former University Health Service director and team doctor Robert Anderson. They also highlighted the recent instance at the Ford School of Public Policy, in which students protested the decision to admit a master’s student who was guilty of Title IX violations at their previous school.
Among the advocates’ list of demands was a rule that the University would not admit anyone who previously committed sexual misconduct, as well as provide expanded support and outreach resources for survivors of assault.
In July, the University restructured the Office of Institutional Equity into the Equity, Civil Rights and Title IX Office to enhance its handling of sexual misconduct and provide support for those who file complaints through the office. The announcement came with multiple reforms meant to address the culture around reporting and prevent future instances of misconduct.
In an interview with The Daily, Sandberg recognized the actions the University had taken but said activists needed to push the administration to go further in supporting survivors.
“Currently, survivors lack so many resources on campus,” Sandberg said. “We want to see new centers (for support) created, and that’s something that without further action, I don’t see the University choosing to do that themselves.”
The University’s Office of Public Affairs did not respond to requests for comment at the time of this article’s publication.
After multiple environmental activists and survivor advocates spoke, organizers led the crowd off the Diag, southbound on State St. and eastbound on South University Ave.. The protesters chanted phrases demanding action from the University, including “Support survivors, Schlissel must go” and “Climate change is a war of the rich against the poor.”
In an interview with The Daily, Engineering Junior Brendan Ireland, president of the Sierra Club at the University, urged the administration to align the University with the city of Ann Arbor’s A2Zero net-zero emissions goals and to improve transparency and communication around its sustainability measures. He alluded to the frequent updates for COVID-19 and said administrators should make a similar commitment to communicating about their progress at implementing carbon neutrality goals.
Ireland said he was excited to have an intersectional event between climate activists and survivor advocates.
“Going up against as big of a problem as the climate and as big of an institution as the University, you have to have solidarity between groups, so that’s something we’re going to focus on building,” Ireland said.
Daily Staff Reporter Arjun Thakkar can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.