Letter to the Editor: The Diversity Summit, student protest and asking the hard questions

Wednesday, November 11, 2015 - 8:28pm

The Diversity Summit is underway. Between Nov. 3 and Nov. 14, we have been, and will be, coming together for talks, panels, cafe discussions, a community assembly with University President Mark Schlissel and more, all to mark a collective re-commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion on campus. Many of us are hard at work, developing a strategic plan that will map the future.

Our summit coincides with a week during which, on campuses across the country, students walked out, rose up, went on strike and banded together in response to racist acts and a climate that harbors them. In Berkeley, Calif., high school students protested the discovery of a computer message that included a racial epithet, references to the Ku Klux Klan and lynching. In New Haven, Conn., Yale University students gathered to demand a response to the exclusion of Black female students from a fraternity party. In Columbia, Mo., a student hunger striker has been joined by members of the football team in a protest against the use of racial slurs and the posting of swastikas.

We are not strangers to racist acts and exclusion at the University. The #BBUM campaign grew out of this atmosphere. Students responded to a theme party, “World Star Hip Hop Presents: Hood Ratchet Thursday,” which drew upon negative stereotypes of African American culture. #BBUM, the “1,000 Speak Out for Racial Justice” and the discussions that followed reveal how our campus is not yet the equitable and inclusive community to which we aspire.

The Diversity Summit is an opportunity to talk about hard questions. What can we learn from the examples in Berkeley, New Haven, Missouri and elsewhere? How does our University address incidents on campus? Can we prevent them in the future? Will the diversity initiative tackle issues like policing and racial profiling? How might the University’s strategic plan foster a safe, inclusive and equitable climate? How will the University address racial tensions in classrooms, residence halls, elsewhere on campus and in the Ann Arbor community?

Be there, be heard.

Amanda Alexander, Assistant Professor and Post-doctoral scholar in Afroamerican studies

Matthew Countryman, Professor, Dept.  of History and American Culture

Martha S. Jones, Professor, Dept. of History and Dept. of Afroamerican and African studies

Austin McCoy, Rackham student