Michigan in Color: CSG continues silencing minority voices

Sunday, November 29, 2015 - 6:15pm

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Anjali Alangaden

 

Editor's Note: The original version of this Michigan in Color piece was published November 30. The Michigan Daily temporarily retracted the piece due to factual inaccuracies brought to the Daily's attention after publication. This is the final version of this piece.

On November 22, I, along with the other 10 members of the Campus Inclusion Commission under the Central Student Government, resigned. The original goal of the commission was to provide a space within the student government where students with marginalized identities felt safe voicing their concerns. However we, as a commission, came to the conclusion that CSG’s efforts to make campus more inclusive weren’t entirely genuine and we felt that working with them wasn’t in our best interests.  We left, not because the chair of our commission was fired, but because of what we believe are the reasons why he was fired — for making noise, for demanding justice, after I, personally, faced discrimination within CSG, for questioning CSG’s homogeneity, and for advocating for minority voices. In our opinion, for doing his job.

As a woman of color, I often feel as though I have limited influence in spaces. Because of that, I often let problematic things go unchecked and don’t say anything for fear of retaliation. This experience will not be one of them. Here’s my story.

This past September, an Executive Committee member of CSG met with me to inform me of a significant change within student government structure — three separate commissions would be merged into one larger Campus Inclusion Commission. As the executive chair of the LGBTQ Issues Commission, that decision would significantly impact my role. However, before I could say anything, he seemed to imply that if the commission didn’t comply with the new structure, we could leave CSG, and they would find people to replace us. The preemptive threat caught me off guard and I felt pressured to go along with what he was saying, simply because of the power dynamic. He is a white man in a higher position than me, and had just implied that that I was dispensable. I’m a woman of color with seemingly no real authority in that space. Whose voice really matters here? I felt as though the LGBTQ community that I was advocating for had suddenly lost any voice that it may have ever had in CSG.

That meeting set the tone for the rest of my involvement in CSG. However, despite that encounter, I still tried to be open to the idea of working with the student government because of the credibility they have under the administration and the reach they have with students. I continued to brush that event and my skepticism aside in order to do what I came to do — create a more inclusive campus.

Things moved quickly from there, as they do in CSG. Applications were sent out for a chair position of what we now called the Campus Inclusivity Commission, or CIC. While I was invited to apply, I doubted I’d stand a chance in the process and didn’t have additional time to give an organization that had already shown they didn’t care about me. I ultimately decided not to, and a new commission chair was appointed soon after. The new commission first met in mid-October, and by the middle of November, we had three large projects in process, and the members of our new team began to get closer. Feeling decently comfortable with them,  I offhandedly mentioned the unsettling interaction I’d had with the CSG Executive Committee member. Our chair immediately suggested that we report the microaggression to the rest of the Executive Committee, and after a day of thinking over it, I decided it should be addressed. Though I didn’t want to cause trouble or ill will within CSG, I believed that discussing the comment and its impact could begin to create a more inclusive campus, one person at a time. Especially given that doing so aligned with the mission of the inclusion committee that student government had just created, I’d believed we would have their support. I was very wrong.

After the CIC chair and I reported the incident to the rest of the Executive Committee, we attempted several methods of restorative justice. We tried implementing an ally training for all members of the assembly. We tried getting the Executive Committee member who’d made the comment to go to an ally training. We tried creating a new position on the Executive Committee to hold them all accountable to using inclusive language and taking the needs of marginalized students into consideration. These initiatives were either not taken seriously, were not done to CSG’s best efforts or didn’t even happen. For example, the person who had committed the microaggression against me was supposed to go to a Growing Allies retreat, a training that would educate him on microaggressions and social identity. Though he did receive a link to the wrong website — which was not his fault — he still knowingly signed up for and attended a sexual assault training instead. His failure to question the training he was attending and how it related to the harm he did indicates to me that he was merely fulfilling a mandatory requirement instead of showing a true dedication to learning.

Finally, I met with the CSG adviser and president last week to talk about the original microaggression I had faced, at this point, two months ago. I explained it yet again, thinking this would be my final dealing with this issue. Instead of simply listening to what had happened and helping me find the solution I’d wanted, they began probing me about the commission chair — the person who’d helped me report in the first place. They asked me how I felt that our commission chair had taken charge in dealing with the issue and making sure I was treated fairly. Though I didn’t fully understand why I was being asked about our commission chair, I was honest with them in saying he only took charge in dealing with the issue when I had asked him to. At the time, I’d believed they were just trying to support me, but I now see that they had been trying to ambush me into providing the Executive Committee with an excuse to fire him.

I realized this on November 20, when I saw an e-mail in my inbox from the Executive Committee. It said, very bluntly and without explanation, that our commission chair had been fired. In their words, “the chair of the Campus Inclusion Commission was vacated.” The now-former commission members met with a member of the Executive Committee and the CSG adviser for one last meeting, in which we were told several of the reasons the commission chair was fired. While some of the reasons given were understandable, other factors they listed and implied should have never been considered. For example, the Executive Committee member mentioned he didn’t like that the CIC chair told him to check his privilege during several meetings. Even though our committee explained to him that this is a crucial part of inclusion work, he continued to complain that the CIC chair was belittling him for not understanding certain issues. Because of comments like this, it seemed that what the Executive Committee member was most upset about was the CIC chair’s challenging his perspective — a bias I doubt was applied to his friend (who made the microaggressive comment to me) when deciding what consequences would befall him.

Though I will always be invested in advocating for a more inclusive campus, I (and the rest of the former CIC members) have realized that within student government is not the place to do it. From the unchecked comments to the subtle power plays to the unjust firing of our commission chair, CSG is no longer an organization I trust or am willing to work for.

Michigan in Color is a section by and for people of color at the University of Michigan. To contribute your voice or find out more about MiC, e-mail michiganincolor@umich.edu.