On Dec. 17, 2019, two of my friends and I were walking on East William Street. A middle-aged white male who seemed intoxicated aggressively shouted “f***ing Asian b*tches!” at us. On Feb. 24, 2020 two loiterers at the State Street entrance to Nickels Arcade asked me for money before telling each other “he doesn’t speak English.” In both incidents, to avoid confrontation, I couldn’t do anything but walk away.

Compared to many major cities in the United States I have visited, Ann Arbor is considered a relatively safe place. In fact, it has been recognized by Niche — a ranking and review site — as one of the best cities to live in America, in terms of both the overall environment and safety. But at the same time, University of Michigan students living in Ann Arbor are not completely free from the problems that plague the rest of America. University buildings are spread throughout the city, making the boundary of campus quite blurry. When it comes to housing, 69 percent of students at the University live off-campus. Many major student apartments are located downtown, directly adjacent to where these incidents took place. This makes students returning to their homes after class or activities late at night vulnerable to those types of unpleasant encounters.

The Ann Arbor experience is an implied part of the University experience. Although those incidents did not involve physical violence or bodily harm, those hateful and racist remarks offend, upset and discourage students of minority identities. Even if the University prioritizes diversity, equity and inclusion, the scope of student life often reaches beyond the University’s jurisdiction. Life in the city and at the University are inalienable, and the hate on the streets clearly affects student life.

In order to resolve these incidents, students, the University and the city of Ann Arbor should work together. According to the Universitys Division of Public Safety and Security, DPSS officers are working with the Ann Arbor Police Department regarding campus and near-campus neighborhoods safety. Since DPSS’s mission is to ensure the safety of the University community, it should prioritize protecting students from external threats, instead of internally patrolling students, arbitrarily making assumptions of drinking activity and authoritatively searching random dorm rooms. On March 24, 2019, a DPSS officer entered my dorm room and falsely assumed my friend and I were drinking. She asked us to show her my refrigerator and trash bin. After treating us with baseless suspicion, she left without apologizing. Compared to searching non-existent alcohol consumption, addressing hate incidents seems to be much more urgent. This suggests that DPSS should look outward, not inward. 

Moreover, it is imperative that the community recognize the urgency of this issue. Even though hate incidents do not necessarily involve physical violence or damage, the consequence should not be overlooked. As shown in other recent incidents nearby, hate speech negatively impacts the educational community and discourages minority students. Students might perceive that they do not belong to the local community, or develop a negative impression of Ann Arbor, or their college experience in general. Therefore, the city and University authorities should cooperate and take action, not necessarily through prosecution, but through proactive measures such as patrolling near-campus neighborhoods to prevent such fear in the first place.

Ann Arbor is home to over 60,000 students. Regardless of where they come from, Ann Arbor is where they spend the majority of their time during their college years. In order for any student to feel they belong to this city, internally emphasizing diversity, equity and inclusion is not enough. These incidents especially target minority students and significantly degrade their experiences in Ann Arbor. This can negatively impact their university experience as well. Therefore, I call on the University and city authorities to work together to not only address this urgent issue but also prevent these instances from happening in the future.

Sungmin Cho can be reached at csungmin@umich.edu.

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