During a sit-in protest organized by the University of Michigan’s chapter of Students Allied for Freedom and Equality, a woman approached the protesters and referred to protesters as “rapists and murderers” and implied to a student that she has “terrorist friends.” The woman was later identified as Carin Ehrenberg, a donor to the University of Michigan’s School of Information internship fund, as well as a board member on the Information School’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion board. In response to student outrage from this incident, Information School Dean Elizabeth Yakel admitted Ehrenberg made Islamophobic remarks, but emphasized that the Information School will take no disciplinary action against her and instead will hold a “listening session,” implying that the student reaction is itself a form of harm. This incident is emblematic of the administration’s current approach to campus safety: putting donors’ needs and feelings above the safety of their students and workers. This cannot go on.
Since Israel began its genocidal assault on Gaza, the University’s administration has released one statement after another, pontificating on the issue of “campus safety.” Though they claim that “safety for all is (their) highest priority,” their actions and the experiences of Muslim and Arab students, as well as anyone who dares take a stand for justice of Palestine, suggest that, for them, the safety of some is more important than the safety of others. They are more concerned with parroting Zionist talking points than actually keeping Muslim and Arab students, staff, faculty and their allies safe. Given the way the University is implicated in structural racism on campus, their lack of priority for Muslim and Arab students is as unsurprising as it is unacceptable. From refusing to acknowledge Palestinians’ humanity, to prioritizing free speech for some and not others, to expecting students of Color to turn for safety to a campus police force — the Division of Public Safety and Security — that fails to keep them safe, the administration has failed to create a safe campus. It’s time that they acknowledge their mistakes.
The University of Michigan-Dearborn is located in a city with the largest population of Muslim and/or Arab students in the Midwest in what has been called the Arab capital in North America. Because of this, the University President Santa Ono’s administration and department heads hold a special responsibility to support Muslim and Arab students on all three campuses. In these past weeks, we have seen increased violence and harassment against students, faculty and staff who support Palestine. These actions have ranged from the doxxing of GSIs and faculty to death threats sent to students. Ono has not condemned the Islamophobia and anti-Arab racism on campus, acknowledged his students’ basic humanity by condemning the ongoing Israeli genocide in Gaza or moved toward the divestment demands of numerous student organizations.
The administration’s lack of care was on full display earlier in October when SAFE and the Islamophobia Working Group emailed administrators and invited them to listen and respond to what students, faculty and staff were experiencing on campus. Only after a month of both direct communications and on-campus protest did the University acquiesce to a meeting with SAFE. In the meeting, students who were visibly Muslim and Arab mentioned the litany of ways that they have been harassed on campus. Speakers said they were spat on and cursed at in Hebrew, being called a terrorist in the classroom with no recourse, as well as seeing electronics in Mason Hall that were fixed to have wallpapers calling Palestinians terrorists. One student has even said that within the first week of Israel’s genocide, they had already lost 15 members of their family. U-M representatives could not even give the student their condolences.
Instead of supporting their Arab and Muslim students, the administration has instead rushed to label any critique of Israel antisemitic, thereby contributing to the climate of harassment against those who speak out against genocide. Regent Jordan Acker has accused the Graduate Employees’ Organization of antisemitism for putting out a statement critiquing Israeli settler-colonial violence. Even in Ono’s latest statement, where he acknowledges that “in Gaza and the West Bank, violence is escalating, bombs are falling and flames are raging,” he still does not name Israel as the perpetrator of this violence. In a Letter to the Editor published by The Michigan Daily, the nameless author claims to have seen antisemitic signs at a SAFE protest but provides no proof, nor bothers to even describe the content of the signs. Words have consequences. It seems to us that these baseless accusations contribute to a charged political climate and encourage harassment of anti-Zionists.
SAFE members have been harassed, and some have even been posted on Canary Mission — an organization which publishes pro-Palestine activists’ personal information — even though SAFE does not confront nor react to Zionists, especially on campus. Jewish authors of an anti-Zionist Op-Ed published by The Daily have received hate emails and threatening phone calls from total strangers. The Daily obtained emails which confirmed that threats have been made against these authors. Acker and Ono claim to be concerned about Jewish students, but that concern doesn’t seem to extend to anti-Zionist Jews. One can only conclude that their only real concern is with protecting Zionism on campus.
The University is also increasingly becoming an unsafe work environment for instructors who criticize Israel — something the administration would work to reverse if they were intentional about their commitment to safety. After more than 1,000 faculty and staff signed an open letter criticizing Ono’s racist refusal to mention Palestine in his initial statement, a doxxing truck was spotted on campus smearing the signatories as antisemites. Multiple GEO members have personally been doxxed, with their U-M information posted online on X accounts dedicated to reveal their information with the implicit intent of institutional censure or worse.
Instead of proactively taking meaningful steps to create a safe campus, the administration has put the burden on workers and students to protect themselves. Graduate Student Instructors have had to create a safe space for their students and themselves while juggling their course load. The burden should be on the University and their department heads to create policies that protect GSIs. Such a policy could be allowing GSIs the right to remove any student who doxxes them from their class for putting a University worker’s safety at risk. The University could also make doxxing more difficult by allowing GSIs to change classrooms and take their University information (including classroom number, office number, emails and phone numbers) off the department websites, where the public can find them.
The University is failing its students on the issue of Palestine. The administration’s current approach suggests student safety is less important than shielding the University from controversy and keeping donors happy. While there’s no quick fix to this situation, there are a number of steps the administration could take immediately. President Ono must condemn the ongoing genocide against Palestinians, as well as Islamophobia on-campus. He must acknowledge that criticizing Israeli apartheid is legitimate. At the same time, the University should empower GSIs to combat doxxing and make sure that workers experiencing Zionist harassment have access to the Transitional Funding Program. No amount of listening sessions will create a safe campus. We demand action.
GEO’s Palestine Solidarity Working Group can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.