Student leaders urge solidarity, criticize Schlissel's silence at Destress event
In light of racist comments written on Black students’ doors this past weekend in West Quad, many students are unhappy with University President Mark Schlissel’s apparent silence.
Though Schlissel tweeted a response Sunday evening to the writings — where students found “N-----” written on their dorm door name tags — Schlissel has since not spoken outwardly about the racism and any action the University would plan to take with regard to these types of incidents. Aside from the Division of Public Safety and Security investigation into the incident, there have not been any other administrative responses.
LSA senior Isaiah Land, president of the University of Michigan branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, acknowledged the conflicts that Schlissel may be facing with regard to making a statement, but stressed the fact the Black community deserves the same amount of support and attention as any other group on campus.
“I’m just really disappointed,” Land said. “I know that he’s handling a lot of different students and a lot of different donors and things like that. But even if it’s a small group of students, we matter here and I want people to know that. It’s kind of a slap in the face when I get an email about the Bicentennial when three days later there’s no address to the racists incidents, and you are still sending out emails about bicentennials.”
LSA freshman Dylan Gilbert shared some of Land’s sentiment, and explained she is upset but not surprised by Schlissel’s inaction.
“I wasn’t that surprised because (racist incidents) happens all the time, and at this point I’m pretty desensitized to it all. I think people don’t like addressing what makes them uncomfortable, especially in such a predominantly white university,” Gilbert said. “They probably have no idea what to do and are most likely floundering a little bit. There definitely needs to be a statement made explaining that we protect students and don’t like stuff like this to happen.”
Because of this, students have taken matters into their own hands: The Black Student Union and the Michigan branch of the NAACP held an event titled "Destress" Tuesday evening to discuss strategies for supporting the Black community and moving forward after the recent racial incidents that have taken place on campus and downtown Ann Arbor.
Black students, faculty and allies piled into the Modern Language Building to look for ways to ensure that African-American students feel safe and comfortable at Michigan. The event was orginally slated to be held in the Yuri Kochiyama lounge of South quad but changed due to high interest. It was casual, and offered students a chance to voice their emotions, experiences and opinions following recent incidents of racism in a safe and comfortable environment.
One of the students was LSA sophomore Kaitlyn Brown, who reflected on the alarm she felt after finding out about the writings in West Quad.
“I was also shocked — hurt — that this is something that’s happening at my school and in my community. It’s personal. I’m appalled that this is happening now, in 2017, on my campus happening to my people. Why is this something that is still going on?” Brown said. “And it’s hurtful that people even think that’s OK. Like they actually thought about it, and then did it, and didn’t think there would be any consequence.”
The Destress event is one of many ways the Black community on campus is working to heal and move forward. During the discussion portion, suggestions such as having mandatory race-relation training for each student, faculty member and GSI and reclaiming Black spaces on campus were explored.
Throughout the day Tuesday, students and allies also participated in a “Black-Out,” dressing in all black to show solidarity with the Black community.
Land explained the importance of a “Black-Out” and explained how the show of solidarity is comforting during tough times.
“When you look and see someone wearing all black, whether it’s an ally or someone in your community, you can easily look at them and say, hey, you’re with us, you’re not against me and you want to make a change with me,” Land said.
The University chapter of the NAACP, The Muslim Students Association, Central Student Government, and JustDems, the University’s chapter College Democrat's social justice committee, as well as handful other students organizations, tweeted in solidarity with the Black Student Union and the statement they released.
Public Policy junior Lauren Schandevel, communications director for the University’s chapter of College Democrats, wrote in an email interview the black-out had full support from her organization.
“College Democrats supports the black-out 100%,” she wrote. “We encouraged our members to participate, too.”
Both Gilbert and Land hope people continue to show their support for the Black community and that the administration makes more of an effort to help minority students on campus.
“They can start talking about it, holding people accountable for their actions and showing that if they find the people who did it that they take serious measures. Also by addressing it and showing that they stand with the Black students in the University,” Gilbert said.
Land urged the entire community to stand in solidarity and support the movement.
“This movement is for everybody. I think typically we come and see it’s mostly Black students in these type of spaces, and I encourage anyone who is with us to come out and voice your opinion and show support.”