On the Daily: Stumbling Blocks back on the hot seat

Chairs were set up on the Diag last week as part of the Stumbling Blocks art installation.

Chairs were set up on the Diag last week as part of the Stumbling Blocks art installation.
Joshua Han/Daily

 

Tuesday, April 11, 2017 - 6:47pm

Chairs used in last week’s notable Stumbling Blocks exhibit on affirmative action will not be put to such symbolic use much longer. The University of Michigan Property Disposition Department announced Monday on Facebook that the University is currently selling the chairs to the public for $10 each.

The pop-up exhibit served as reminder of Proposal 2, the 2006 constitutional amendment that banned on race- and gender-based affirmative action in the state, which the Supreme Court upheld in 2014. The 950 empty maize and blue chairs arranged on the Diag served to personify the number of underrepresented minority students who were unable to attend the University following the ban.

Presidential Bicentennial Prof. Martha Jones, who led the exhibit’s coordination, wrote in an email interview she was happy to see the chairs put to continued use.

“I am pleased that the chairs will have a life beyond the exhibition,” she wrote. “The rest will go out into the world and become part of other gatherings and conversations. Stumbling Blocks was always intended to be a pop-up experience, one that would further our best thinking about the future.”

Some students, however, called out what they perceived as irony in the chairs’ short-lived significance.

LSA senior David Song, a former Daily photographer, wrote in an email interview he was a bit taken aback by the speed of the process.

"It feels almost like a stab in the back to offer these "missing students after Proposal 2" chairs up for money," he wrote. "I recognize that (the University) or whoever owns this property probably doesn't have much use for it now, but the timing feels a little too soon."

Social Work student Brittney Williams agreed, writing in an email interview she felt the sale was careless, but not surprising.

"To see the University cheapen the symbolism of those 950 chairs by not only selling them for $10, but erasing the narrative they originally contributed, is disappointing, tone deaf and tasteless," she wrote. "It speaks to a greater issue that the University has surrounding DEI matters; much of its actions are largely performative." 

Williams went on to suggest the University could have sought student input for the chairs' future uses, or even the profit from their sale. 

"Despite the chairs representing students of color, their proceeds (to my knowledge) will not be going to any sort of scholarship or fund which makes education here more accessible to them," she wrote. "But my lens focuses on liberation, equity, and serving a community which is drastically underserved on this campus; this move makes it clear that no matter what it says, the University’s primary lens will always focus on money.

Special events manager Julie Ashley said Tuesday she hadn’t yet heard any student complaints. After offering the chairs to buildings and facilities managers, she said Property Disposition has been receiving marked interest in the chairs, which are emblazoned with the University’s bicentennial logo.

“We’ve gotten a lot of interest from employees for things like tailgates,” she said.