More than 200 students protest racially charged posters found on campus

Monday, September 26, 2016 - 7:05pm

More than 200 students gathered in Angell Hall at the University of Michigan for an hour Monday afternoon to protest racially charged posters found hanging in University buildings and around campus earlier in the day.

The posters included comments such as “reasons why women shouldn’t date Black men” and explanations of “race differences in intelligence.”

The protest began with a group of about 30 students in the Diag, growing to its full size of 200 as the group marched to the Fishbowl in Angell Hall. Upon entering the building, students and attendees chanted, “No justice, no peace.” The demonstration grew in numbers as students working in the Fishbowl stood up to join the group.

E. Royster Harper, vice president for student life, LSA Dean Andrew Martin and Angela Dillard, associate dean for undergraduate education arrived as the event was ending and stayed to listen to student organizers’ concerns.

University President Mark Schlissel was not in attendance, though he, along with Provost Martha Pollack, Harper and Rob Sellers, vice provost for equity, inclusion and academic affairs, released a statement condemning the posters this morning.

School of Social Work graduate student Lawrielle West, an organizer of the protest, said the demonstration was in response to what she said was an inadequate response from the administration.

“When I saw that apology from...administration, I wasn’t comforted,” she said. “I want to be acknowledged as a real person who pays money to this school...we’re not going to get anything done until we disturb the peace.”

LSA junior Lakyrra McGee, another organizer, called for an address from Schlissel and also criticized his focus on a long-term diversity, equity and inclusion strategic plan as a solution to campus climate issues. The plan, which Schlissel began the process for last year and is set to be released October 6, uses the year 2025 as a benchmark to evaluate potential success. Many students, however, urged for more immediate options.

“It’s possible to do both,” Magee said, referring to the University addressing current events and the 5-year DEI plan. “But they’re not doing it. We want Schlissel to address us… about 2017, not 2025,” she said.

University spokesman Rick Fitzgerald said Schlissel did not attend the event because he is out of town.

Protesters chanted “Why wait for 2025, will I even be alive?” on the Diag and also held signs reading “We Want More than Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion”

West and other speakers during the event also questioned the importance of free speech when that speech is threatening to entire student demographics.

“They’re protecting freedom of speech, but what about my safety?” West asked.  

In their statement Monday, the administration condemned the posters and said they did not consider them protected free speech, but did not state whether the University would act to take them down. Fitzgerald said Monday afternoon that the University would take down posters on campus buildings, but would not remove posters in posting kisoks, such as the Mason Hall posting wall.

Many of the flyers distributed featured an Alt-Right logo, though it remains unclear if the group has an affiliate branch on campus.

Kinesiology senior D’kari Wilson, who also spoke during the rally, said the posters demonstrated a need to change campus climate.  

“You don’t understand my frustration or my pain,” Wilson said. “Go educate someone that looks like you. If you don’t do something, it’s going to manifest itself … and it manifested itself today in the postings.”

Other recent racially charged incidents came up during the protest, including racist graffiti discovered at Eastern Michigan University last week, a demonstration by Michigan football players on Sunday and a number of instances of police brutality sparking controversy around the nation.

Magee highlighted the emotional toll of current events on Black students, many of whom voiced the need to take time off from their academic schedules.

“We want faculty and staff to address us too, but not necessarily by facilitating discussions,” she said. “They need to realize students need time and they need space to deal with things.” 

LSA sophomore Timberlee Whiteus agreed, and called out non-Black students for common insensitive actions and microaggressions.

“I get distracted when y’all are handing out bullshit on the Diag about my race, and I’m tired,” she said. “You want to be Black until it’s time to be Black.”   

History Prof. Martha Jones, who attended the protest, said she believes this incident not only affects the Black campus community, but also the overall student body.

“It seems to me the white students have an interest, more so than any of us perhaps, today in thinking critically and responding to people who are attempting to provoke them and to define their identities and to position them as against African American students for example,” Jones said.

Jones said it is crucial for instances such as these to be looked at from the perspective of allowing freedom of speech and expression, but with additional consideration to the value of safety for all members of the University community.

“In my view, it is an attempt to attack the very fabric of what higher education might be, could be, should be, and the residential experience,” Jones said. “These are the tactics of people who are not only looking to attack groups of students within our community but are looking to, in fact, undercut and destroy our community.”

After the event, administrators such as Martin spoke briefly with student organizers. Martin did not speak at length to organizers assembled after the event, but voiced agreement with student motivations.

“Yes, I would support this protest,” he said to the organizers.