A Call Unanswered

Tuesday, October 4, 2016 - 8:57pm

The campus climate these past few weeks has been difficult for all of the people who have been affected by the racist, anti-Muslim, cissexist and genuinely hateful messages that have been spread throughout the University of Michigan.

In this letter, we want to speak on the death threat made Sunday, Oct. 2, the increasingly more graphic, racist and xenophobic flyers posted Monday, Oct. 3 and the lack of response from the University’s administration.

The death threat was anonymously written on the faculty and staff statement of solidarity late Sunday night that read “All the Communists Will Hang on the Day of the Rope!!!” along with the erasure of the original statement and signatures that were recovered the following day. To provide context behind the phrase “Day of the Rope,” it refers to the racial purification in which those who are not white are publicly hanged in the streets, mentioned in the novel “The Turner Diaries” by William Luther Pierce. Graphic descriptions of the aforementioned flyers are provided at the end of the article for those who may want it. The #UMPronounChallenge was a way that cisgender students on this campus threatened the safety of transgender and non-binary folx by trivializing their need to be respected and acknowledged.

The administration’s silence, however, has been deafening. As seen in the document itself, Angela Dillard, associate dean of undergraduate education in LSA, saw the death threat and commented on the document. She commented, “Can not believe someone would do this! Of course we have a complete history of all changes made to this document and will attempt to get to the bottom of this as soon as possible. Please bear with us while we think through options for restoring the original text.” At the time that this article has been written (24 hours after the edit has been brought to the administration’s attention), there has still been no response to a death threat that was made to our Black students and other students of color. The racist flyers have been reported to the bias response team, but targeted students have had to find communities of support among their own, receiving no indication that it has been seen and dealt with. We have no knowledge of whether police reports have been filed to find who posted these flyers, or any indication on whether they have found out who made the death threat.

We are asking for the administration’s presence in times of fear, acknowledgement of our humanity and care for our lives. We are asking where the administration, including President Schlissel, has been in times of need — and this is after a week of student activism asking for that very thing. And so we ask, “Why is administration so slow to respond? What can be so important that students’ safety and security on this campus cannot be addressed promptly and transparently?” We ask, “#schlisselwya?”

We have seen administrative attempts to work with students, but only ever in response to student activism. Students4Justice has been working to make spaces for marginalized students to speak of their experiences and hold their administration accountable. When will the administration proactively respond to incidents on this campus? When will the administration show that it takes an active stance against the culture that allows for people in our community to be harmed and harmed so deeply? When will its actions be more than symbolic? Where is the administration? Again, #schlisselwya?

What we see on this campus is a culture of apathy from privileged people. When a forum was called for all students to be present from the administration Sunday, Oct. 2, most of the room was filled with Black people and non-Black people of color. This means that most white students do not think the safety of their fellow students who have been targeted this past week to be a priority. This needs to be addressed as an administration. Frankly, a lot of administrative gestures have been symbolic rather than actually taking stances on diversity. Even leading to the release of the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion plan, there is no clear statement that the University values equity for marginalized students on campus.

What we need from this administration is a willingness to learn and a willingness to be better. We are in spaces with members of the administration who have not spent the time to educate themselves about diversity and equity, yet expect students to do just that. Each individual in the administration needs to take personal accountability for their own education about the issues that affect the safety of students on this campus. Cisgender students trivialized an administration’s effort to make trans and non-binary students more safe, yet members of the administration themselves do not necessarily know or think of the importance of pronouns. Racist, specifically anti-Black and anti-Muslim, flyers have been posted in the past week, and there are white members of the administration who have not spent their own time educating themselves on race, ethnicity and religion.

What we have experienced instead is a defensiveness that is characteristic of the way that this institution is run. We are told to always “disagree with the idea and not the person” in a toxic method that allows those who have caused harm to not take ownership of their words and actions. While this comes with the intentions of not driving people away, it feeds into the narrative that the safety and the feelings of marginalized students on campus are only valid when their emotions are not being brought to the attention of the perpetrators.

It forces us as marginalized students to believe that we must be “respectable” or that we must make sure that we are always calm and measured when responding to words and actions that are meant to incite fear and anger. We must make sure to be patient, giving and infinite educators to those who we are targeted by in order to make sure that they do not feel uncomfortable.

What we want from this administration is accountability, at an individual and institutional level. We want the people who make decisions about our time here at the University of Michigan to be knowledgeable about how our spaces look. We want the administration to make a concerted effort to combat the apathy of privileged students on this campus. As students, we look to the administration to guide us and live by the principles that they preach. So show us. Be the leaders and best.


Descriptions of flyers:

·        An image of a white woman tied at the arms by ropes, silenced. Her mouth is covered by a cloth with the word “RACISM” written on it, and she is being held down by drawn caricatures of who could possibly be Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama while being surrounded by men of color sucking on her nipples. Additionally, this same woman has given birth to a baby that is laying on the ground, umbilical cord attached, with a man of color carving into the baby while the blood spells diversity on the floor.

·        A list of statistics of rapes caused by men of color on Swedish women and statistics regarding the beliefs of Muslims in European countries and the United States.