Op-Ed: A call to end the Michigan Ambassadors program

Monday, September 7, 2020 - 4:45pm

Logos of BSU, UAAO, La Casa and ASA organizations

Logos of BSU, UAAO, La Casa and ASA organizations Buy this photo
Courtesy of each student organization

A call to end the Michigan Ambassadors program

We, the Black Student Union, the United Asian American Organizations Executive Board, La Casa and the Arab Student Association E-Board are calling for an end to the Michigan Ambassadors program. We demand an intentional, genuine inclusion of our organizations prior to future Student Life decisions. BSU, UAAO, La Casa and ASA believe the reasons listed below justify an end to the Michigan Ambassadors program.

Student Life did not consult BSU, UAAO, La Casa and ASA in the creation and implementation of the Michigan Ambassadors program. 

While the University called our organizations into meetings to discuss policing policies on campus, they did not genuinely give us the opportunity to weigh in on decisions that deeply impact the campus community and disproportionately affect Black and Brown students. On July 1 and July 21, 2020, Central Student Government invited BSU, UAAO, La Casa and ASA to discuss policing on campus. CSG used public health concerns to justify their plans to increase police presence on campus and informed our organizations of their flawed plan to protect students of color. This culminated in the creation of a voluntary address directory where organizations could submit their residential addresses to Ann Arbor Police Department. CSG claimed that AAPD would forward complaints of gatherings to the contact point of those organizations if there was a disturbance at an affiliated address, and that contact point would have 45 minutes to see the notification and break up the party before the police showed up. BSU, UAAO, La Casa and ASA took issue with CSG’s plan because it did not genuinely protect the communities we serve. After this meeting, BSU, UAAO, La Casa and ASA began to draft our own proposals in order to prioritize our communities’ safety. There was no further communication between CSG and our organizations.

However, before receiving the opportunity to release our own program, on Aug. 17, 2020, Dean of Students Laura Blake Jones presented the Wolverine Culture of Care Ambassador program to the Ann Arbor City Council. Dean Jones gave the Ann Arbor City Council three days’ notice before the program’s expected launch date. On Aug. 20, the AAPD Twitter account posted an announcement informing both their followers and the Ann Arbor community of the formation of canvassing teams, omitting the program’s formal name. Two hours later, The Michigan Daily published an article detailing AAPD and Student Life’s ambassador program. On Aug. 21, Student Life sent out a newsletter that mentioned the launch of the Michigan Ambassadors program and the opt-in registry. 

We were blindsided by the University’s announcement of the Michigan Ambassadors program before we were able to contribute any of our knowledge. Our organizations were clearly not at the decision-making tables that led to the Michigan Ambassadors program, and thus were not consulted meaningfully.

Student Life did not provide the “Level 1” Michigan Ambassadors with bias and/or Diversity, Equity and Inclusion training. 

The University did not disclose who, why or how it chose its initial canvassers to enforce COVID-19 guidelines. While these canvassers may not harbor any prejudice, there cannot be assurance due to the aforementioned lack of communication and the available training modules — which include public health information related to COVID-19, a basic orientation to the Ambassador program, conflict resolution and de-escalation skills and bystander intervention skills. Given the canvassing role of the Michigan Ambassadors, it is inappropriate that the Michigan Ambassador training did not address biases, especially with the harm of policing disproportionately marginalizing race, gender and other identities. Without modules appropriately ensuring that ambassadors have a solid understanding of racial bias, gender bias and broader DEI topics, Student Life puts students of color in danger. 

The Michigan Ambassadors program works with Ann Arbor Police Department and Division of Public Safety and Security officers. 

Michigan Ambassadors program canvassing teams rely on AAPD and DPSS, which build upon a historical and current legacy of police harming communities of color, despite President Schlissel’s claims that the Michigan Ambassadors program utilizes peer-to-peer accountability “to reduce the need for law enforcement.” Moreover, the Michigan Ambassador program’s use of Community Engagement Officers from DPSS further weaponizes existing power dynamics to substantiate warnings from its canvassing groups. The University cannot cultivate an inclusive campus community while perpetuating an antithetical dynamic that gives a select group of students undue power over their peers, allowing hateful attitudes and feelings of superiority to fester within canvassers. 

The deaths of Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, Tony McDade, David McAtee, Rayshard Brooks, Daniel Prude, Dijon Kizzee, Deon Kay, the near-fatal shooting of Jacob Blake and countless others build on this legacy of police distrust and cannot be overlooked in promoting public health and safety.

BSU, UAAO, La Casa and ASA demand the University respond to these tangible action items in order to address the needs of students of color.

If the University, AAPD and DPSS are to create a system of peer-to-peer accountability — as emphasized by President Schlissel — then the University must hold itself to the same standard of accountability. To achieve institutional accountability, the Division of Student Life, AAPD and DPSS must be transparent and public about who is responsible for the creation and implementation of the ambassador program, how Student Life recruited and selected ambassadors, the relationship between the Michigan Ambassadors program and AAPD and which University offices are the ambassadors’ point of contact.

Additionally, if the University, AAPD and DPSS are to create a system that’s dedicated to, as Student Life puts it, “facilitating student learning and the development of the whole student while cultivating a diverse and inclusive campus community,” then Student Life must forefront the voices of students of color to have jurisdiction over-policing on campus. U-M Student Life must commit to intentional, genuine inclusion of our organizations prior to any decision regarding campus safety and communication regarding policing on campus.

Fellow students and University constituents, there are tangible action items that you can complete to join us in calling for an end to the Michigan Ambassadors program. Anyone may sign this statement, as an individual or organization, in support of our message through this Signature Form. The list of growing signatures can be viewed at the bottom of this document: http://bit.ly/MAPLetterFurthermore, we created a Michigan Ambassadors Program Concerns Form, open to all submissions, to help us build our case in calling for an end to the Michigan Ambassadors program.

The authors of this article are members of University of Michigan organizations including The Black Student Union, United Asian American Organizations Executive Board, La Casa and the Arab Student Association E-Board. They can be reached at bsueboard20-21@umich.edu, uaao.board20-21@umich.edu, lacasa.board@umich.edu and arabseboard@umich.edu, respectively.