Michigan in Color: Anotha One
Dear University of Michigan Administration,
Want to know something silly? I never have my headphones in my ears when I walk around campus. As soon as I step outside, I make sure I’m alert and aware of my surroundings, including the people around me, at all times. It’s quite tiring, actually — to become so used to my fellow Wolverines being hostile or yelling racist things at me as their friends laugh at my silence.
One night, I left work to pick up my dinner and crossed through the Diag to find “#StopIslam,” “Stop the Rape of Europe” and “All Lives Matter,” along with other triggering messages, covering the Diag. We (a group of Muslim students) began calling offices and representatives of the University that deal with such “incidents.” The resource given to us was the Department of Public Safety, which none of us were comfortable contacting, stemming from historical tensions and mistrust because of police brutality and monitoring. The officers took their time and later informed us that we were calling after hours and it would take up to an hour to get the chalk washed off. The report and call were made by Muslim students despite the administration being aware of the chalkings from an official complaint made to the University earlier in the day. A group of Black, Arab, South Asian and Muslim students, faculty and staff allies brought buckets and cloths, and we washed off the hateful messages as other students laughed or made comments as they walked by or stopped to watch the spectacle. Washing off the chalk left us feeling burdened, demeaned and belittled — we were tasked with cleaning up and responding on our own to this harm as if being harmed was not enough.
The administration perpetuated a hostile student environment for people of color with the statement they released because of their silence on the groups specifically being targeted: i.e. Muslims, Middle Eastern/North African, Black Muslims or Sikh students. The fact that they failed to mention the groups being targeted shows their lack of initiative in combating the hate we face on campus and forming a plan of action to address the needs and grievances of students of color. The statement was basic and served to show to the public that they were aware of the “incident.” This does not only affect Muslims; this is reflective of the systemic racism that students of color endure every day on campuses nationally.
University spokesman Rick Fitzgerald stated to the media, “It was raining here all night. Mother Nature has taken care of it.” No, I am not joking. This could not be more misleading considering it was students of color and their allies who “took care of it.” In fact, these racist chalkings were done in broad daylight in a public space, and complaints were made to the University throughout the day with no response.
Fitzgerald also told the media that “We look at the messages carefully in the context of what constitutes hate speech, or speech that’s threatening to an individual or a group versus speech that may be unpopular.” Such responses reduce the experiences of targeted students by portraying this as merely one “incident” when such incidents occur frequently. Students of color have always voiced their grievances and taken it upon themselves to try to cooperate with the administration (see #BBUM, students’ responses to the screening of American Sniper, #UMDivest). I’m wondering what it is that sets us apart from the rest of the student body that you cannot reaffirm our safety on a campus in which we are a part of the community. We pay tuition, we do research, we contribute to this school in every way culturally, socially and academically, yet we are not afforded the same privileges as other Wolverines — only the burdens and the added penalties as students of color.
Silence allows these hateful actions to continue without any accountability. The statements from the University are usually watered down and take away the impact that students of color feel. University President Mark Schlissel is praised for championing diversity in education with the well-funded Diversity, Equity & Inclusion (DEI) Strategic Planning Initiative. But despite extremely polarizing events happening in the past couple years, and despite the administration being aware of the types of everyday racist and hostile events happening to students of color, the University has yet to make any concrete plans. On the contrary, they task the creation of solutions, which takes an immense amount of time and emotional labor, on students of color. The administration attends events such as the January “Sharing Stories, Building Allyhood: Student Voices Against Islamophobia” in which Muslim students spoke about their experiences with Islamophobia on campus, as their way of listening, but are usually silent until stories make national headlines and then are forced to make a statement. A statement not specifically stating the targeted groups, safety issues or any creation of a task force.
This lack of action sets a precedent that targeting groups based on race, religion or sexual orientation is allowed on our campus because no real accountability or process will come from the administration. I will reiterate, as students of color have for so many years, that the solution does not lie in how many times we “speak up” and share our experiences, or “enlighten others” through dialogue. It lies with the people holding time, wealth, status and countless resources — the administration. It is in your hands and it is your responsibility to affirm our safety and listen and act when we share our grievances. Students of color are tired of repeating the same issues over and over again to an administration and a campus that refuses to take action until matters escalate and make national headlines that push the University to intervene to protect its reputation. The University continues to meet with student leaders but does not follow up on solutions — they simply wait for students of color to tire and graduate (or drop out), and then the cycle starts again.
Why create the DEI plan if light-hearted statements are all that the administration does? Your failure to take action the first time this happened paved the way for the Diag to be chalked again, even more vehemently and with explicitly racist messages, a week later on April 7, 2016. Schlissel and now-former CSG president Cooper Charlton, a LSA senior, penned a second statement citing end-of-the-year stresses on April 8 and again ignored the safety of students of color. Instead of reaffirming their safety and laying out plans to reassure students, they defended the hate because of freedom of speech. The only problem with that is that this type of speech is hate speech and students of color made it clear to the administration that it made them feel unsafe and reminded them of the many instances with racism that we deal with on a daily basis. For the sake of students of color at this university, and out of our compassion and care for each other, we will again take out our cloths and buckets of water and get on our knees to scrub this off. But hear us very clearly when we say this: We cannot scrub away the lasting harm of racism on this campus. It is your move, Michigan.
An Annoyed and Busy Student Who Doesn’t Have Time for This