Schlissel, administrators release official written statement about racism on campus

President Schlissel addresses Black Student Union protesters at the Union last night.

President Schlissel addresses Black Student Union protesters at the Union last night. Buy this photo
Katelyn Mulcahy/Daily

 

Thursday, September 21, 2017 - 5:19pm

Following a night of protests over University President Mark Schlissel’s lack of a formal response to racially charged incidents on and around campus, Schlissel and other administrative faculty members — including Martin A. Philbert, provost and executive vice president for academic affairs, E. Royster Harper, vice president for student life — issued a formal statement to students on Thursday.

On Sept. 17, racial slurs were written on three Blacks student’s name tags in the West Quad Residence Hall. That same day, racial slurs were discovered on a building at East Liberty Street and South State Street reading “Free Dylan Roof” and “I hate n------.”

In the email sent to students Thursday afternoon, Schlissel listed several ways in which outreach to affected communities took place, specifically through the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, the Dean of Students Office and LSA.

Schlissel added that if students see or experience bias incidents they can report to the University’s Bias Response team. The team is expected to release an annual report on bias incidents at the end of this month.

“We heard anger and frustration in the voices of our students and we share that frustration and anger,” the statement read. “Words and actions meant to hurt someone based on their identity have no place at the University of Michigan and we condemn them. We are committed to doing everything within our power to halt these disgraceful incidents.”

Though the statement shows disappointment for the current campus climate, Schlissel noted the importance of hearing from students directly and the way the community has come together.

As disgusted as we are by these racist acts, we also feel a tremendous sense of pride over how our broader community has come together to counter these acts,” the statement said. “Outreach and statements of support have taken place across our campus community.”

This has been the first written response from Schlissel since the incidents occurred. On the evening of Sept. 17, Schlissel tweeted a response to the incident in West Quad, quoting the Black Student Union’s statement, but has not released a statement since.

In between the incidents occurring and Schlissel’s written response on Thursday, however, students have been taking matters into their own hands. On Sunday night, after the discovery of the writing, the Michigan Community Scholars Program — the area of West Quad which was targeted — held a solidarity event.

On Monday, there was an informal event hosted where students posted positive messages around popular campus spaces, and on Tuesday night, at a Destress event, students gathered in support of students of color and continued to criticize what they called a lack of response.

Wednesday night, the Black Student Union and Student4Justice organized a protest on the steps of the Union, coining the hashtag #Schlisselwya. Protesters originally planned to march to Schlissel’s home on South University Ave. but instead met him and other University administrators in the Rogel Ballroom.

Schlissel expressed his desire to work with the Black community to find solutions. Members of the crowd condemned Schlissel and administrators for failing to issue any formal statement.

Because Schlissel had to leave to attend an important family event, other administrators and those involved in investigating the racism also spoke to address student concerns.

In between students leaving the Union and going to Schlissel’s home to poster it with Black Lives Matter and #BBUM signs, a fight between an unidentified 24-year-old man and a student broke out. A video from the scene confirms the man — who is unaffiliated with the University — called a student the n-word, sparking a physical altercation.

The lack of response from Schlissel was also controversial in that, just weeks prior, the University president and Rob Sellers, vice provost for equity and inclusion, made comments at freshman convocation regarding racist graffiti on the Rock — a famous University landmark at Hill Street and Washtenaw Avenue — but had not immediately responded to these incidents in a similar fashion.